Random thoughts on CES 2024

A I, A I, it’s off to CES we fly.
We walk the floors until we fry,
A I, A I, A I

(with apologies to The 7 Dwarves)

This will make at least 15 CES shows that I’ve attended in person over the years. After COVID shut down in-person trade shows around the world, this year’s 2024 CES showed you can’t keep geeks in their basements or cubicles forever. While attendance was still off from pre-COVID numbers, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) estimated that some 130,000 people made the annual trek to Las Vegas.

And, if you can’t tell from my intro, everything was focused on artificial intelligence. Electric toothbrushes with AI. Smart pillows with AI. Connected toasters with AI. After awhile, it gets a bit silly. Sort of like Kevin Hart shilling the Chase Freedom credit card….”We’re talkin’ AI. AI, yep that’s what we’re talkin’ ’bout. AI. Uh huh. AI. THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN’ ABOUT!”

Just to be clear, AI is real and it’s being put to a lot of interesting uses. Unfortunately, a lot of what’s being sold as AI is really algorithmic machine learning. But, if your competitor says their toaster is AI powered, well by the powers of marketing, so is yours.

Shelly Palmer / Brand Innovators

In past years at CES, Shelly Palmer, well-known technologist and marketing guru, has put on a breakfast featuring top execs from various tech and consumer product companies. This year, his organization expanded the breakfast into a full 3-day separate conference program outside the CES bubble at the brand new hotel Fontainebleau. Overall, quite an ambitious effort and if you’re a marketing, branding, PR geek like me, it was a good inside look at the convergence of AI, customer acquisition and products.

Trade show booth madness

I’ve written articles about trade shows, management, booths and company image in the past and in fact, I’m working on one right now. Loosely, it’s about the top mistakes show exhibitors make. CES 2024 did not disappoint with so many exhibitors doing things wrong. Here are just a few “errors”:

  • Can’t tell what the product is or what the company does. Whether it’s the desire to be “cool” or a being “in the weeds”, all too many companies fail to communicate their purpose or products to the attendees. They spend tens of thousands on the space, the booth itself and having staff and support personnel at the show. Yet, the booth and its signage don’t clearly communicate what the product is, what it does or why it’s better or unique. Seriously, if the average passerby can’t “grok” your company within two minutes of looking at your awesome graphics, you’ve failed Tradeshow 101.
  • Booth staff are bored, chewing gum, looking at their phones and/or drinking/eating in the booth. This is exactly how to convey the message that you don’t give a rip about potential customers. I swear, if I were the CEO of one of these companies, I would take everyone’s cell phone and lock them up until the show closed for the evening. If you need something to eat, munch away from the booth.
  • Failure to ask for the lead. Most of the Asian companies seem to have this part down. For some reason, many US companies and their personnel seem to think asking for a business card or scanning a badge is bad. Or, they can’t be bothered. Your company spent big $$$ attending CES. Take the extra 10 seconds and ASK FOR THE LEAD.

Platitudes, buzz words and double-speak

I attended a number of conference sessions and listened to more than my fair share of “keynote” speakers. For whatever reason, this was the year of “when you say nothing at all”. For example, and without mentioning names, the CMO for a mega tech giant (it rhymes with “oogle”), spent an entire session saying nothing about the business model, the tech involved, the approach to marketing, new things, regulations, challenges, etc. Instead, we got platitudes about having a great team, being successful because everyone works hard and how nice people are. Sadly, this approach was taken by a number of keynotes and presenters. Please folks, give us case studies, real-world examples, success stories, specific philosophies, branding, sales data, etc.

I contrast this with one CMO who heads up marketing for a well-known audio brand. Difficult questions were asked and they were answered directly. Lots of interesting specifics.

Most interesting products

  • Transparent televisions / display panels. They sure look cool but as many have pointed out, are they practical? Yours truly doesn’t see the value since you have to have something behind them that’s of interest. The transparency is gee-whiz stuff but ultimately, they’re probably only practical for special effects or environmental enhancement.
  • Rabbit r1 AI assistant. Supposedly this gizmo well help you run tasks and apps based on simple verbal commands, built-in camera and a unique scrolling input wheel. I don’t get it but enough nerds thought it was awesome enough that the first two production runs are completely sold out. But if you think you missed the boat, you can catch a first gen $199 Rabbit for about $600 on eBay.
  • Lots of laptops. Sorry, this is really not interesting. Just know that lots of companies introduced lots of nice new laptops in every form factor from ultra-lite Chromebooks to uber fast gaming computers.
  • More kickass graphics cards. Upping the ante with 32 – 128GB of RAM, new chips, new cooling systems. Oooh wow.
  • New Sony prototype VR headset. Well it’s a prototype and it’s not from Apple. I guess that means it’s worth looking into. Supposedly it’s targeted at content creators vs gamers.
  • Sharks with frickin’ laser beams. Well no, not quite. But there were a lot of laser cutting/etching tools, 3D printers and some holographic demonstrations.
  • Print direct to skin tattoos. Two different companies were showing off portable temporary tattoo printers. I got a weird look when I asked if I could get Hello Kitty on my arm. The tech is cool but each print runs about $2 – $3 making it about 20x more expensive than the average water-slide decal type tattoo.
  • Connected appliances. Even more companies showed up with Roomba style vacuum cleaners. LG showed off a combo mop & vacuum that hides under their connected dryer.
  • Apple steals show by not being there. As usual, Apple chose to drop a few product announcements without actually attending CES. So, much buzz was soaked up (see Sony).
  • Goodbye point & shoot cameras. With cell phones getting more powerful and better cameras, the point & shoot consumer market is stagnating. Nikon and Panasonic didn’t even bother to bring theirs to CES.

And the winner is…

Seriously, this was my favorite thing in the whole show. It’s a high-tech super lightweight camping trailer prototype from LG. Using carbon fiber skins and just about all the tech you think you can cram into a travel trailer, LG’s vision weighs in at 1600lbs with all the goodies including a usable bathroom/shower combo. That’s right at the weight that small SUVs can tow.

Yes, LG is seriously going to bring it to market — we’re told in 6 months. Lightweight camping trailers are hugely popular in Europe and Asia but LG has taken the concept to a whole new level.

Wrapping up

If you were at CES and think we missed something or have something you’d like to discuss, feel free to contact us (Contact Us – Geldner Group). Comments are welcome below!

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