CES 2020: Trends, Brands and Waving at Robots

Last week I attended CES 2020, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s the global gathering of innovators for tech’s biggest showcase of the year.

Here’s my official Fallon + Publicis Groupe recap: Capturing Attention With Creativity in a “Smart” World, which is part of a larger CES 2020 Trends and Insights report you can download here.

One of my tweets was quoted in this BBC News article, Nreal’s mixed reality glasses win over skeptics. Another couple tweets were quoted in this Daily Mail piece, Smart kitchen of the future. And you can see my Twitter threads live from the show floor here and here.

Here’s a video tour I produced from the 950 photos and videos I took of the show this year:

Why Attend CES?

CES is one of the best ways get a pulse on emerging trends in technology that will impact consumers, and thus how brands engage with consumers through those technologies. As culture continues to evolve and tech-adoption increases, it’s important to have a sense of where things are at and where they’re headed.

I first attended CES in 2008 – just a year after the introduction of the iPhone, four years before Oculus Rift VR was founded, and six years before Amazon would introduce Alexa. It was a different world. I used an actual camera to take photos and a Flip Video camera to record digital video.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve observed trends that today seem common place, like:

  • Smartphone at the Center of Everything
  • IoT and Wearables Shifting From Products to Platform
  • Immersive Content is Mainstreaming
  • Sensors in Everything
  • Assistance Through Assistants

And although there are great takeaways, the “WTF?” moments are also memorable.

In 2014 the people manning the booths were more interested in my Google Glass than telling me about their demos. I got the chance to see augmented reality contact lenses up close (which were sadly disappointing). I filmed an entire series on Vine called “What’ll They Think of Next?” that went viral (but is now gone forever). And in 2017, I toured the show wearing Snapchat Spectacles and a broken foot. The video still holds up.

I’ve written thousands of words about innovations at CES, used those insights for clients, and feel strongly it’s important to keep up a strong pulse on emerging technology when it comes to advertising and marketing.

The truth is, you can get a lot out of CES by reading articles about it (like this one!). But being hands-on and getting a real feel for the community and what people are saying can be extremely helpful to form objective and original takeaways.

CES is also a great complement and partner to South by Southwest, where the focus is less on hardware and more on philosophy and cultural impact. It’s a one-two punch to start Q1 every year.


2020 CES Takeaways

Science fiction and fantasy book sales have doubled in the last decade. Everyone owns a smart phone. Popular entertainment is filled with fantastical ideas of how emerging technology will impact our society — for better and worse. As a result, consumers are more interested in digital, gadgets, and smart devices than ever before.

Creativity is enhanced by technology, and the marketing opportunities unlocked by tapping these disruptive technologies can help brands break through the wall of noise to capture consumer attention in this increasingly “smart” world.

Here are some of the ways technology is capturing attention as we headed into 2020:

Dreaming of the Future: From self-driving cars to self-folding laundry, personal robots to ground drones, there is one constant. People love fantasizing about the coming future. Just look at the CES news coverage this year amidst one of the busiest global news cycles ever.

There’s always a place for robot news – whether its excitement for toilet paper delivery, poking fun at electric license plates, or hoping for a day with Uber helicopters circling the skies. Brands can borrow equity from emerging technology by building creative experiences that help consumers picture themselves in this future state.


Nostalgia Tech: In an uncertain world that seems to be changing too quickly, consumers look to the past for comfort.

Huge advancements in technology at CES are being built into retro shells to appeal to our past: smart thermostats that look like old thermostats, record player cabinets built into furniture, even cassette players, walkmans and boomboxes with terrestrial radios were on the scene. You know my obsession with fax machines? It’s merited.

Brands can appeal to the inherent attention value of nostalgia while balancing smart sensors, computers and processes under that throwback aesthetic. Dig deep into your archives and find something that once mattered to people and resurface it with a modern twist. People will LOVE it.


Aftermarket Upgrade: Making your daily life “smarter” no longer requires a huge investment or buying new appliances every few years.

From aftermarket kitchen devices that control your old stove or reorder groceries, to Amazon Echo in your older car or an unbuckled seatbelt alarm, we’re starting to see more opportunities to make “dumb” devices smarter without huge cost.

The aftermarket inventions to help disrupt porch-pirates in our home-delivery world were particularly compelling!

Leapfrogging competitors takes time and heavy investment, but brands can look for opportunities to plus-up existing products or create a low-cost marketing campaign product when “smart-lite” will do.


Small Screen Content on the Big Screen: Given the rise of streaming networks, mainstream smartphone adoption, and innovative ways to create and share vertical-first content, you could be surprised there is so much focus on 8K flat screen TVs at CES again this year.

But consumers still want to watch content on giant monitors at-home. Based on 2020 CES trends, those monitors probably won’t need 3D glasses, may roll up inside a small, and may spin vertically when watching vertical content. But most of all, they will continue to be thinner and brighter.

Brands should continue to explore thumb stopping, clickable and highly shareable advertising that will reach people where they want to consume content, including broadcast, streaming networks, gaming platforms, and YouTube. Big screen or small.


Facial Recognition Marketing Strategy: There will be more than 1 billion surveillance cameras in the world by the end of 2021, and that doesn’t count the cameras consumers are voluntarily putting in their homes, phones, cars, mirrors, TVs and doorbells at CES.

Walking past smart monitors on the trade show floor, I found myself tracked, gender identified, and temperature checked -– all without my permission. Invisibly.

From a marketing perspective, brands should explore ways to create attention with the magic of facial recognition and personalized content (or experiences), while seriously balancing consumer pushback, privacy and security protections of that sensitive data. Do you have a facial recognition marketing strategy? Even if it’s “We won’t capture or keep this data,” you need one in 2020.


Smart Glasses and the Mixed Reality Revolution: Four years ago CES was awash with virtual reality headsets and all kinds of bad VR experiences causing huge lines in booths across the trade show. Today, VR arcades are popular in every major metro market, and personal VR headsets are a stocking stuffer.

At CES 2020, there were VR and AR headsets, glasses and glasses-free experiences with similarly huge lines and new mixed reality technologies – like Nreal’s extremely portable AR glasses, multiple aAR heads-up displays for automobiles, the announcement of Sony Playstation 5 VR, and Sony’s Eye-Sensing Light Field Display, which uses vision sensors and facial recognition to create an AR, 3D-like “spatial reality experience” without glasses.

These new innovations make use of improvements in tiny cameras, microdisplays, processors and consumer utility — for both enterprise and consumer use. Of note, all the best VR and AR tech demos at CES this year supported prescription lens inserts. I was asked for my prescription 6 times in 3 days. Thank God.

Per my 2020 Trends Predictions, Facebook, Amazon, Snapchat and Apple all have smart glasses patents filed, and are in various stages of addressing launch rumors. That means 2020 could be the year that talking, listening or photographic glasses again test the social norm limits of Americans.


Hearables: Ears have been called “the new wrist” for emerging technology. And CES had a wealth of innovation around audio and in-ear devices.

With iOS adding decibel health, Apple driving active noise cancellation into the mainstream, Congress approving over-the-counter hearing aids, a decrease in hearing device stigma, and innovations in micro technologies and bone conduction, we’re just starting to see where this category will go and grow.

A CES 2020 highlight, Nuheara was demonstrating a $399 solution to moderate hearing loss combined with AirPod functionality, Siri, and more – called the IQBuds Max.

Gen X hearing aids are going to be so cool.


Self-Driving Cars with Steering Wheels: CES has turned into a bit of a car show, with the North Hall filled with major auto brands showing off their latest in automation, safety and self-driving capabilities each year. After all, in 2020, cars are the biggest piece of smart technologies in our lives after a smart phone. A car is just a big computer.

This year Segway introduced a Wall-E type lounge chair for getting around town. Sony introduced a prototype electric car that looks eerily similar to a Tesla (with a steering wheel!). And countless vendors showcased new and aftermarket technologies in the smart-car space, like heads-up augmented reality displays, dashboard cameras, LiDAR and human/objective identification, batteries, charging, and more.

Although a world where our cars ALL drive themselves may be decades away, we’re seeing these smart technologies incorporated into modern automobiles at a startling pace that improves safety for drivers, occupants and pedestrians.

It’s partial automation realized today, and in a car culture fraught with political and infrastructure barriers to full automation, our cars may have steering wheels for centuries to come.

As for content and in-car entertainment, Shelly Palmer made the case that the future of autonomous car entertainment is already here. It’s our phones, and we already stream content on them all the time during our commute. Super interesting POV.


Brand Activations: Two non-traditional technology brands really stood at CES — Charmin and Impossible Foods.

Charmin leveraged the consumer insight that sometimes you run out of toilet paper while you’re on the toilet with the fact that CES is robot-obsessed, and designed a “prototype” of TP delivery robots perfectly structured to incentivize social sharing and PR buzz.

Nested inside the P&G booth, Charmin never pretended this activation was anything other than tongue-in-cheek booth bait, and it got people talking.

Impossible Foods, on the other hand, arrived at CES with true product innovation. They announced Impossible Pork, gave away White Castle Impossible Sliders, and had a small tent outside the convention hall with a spinning wheel for branded swag.

That was really all it took for Impossible to drive headlines and social engagement about their experience. Amazing. And delicious.

Both of these branded activations had non-stop lines and buzz all week.


Test and Learn Pilots: Your brand may not be ready to go all-in on the next generation of technology. However, you can leverage consumer engagement and press interest in A.I., IOT, VR, AR, and the rest of the alphabet soup for your brand today with small campaign pilots designed to drive buzz, articles and attention.

Don’t get paralyzed at needing your emerging tech idea to be perfect. Build something small and launch it as a test.

You’ll be surprised how much attention and traction a creative test with emerging technology can earn in 2020.

Want ideas of how to get started? There’s a process for that. Hit me up!


Waving at Robots, 2020

Here is a video of me waving at all the robots at CES 2020…


A Final Thought on CES 2020

CES is so exhilarating and inspiring. What man is doing with technology can be truly amazing, if used for good. For entertainment. For bettering our world.

Not all of this fun stuff does that, and some of it can be abused or keep our focus away from what matters. I do wish for more focus on climate, mental health and creating cross-cultural connection.

Maybe that’s something we could focus on together. It’s our community, after all.


SWAN’s Historical CES Round-ups and Debriefs


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Social Pulse, Week of 4-1

Amy Webb’s emerging tech trends report keynote from SXSW is now posted live for streaming. It’s worth spending an hour this weekend or on your commute to watch.

Webb is a quantitative futurist whose team at NYU uses data-driven analysis to track tech trends year over year.

You can download the full report here. And here’s my full SXSW recap!


WhatsApp Business, which has 5 million customers so far, has launched an iPhone app.

Per Techcrunch, the “WhatsApp Business platform is key to WhatsApp’s growth in emerging markets where first-time internet users have skipped over using computers to reach the web, and instead mainly get online through their mobile devices.”


This week Snap introduced Audience Network, which will allow developers to run vertical video ads from Snapchat within their app. This comes as Snapchat’s user growth has slowed (down a million users year over year).

They also launched a number of Mario Party-style mobile games, including Snake Squad, Alphabear Hustle and Zombie Rescue Squad. Users will be able to watch 6-second, nonskippable ads in exchange for in-game credits.

Would you watch an in-game advertisement to beat your friend in a game?



Hearables (aka smart headphones) are becoming mainstream. Apple’s Airpods have Siri integration. Google’s Pixel Buds have Google Assistant. And now reporting shows Amazon is readying earbuds with built-in Alexa access for launch as early as the second half of this year. My prediction is this is the last generation of smart headphones before “always on listening” starts being enabled – challenging privacy norms and opening up even more opportunities for our IRL + A.I. lifestyle.


Gartner L2 has a smart piece on China’s emerging cancel culture, similar to U.S. trends where celebrities and brands get called out on social media and boycotted for a wide range of issues (sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.) The phenomenon is growing in China, where there are some specific nuances and complications, including that China’s web users don’t always agree on what’s controversial. Fascinating.


Oracle has a new distracted consumer infographic (PDF) demonstrating the challenge marketers have in capturing and holding a customer’s attention, including a 1 minute breakdown of the # of emails and texts sent, social media updates posted – partnered with our changing media habits. Could be good fodder for you to use in a future presentation.


Also this week…. Goth Crocs are apparently a thing, celebrity pastors are getting called out for their expensive sneakers, business leaders are saying they are using AI in their business but may simply be boasting because the technology is fashionable, even though data that proves having a digital savvy board will increase revenue.

And Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have a new 3-day old Instagram account that’s already at nearly 4 million followers.

CES 2017: Trends to Watch

(cross-posted from the space150 blog)

We recently attended CES 2017 in Las Vegas. This year, our annual pilgrimage to tech’s biggest showcase underscored a lot of what we’ve been exploring at space150 in 2016, including voice-enabled devices and VR, but in many instances set the stage for new exploration in 2017. From a new definition of sensory perception to diverging definition for the future of mobility. One thing was clear – 2017 will be exciting.

Below, please find trends we’re watching in 2017 and beyond following CES:

Assistance Through Assistants

While a decade ago, cameras and photos were the function that drove tech, today, microphones are the new cameras. More and more, on-demand, voice-enabled is becoming mainstream. Amazon and their Alexa won CES, and they didn’t even have a formal presence.

While this may mean some very useless and rudimentary experimentation with voice assistants in the short-term, we also saw some gems. Whirlpool, for example, announced appliances that respond to your voice (via Alexa), as did Ford. GE also rolled out voice-enabled appliances. The Internet of Things (IoT) is increasingly practical and affordable, and no where are voice assistants more logical than when built into these systems. I think about my kids who have an expectation for touch screens – but this lays out a future that is much more on-demand. Imagine your child’s first word is “Alexa” or “Ok, Google”.

There was also a lot of buzz about the over complication of consumer devices by making them IoT-capable. Does a hairbrush or clothes iron need an app? Not today (although those products also launched at CES 2017). But the more data we have and greater connectivity of our lives, the more possibility advertisers have to truly understand how consumers act, use products and understand messages. Today, I can ask Alexa in my kitchen to start my car or how much gas is left, and that would have seemed ridiculous five years ago. Now you can turn on and check the status of your iron, coffee pot and crock pot the same way.

What does this mean for brands? As agencies and marketers, we need to help brands think through how screenless and voice-controlled interfaces so that we can add value to the consumer. What is your consumer’s experience with your brand using solely their voice, and how can you provide value day-to-day for them by connecting your existing apps, databases and your knowledge of them? At space150, we launched an Alexa Skill in December, and we’re still learning from that as we build these for clients — interaction design, tonality and more. 

Adding New Senses to Experience Design, UX and Products

On that note – and in addition to Voice, at CES we saw a significant amount of innovations in audio, gestures and haptics. More and more we saw the idea of going beyond the touchscreen to actually bringing feeling to our digital lives. This isn’t smell-o-vision. These are screens and air gestures we can genuinely feel as if they are physical objects.

We saw haptic (touch) technology coming to  shoes, shirts, dashboards, TVs and touchscreens. One of the more interesting demos we saw was Tanvas, which wants to add the ability to feel texture on a touchscreen with a new haptic feedback technology rooted in ultrasonics. Imagine a world where a haptic forcefield could keep your fingers away from hot surfaces such as an oven. That was a demo, and it was impressive (assuming you can keep bacon grease out of the tiny speakers). We also saw VR shoe demos designed to give the wearer the feeling of rough or wet texture. It’s early for this technology, but it’s certainly an area we’ll be monitoring. 

For brands, this mean that we need to start thinking about senses beyond sight and designing for touch. Textures, gestures and feelings will dramatically change how we think about user experiences and how our customers interact with our content, apps and products. 

VR Entering the Age of Inside-Out Enlightenment

Every single major brand (auto/electronics/home/IoT/drone/photography/etc) had some type of VR, 360º or AR experience in their booth this year to tell their story to attendees using immersive media. Most of the experiences were rudimentary and focused more on using VR/AR technology to build a line at the booth versus telling an amazing story using this new medium. But that wasn’t the story worth telling this year.

The biggest VR product launches worth noting at CES 2017 were: 1) Wireless VR coming thanks to new HTC Vive options, and 2) Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Power Rangers Demo, which shows the true future of inside-out VR — powered by your phone, not a helmet hooked to a powerful computer. Think Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream except it’s six degrees of freedom. This is truly walk-around VR, not 360º video or just up/down/left/right controls.

This is the future of VR/AR — wireless experiences powered by your phone, and we caught a glimpse this year. And although it’s early days, the future of these experiences will be mobile. But the technology is going to take time to get there, from hardware to software to the developer kits that make them run. Marketers should focus on how to tell stories people care about with this new tech as part of their toolboxes. Inside-out, mobile VR is only going to grow, but the only way to be ready for the future is to understand where we’re at today.

Autonomous Cars are on a Mainstream Collision Course

One of the more interesting anecdotes we heard at CES this year was from Shelly Palmer, who advises companies like Verizon on innovation. He relayed a story about Ford CEO Alan Mullaly at CES in 2012 who said at that time that, due to risk and regulations and insurance and human nature, we would never see autonomous cars in our lifetime. But here we are five years later and CES was aflame with autonomous, self-driving and assisted driving innovation.

This year, every major automaker was showing off self-driving templates, sensors, and technology that envision a much different future than what Mr. Mullaly claimed in 2012. In fact, Ford has now announced production of a fully autonomous ride-sharing fleet by 2021. The competition fierce with each company taking a different path. However, what was clear is that driving as we know it now looks much much different in the future. It will change very drastically in the coming years, and every single car company at the show (including Honda, their first year) was showing off their take on this emerging tech.

For brands, we are at the beginning of a post-ownership and post-human-driver age, and that’s worth noting. Volkswagen painted a picture (via VR demo) of all the free time consumers will have in their vehicles when they don’t have to concentrate on driving. This means brands will have new moments to capture a consumer’s attention and new considerations for when, where and how we can engage them with a brand message during this downtime. It also means smart brands are going to starting thinking about this tech ecosystem early to be prepared.

Robots Are Real

One of our least favorite “trends” this year was the continued infatuation with anthropomorphic robots — or robots that look and act like humans.

The media coverage coming out of the show seemed fixated on some examples of robots that walk like us, play chess like us, follow us around and read to our kids. In our opinion these are a distraction from some of the more innovative ways that AI and computer-assistance are really positioned to improve our lives. Because, the robots — machines capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer — are already here. They’re in our pockets, our cars, our homes and workplaces.

We’re seeing less desire year-over-year for C3PO-style, Rosie The Robot-style tech, and believe brands should instead be laser focused on creating intelligent systems that tie to the cloud and improve our lives.

How Brands Told Stories in Unique Ways at CES 2017

Finally, we saw some tremendous brand storytelling that tapped into emerging tech at this year’s show. Specifically, we would call out a few brands:

  • American Express (client) used CES as an opportunity to unveil an Escape Room for visitors with branded clues.
  • Meanwhile Intel used AR/Hololens tech to showcase storytelling with “invisible” technology.
  • Finally, leveraging the upcoming Power Rangers movie, Qualcomm used CES to create buzz for its new inside-out VR tracking, using a Power Rangers helmet.

Check out our video run-down below. We shot the whole thing using Snapchat Spectacles for that POV feeling. Based on the trajectory of the trends we saw, we expect 2018 to be an even more innovative year for CES. 

What’s Next?

Join space150 for Excited for Change: 2017 Trends for the Modern Marketer in Minneapolis on January 8th. Our VP of Brand Innovation, Greg Swan, will be leading this MIMA panel with leaders from Land O’Lakes Inc., Thomson Reuters, Fjorge and Regis for a forward-looking discussion on 2017 trends, what’s next, and how to avoid fad fatigue in 2017.

Tickets available here.