Ian Loon
Jan 13, 2015

CES 2015: Technology will not replace humans

The Consumer Electronics Show gave Ian Loon of SMG much to reflect on while spending 50 hours between the airports of Singapore and Las Vegas last week.

The author, experiencing the future last week
The author, experiencing the future last week

This year’s record breaking CES saw more than 2.2 million net square feet of exhibit space with over 3,600 exhibitors. If there was anything apart from being mentally overtaken by tech, my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 registered 48,280 steps taken across the three days. For perspective, that’s 60 per cent more than the 10,000 daily steps recommended by health experts.

While data, tech and social ecosystems continue to refine how humans connect and interact across space and time, meaningful relationships still require openness, collaboration, and action-oriented accomplishments both in our personal and professional lives.

Carried away by data

Indeed, we will find ourselves getting too carried away by numbers. New forms of wearables and sensors were at every corner of the show, from health trackers integrated within high-end audio headsets and bedsheets to an asthma detecting patch that warns you of an impending attack to a mother-bot that monitors whether your kid has forgotten to brush his teeth or drink enough water.

The incremental amount of data to be sent, received and analysed by us through these new devices will dominate future lives beyond what smartphones and wristbands have already preoccupied. A deeper co-existence between the data and physical world is a foregone conclusion, only hindered by progress of affluence and infrastructure in many societies. While much about technology is meant to empower our lives, retention of the human essence and privacy will be prevailing topics to reflect upon, but in a different discussion.

With the focus on trending “me data”, marketers beg to understand how that would work with “big data” currency. Architecting the solution will become far more complex, although better addressability and precision targeting remains as the promise. But let’s not get caught up with simply shifting spend toward programmatic platforms. Being addressable is more about being effective and relevant than it is about buying cheap to drive cost efficiencies at surface.

Far too many brands today get carried away by CPM and CPC data to present a compelling media return-on-investment story for the traditional financial spreadsheet. The basics of cost-efficient media must be achieved, but it is as much about driving consumer favorability and satisfaction that isn’t just linked to short-term sales. The conversations require greater risk-taking and investment of time by marketing leaders and agencies to educate business decision-makers of the new resources, technology adoption, and evolved work-processes required to sustain that promise. It is not simple, but we shouldn’t be too carried away only by data we knew about in yesteryears to tell tomorrow’s story. 

Conversations of new forms

Virtual reality was another major theme relevant to marketers at CES this year. While the lines to get into the two-story Oculus booth reminded me of my countrymen back home eager to satisfy their chicken rice craving, companies like Razer too had their share of attention with their OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) integrated with Leap Motion gesture control. While VR is still at infancy, I couldn’t help but consider the sophistication required for agencies of the future to create such experiences for brands.

Technology will probably make it simpler than what it may seem today, but perhaps we should start grooming that 17-year old genius who just enrolled in a digital media design course last semester. The talent we hire tomorrow will certainly be far more diverse than the current field.

Closer to reality, a fridge that tells you’re out of soda, and a washing machine that alerts when your laundry is done—all through your smartphone—speaks of what the connected home would mean to a lazy consumer, who probably needs a phone clip on his pajamas for access to the internet of everything. How the fridge then shares information to a data-aggregator, who then resells it to a soda company who wants to target him with an ad at the next supermarket visit, is a not so distant reality to embrace for marketers.     

The appliance ecosystem battle will heat up as consumers seek a consistent experience across devices, but what’s relevantly critical for us is the sub-experience that brands will take—the timeliness and format to make the conversation more meaningful than freaky. With screens appearing in more appliances, content in the new media environment will undoubtedly be an area for manufacturers to own or heavily influence. 

Competition for social currency amplified

As a GoPro user often attempting to exploit fresh camera angles and shots to trade for Instagram likes, what caught my attention was the amount of “me too” action cameras and smartphone mounts displayed by various companies. Even the once-threatened Polaroid made its debut of the Cube for instant recording and “sharification” of action moments—and it does look very appealing. Several UAV manufacturers, in the meantime, were offering pocket-sized drones marketed to “take your selfies to new heights” for just under $100. Without doubt, shameless narcissism and personal broadcasting will increase in quality and regularity to balloon an already crowded space.

Cutting through the photo and video content clutter (sans paid amplification) would require brands to adopt various approaches no different from today—such as curation of fan-generated content, professionally developed web video episodes, and setting up adaptive “listen, create, publish” command-centers—but with greater need to be quicker and (or) quirkier to yield greater social currency and results.     

Making it operationally happen between brands and agencies will require the same conversations on setting objectives, embracing an always-on mindset, deploying the right resources, adopting relevant technologies, tools and processes, and establishing tangible success measures. Ultimately, it still boils down to making a case for aggressive investment and taking that risk to make it work for Generation “Like”.

Closing thoughts on disruption

The biggest take-away from CES was undoubtedly an affirmation that businesses and teams need to be disrupted or re-invented more frequently to stay in pulse with the running consumer. We need to be greater robo-thinkers, robo-workers, and robo-specialists willing to adapt to an increasingly agile environment; ever-prepared to make more mistakes while celebrating short-term successes, as we collectively review and pace toward sustainable long-term goals.

Our values, which collectively define a person or company, should see the biggest resistance against disruption. With all the tech fever, aren’t we still a people-driven industry where successful relationships matter most?

Ian Loon is the regional director of SMG SE Asia’s digital leadership team


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