​MRY’s David Berkowitz Shares His Top Takeaways from CES 2016: Shadow CES, China’s Rise in the Tech Scene, and Other Highlights from Tech’s Biggest Show

Henry Truc  |

CES 2016 is now in full swing, and more and more announcements are pouring out of Las Vegas from the tech industry’s biggest show of the year. From new products to major partnerships, there’s a lot to digest as the event seems to get bigger and bigger every year. To help us wrap our heads around some of the most exciting things coming out of this year’s CES, Equities.com asked David Berkowitz, Chief Marketing Officer of leading creative firm MRY, to share his best takeaways from what he saw.

This certainly isn’t Berkowitz’s first rodeo, either. It’s actually his 10th visit to CES, which means he’s got some pretty keen insight on which trends and themes are ready for primetime now, and which ones that are more likely still a few years away—some of which may surprise you.

EQ: What were some of the coolest and most innovative products that really stood out to you at CES 2016?

Berkowitz: Parrot’s new drone, the Disco, can fly 50MPH for 45-minutes, so that’s a fun bit of one-upsmanship in the drone arms race. Automotive companies were really interesting this year, even with lofty expectations. GM announced its $500 million investment in Lyft to further self-driving cars. Ford is having cars integrate with Amazon Echo, along with Chinese drone manufacturer DJI. Nvidia is powering autonomous vehicle tech in Volvo and others. And in a big twist, Toyota is building it’s next generation of car software using Ford’s open source SmartDeviceLink.

EQ: It was also an interesting year for the tech industry as a lot of new markets are emerging, such as smart homes, connected cars, robotics, drones, etc. Which group do you think made the biggest splash at the event as the industry to watch right now?

Berkowitz: The automotive industry stole the show. Drones are having a big year, but their biggest impact will be B2B rather than B2C. The smart home has evolved really quickly. Soon, people will expect to be notified when their laundry is ready, or they’ll expect their thermostat to adjust the temperature as they drive home from work. Granted, some smart home features are oversold until they get simpler, cheaper, and more reliable – like light bulbs. Oh, and then there’s even a smart trashcan (not sure if this was at CES – more of an aside) selling for $200, so people will cram sensors and other tech into just about anything. (see www.brunosmartcan.com)

EQ What were some of the top trends and themes from this year that excited you most?

Berkowitz: Data was a big deal. Everyone’s talking about it. Google and Apple want to own car data, partnering with and even battling with automakers, who also have that friend and foe tug-of-war with players like Uber and Lyft. Smart homes, wearables, and drones generate tons of data. There’s such an arms race for data that it will be hard for analysts to keep up with the land grab as they try to interpret it for their employers and clients.

EQ: The market was not a fan of FitBit's Blaze, and you also had a funny tweet about hoverboards at this year's show. Were there any other noteworthy disappointments that you noticed, or announcements/trends that did not live up to expectations people may have had heading into the event?

Berkowitz: Those hoverboard guys (pretty much all male) were so sad looking. I really felt bad for them, as three months ago, they must have been expecting to mint money here, maybe even be the next GoPro. And now they’re just hoping they don’t leave Vegas with third-degree burns. This was also a down year for 3D printing, though the excitement has fizzled. It’s still an important field, but this is another area where the bigger impact is B2B. I saw one company demo a new consumer-facing 3D printer, and it had some statue a few inches tall. I figured the tech must really be advancing and that’s why they’re out showcasing it. So I asked how long it takes to print, and he says, “About two hours.” The tech needs a few more years before it becomes more than a hobbyist’s toy.

Then there’s a lot of what CES is – things like washing machines that can do multiple loads at the same time, and even dry clothes. Compared to self-driving cars and drones, this is a little boring. But this is also something that can save people a lot of time. And that’s a bigger deal than needing to pay twice as much for clothing just because it has the same sensors you already have in your smartphone.

EQ: It did seem that this year was kind of a followup to some of the emerging technologies that were introduced a year or two ago. A lot of these are still very young markets exploring different directions. Did you get that sense?

Berkowitz: It does standout a little. With the floor itself, I almost wish I could go every other year. Every year it seems like it’s just building on the year before, but every now and then you’ll see something like the first wearable or the first VR headset. A couple of years ago when Google was showing off its first-ever self-driving car, it was the craziest thing ever. Now everyone and every supporting tech company is in there except, when you go there you don’t actually see any self-driving cars. It’s still an old way of showing very new technology.

EQ: From a messaging standpoint, CES is as much about marketing now as it is about the actual tech products. Which companies really hit it out of the park for you?

Berkowitz: When Intel demoed a drone following a mountain biker and dodging a falling tree, that was great stagecraft. There’s also the shadow CES. On the show floor, companies like Facebook show off Oculus, while Google’s visible everywhere thanks to partnerships like Android Auto. But in the meeting rooms of the Aria, now dubbed Tech South as one of the three major CES venues, media buyers get pitches on the latest ad products.

In the marketing world, there’s what I call Public CES and Shadow CES. I met with a lot of influencer marketing companies, for instance. They’re not exhibiting, and they have little to do with CES. But I’m there, my colleagues are there, and my clients are there, so they’re there.

EQ: The Shadow CES is something that you’ve seen evolve over time. I think you said before that you were one of the only people from the marketing side of the business when you attended your first CES. What were some examples of how companies were able to transcend just the tech side of things?

Berkowitz: A lot of Chinese companies at show caught my attention. It was interesting going through the booths of like Huawei and seeing their massive display. It’s not just technologically savvy, it looks like luxury booth. It felt like a booth someone like Louis Vuitton would create. So it wasn’t just about technology but they were exercising fashion and style. It’s something that took US manufacturers years to figure out, and even then, if you look at other stalwarts of the show, it’s still very black and white.

Just as far as conversations go, the whole Faraday Future launch has so many people talking. Everyone’s trying to figure out exactly what this is, and there’s a lot going on in the rumor mill. So all of a sudden, there’s China and then there’s everyone else.

EQ: You participated in a Dare to Disrupt panel on mobile marketing. Can you share some highlights from that discussion?

Berkowitz: I moderated a fantastic group from Yahoo, PlaceIQ, NewAer, and Snaps as part of this programming from Starcom Mediavest Group under that Dare to Disrupt theme. These are four very different companies, and they were all there to discuss the future of mobile. The biggest highlight is that there are so many opportunities for marketers to tap into data – including signals from search history, social networking, chat apps, location, media consumption behavior, wearables, and beacons. All of those came up in a short session. Everyone’s really excited to work with brands to give consumers experiences that are relevant, thoughtfully planned, interesting, and unobtrusive. With all the talk around ad blocking and FTC intervention, most of the industry is filled with executives and companies like these that want to deliver positive experiences all around for brands, publishers, and consumers.

EQ: Speaking of mobile, did you feel that there was a large presence there in terms of how people were experiencing and covering the event?

Berkowitz: There was a lot more conversation around live streaming and social streaming. Periscope was there, and there was a new app called MeVee that I believe launched there. It was their big launch week so they were doing their promotion in conjunction with CES. A lot of people live streamed the show. Robert Scoble is doing it heavily through Facebook, so he’s getting a good amount of attention for it. Still, if you look at these streams, a top stream is getting thousands of viewers. Compare that to a top article on Techcrunch or the New York Times, it’s not going to compare. But there was more of that going on, and there’s more interest in the potential of it.

But being my 10th time at CES, I remember seeing people going around with backpacks with all their batteries and hotspots and broadcast equipment on the fly. People have been doing this for a while, but it’s a good example of how all this tech is becoming more accessible.

EQ: What is your favorite memory or takeaway from CES 2016?

Berkowitz: One lesson: I can wear a onesie suit for a couple days and no one will notice.

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