A Creative's Take on the Inspiring, Mundane and Magical at CES

Is the future finally here?

Samsung's Ballie robot

As I prepared to walk the floors and explore the exhibits of CES 2020, I felt a bit like one of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—excitedly looking forward to discovering an entertaining, but impossible, world of make-believe. 

As a CCO working with CMOs who require real-world, real-time solutions to marketing and brand-building challenges, I had never visited CES. After all, what could all these futurists offer someone like myself beyond dancing robots, flying cars and big-screen TV envy? Turns out the answer was hanging on the walls at the LG booth, on the floor of the Samsung Ballie exhibit, and in almost every other exhibit I explored. 

This was expressed perfectly by the MediaLink guide giving a group of us a floor tour: "We've been talking about this for years, but it's finally here." It was clear that CES 2020 had left the cloud and come down to earth. That we are finally seeing the much-anticipated life-enhancing benefits and real-world practical applications of big data, IOT, A.I. and machine learning. That the futurists had finally become, for lack of a better word, nowists. 

Sure, there were the—what I've come to recognize as—standard vision pieces, but for the most part, this year's CES seemed more like a candy store for a modern creative looking for new, exciting, innovative ways to break through and create more meaningful experience beyond the traditional ad space. 

Even the ad space itself seemed to finally meet the future. At the LG booth, we saw a television that enabled over-the-air dynamic ad insertion in real-time. This means we may no longer be tied to creating work that appeals to everyone (goodbye, focus groups?). The implications for storytellers are tremendous, especially because we'll know what people will be watching. 

It will give creatives leverage to make more rich content that speaks to consumers on a one-to-one level. So instead of one standard edit of an ad, why not 100 different edits, all with rich and varied endings based on the likes of the audience? And since it's TV, we won't be limited to :06 disruptive pre-roll or the tight budgets that they bring. My mind raced thinking of all the benefits of the targeted digital ad, but now in a much more rich, immersive and creative format. 

While robots are the classic lightning rod of jokes at CES, I saw real-world applications that could offer incredibly inventive ways for brands to be a part of people's lives in unexpected ways—right now. I heard someone liken Ballie, Samsung's near-future robot house-assistant, to Baby Yoda. The difference is there will never be a real Baby Yoda (well, maybe at Disney World). But Ballie isn't far off from hitting the shelves of Best Buy. 

As an industry creative, it wasn't hard for me to draw parallels between Ballie and the emergence of assistants as an area many creatives are beginning to explore for their clients. Look no further than last year's award-show winners like Microsoft's Xbox Adaptive Controller, or Wavio's See Sound smart-home hearing assistant. It's clear, the robot assistant is here—it just comes in different forms, and it will prove to be an even more valuable creative canvas in the future. 

I wouldn't be surprised if many of the award shows have to create an entirely new category for them—and many of the other brand-building, awe-inspiring experiences that are right here at CES, now. 

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