The boldest brand experiences from the world’s biggest tech show
Every January, top business professionals from a range of sectors pack their bags and head to CES to uncover what’s new and next in consumer technologies. But for event marketers, the world’s largest tech conference is also a pulse-check on experiential trends, from innovation to experience design, offering a glimpse of what the industry’s priorities are for the year ahead. At this year’s show, Jan. 7-10, brand purpose was a leading topic, foldable phones were still a thing, 5G took a step closer to reality, Apple participated in the conference after a 28-year hiatus and the Consumer Technology Association opened up its doors to sex technology companies for the first time. And those are just the footnotes. Come along on a tour of some of the biggest brand experiences at CES 2020.
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Infusing some mystique into the CES experience, American Express activated another decidedly offline experience to engage customers and prospects in its human-centric messaging. And what’s more human, and global, than magic. Under a big-top-style tent outside the convention center, the brand treated attendees to a professional magic show with magician Dan White. Visible from the Las Vegas Monorail and other corners of the outdoor footprint at the convention center, the design included street lamps, street-sign-style directional signage and translucent banners that alluded to the experience and read: “There’s magic in the cards.” Read more here. Agency: Momentum Worldwide. Build: Freeman.
Excuse our French, but you simply cannot make this shit up. (Pun intended.) Fueled by the fact that “enjoying the go” has essentially been the same experience for the last century, Charmin rolled into CES with the GoLab—a showcase of three conceptual prototypes designed to enhance potty time “from start to flush.” The brand’s vision for a better bathroom experience was delivered by addressing pain points consumers can relate to—running out of toilet paper mid-experience, entering a smelly bathroom and missing part of an event while waiting in line for the restroom.
Inside the GoLab, part of Procter & Gamble’s broader LifeLab exhibit, attendees could sit on a branded toilet and, via the Bluetooth on their smart phone, summon the RollBot, a futuristic-looking robot that delivered a fresh roll of TP. They could also check out Charmin’s SmellSense experience featuring its electronic sensor-monitoring system that detects the presence of carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulfide found in, well, farts. By walking up to one of two screens, attendees could experiment with the technology by watching a simulation. Gas was released into an enclosed chamber and SmellSense notified the participant via a GO/NO GO display on the screen conveying the status of the stench, and when it would be safe to enter the simulated bathroom.
Finally, the V.I.Pee area gave attendees a next-gen porta-potty experience. Participants could walk inside a replica bathroom, sit on the throne and then, get this—strap on an Oculus Rift S VR headset. The concept would hypothetically be leveraged at sporting events and concerts, where consumers often miss a chunk of the viewing experience while they’re waiting in line to use the restroom. With V.I.Pee, those attendees could put on the VR headset and view a live feed of the event while they enjoyed the go, thereby catching more of the action. We just hope Charmin thought of a way to keep those headsets sanitary… Agency: PG One.
Location technology brand Here returned to its space outside the Las Vegas Convention Center with a two-story booth that leaned on the design theme of “transparency.” Across the footprint, semi-transparent layers of LED screens, colored glass and graphics helped illustrate the brand’s “vision” of mapping the physical world with layers of data. Under all of that high-tech messaging was a booth rooted in sustainability—the custom, modular build was more than 90 percent reusable, with elements of the build stored locally to reduce transportation requirements. Materials were chosen to be used over multiple years and then recycled at the end of their lives. And all of those transparent walls? They served an environmental purpose, too. Natural and indirect light resulted in less electricity required to light the structure. Build: Jack Morton Worldwide. Digital Content: Meso (Germany).
DELTA AIR LINES
Delta was already ahead of the game before touching down in Las Vegas. Building on its commitment to sustainability, the airline ensured that all Delta customers traveling to and from CES during the week of Jan. 6 were flying carbon-neutral thanks to “renewable and natural environment solutions” that offset emissions. We like it.
Inside the convention center, Delta offered a simulated journey through an airport terminal powered by a cutting-edge technology called Parallel Reality, developed by Misapplied Sciences. The tech allows multiple people to view personalized content customized around their destination, all on a single screen (think: those giant airport displays you check to ensure your flight is on schedule), at the exact same time, and in their preferred language. Essentially, two attendees could be standing side-by-side viewing the same screen, but reading completely different messages based on their departure gate or Delta Sky Club membership. No apps or headsets were required. Delta will host a beta experience using the (opt-in) technology at Detroit Metropolitan Airport later this year, where up to 100 people will be able to simultaneously view personalized content tailored to their travel.
Delta’s booth also showcased exoskeleton technology the brand is experimenting with to help boost employees’ physical capabilities, thereby reducing employee fatigue. Attendees were invited to strap on a robotic suit and pick up a 50-pound bag, which, according to our friends at We’re Magnetic who were idea-hunting on-site, felt “virtually weightless.” The exoskeleton could enable an employee to lift up to 200 pounds repeatedly for up to eight hours without strain or fatigue, according to the brand.
Also worth noting: Real Delta employees were on-site in uniform to serve as brand ambassadors. Agency: Digitas North America.
Harman hosted the Connected Automotive experience at the Hard Rock Hotel, an invitation-only event that immersed attendees in its “Experiences per Mile” brand story. The 10,000-square-foot environment featured six engagement zones and a “Tech Bar” where customers could take a deep dive into connected automotive technology. But don’t take our word for it, check out this 3D tour of the space. Agency: George P. Johnson Experience Marketing.
In what has been described as the creepiest experience at CES 2020, HBO teased the third season of its hit series “Westworld” with futuristic dining experiences for industry VIPs and media. And in true “Westworld” fashion (remember that SXSW takeover?), the event was hosted not by HBO, but by Incite, a tech conglomerate introduced in the upcoming season. The fictional company was unveiled at the Wired25 Conference over the fall, and the conversation continued at CES where Incite touted its revolutionary “strategy engine” and vision for the future via two keynote dinners at The NoMad Restaurant. In the months leading up to CES, journalists and thought leaders in tech, business, and entertainment were invited to attend.
Incite put its “your data doesn’t work for us—we work for you” principle to the test during each dining event. The attendee experience was hyper-personalized from the very start to showcase the company’s “extraordinary computing power.” Each attendee had a script written just for them (the full activation script totaled 600 pages), brought to life by Incite representatives who interacted with them throughout the evening. And here’s where it gets really disturbing: Data on attendees was compiled using only public databases and guests’ online profiles. Commentary on the promises and perils of a data-driven society? Check. Agencies: Giant Spoon, Mycotoo.
There’s nothing CES attendees love more than a virtual reality experience (OK, Charmin, you win there). But Jeep came in at a close second with its elevated, literally, VR test drive. Its booth inside the Las Vegas Convention Center featured a show-stopping 4D VR engagement—the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon hoisted up on hydraulics pistons that “navigated” the trail attendees were experiencing through the goggles. Attendees hopped into the vehicle, buckled up, and the VR content drove them on an off-road course through the Moab desert, which included a stunning shot of Hells Gate. Agency/Creative: George P. Johnson Experience Marketing. Simulator Build: Metal Crafters. VR Content: Spinifex Group.
Photo courtesy: Kristy Walker Photography
IBM engaged customers and prospects in the impact the brand is making in the way people live, work and play. Among zones featured in the space: Business Transformation, Quantum Computing, Tech for Good and AI and Blockchain meets eSports. Check out the experience design in the gallery below. Agency: George P. Johnson Experience Marketing.
You couldn’t miss LG’s booth if you tried. The centerpiece of the 22,000-square-foot space was an overhead LED “wave” comprised of 200 55-inch LG OLED screens (128 curved screens and 72 flat screens) displaying vivid naturescapes that included waterfalls, crashing surf, ocean life and beyond. Spanning 82 feet, the installation could be seen across the show floor, beckoning attendees in. The booth also featured a 20-foot reflection pool that helped highlight a wall display of LG’s rollable TVs.
In the “ThinQ Zone” area of the footprint, LG showcased a connected home powered by its products. Highlights included a smart door that uses facial recognition and vein authentication (yup, it’s a thing), the LG ThinQ Fit smart mirror that lets consumer plan outfits without trying them on, and AI-powered laundry solutions.
LG also jumped on the robot bandwagon, leveraging AI-powered robots for a futuristic restaurant experience operated entirely by the bots, a robot barista coffee pour-over station and even one that did the dishes. Rounding out the brand’s presence was 15,000 square feet of meeting suites and a press room. Agency: The Taylor Group.
Nissan introduced its new crossover vehicle, Ariya, during the show and then gave it a hero moment in the booth atop a large wooden platform. Above it, a massive, 360-degree ring of screen displayed rotating video content. In the booth, attendees were treated to ice cream kept frozen by an electric-powered Nissan van, a treat to promote its EV vehicles, like the Nissan Leaf (the best-selling EV of all time). Each branded ice cream cup was topped with a cookie featuring either the Ariya or an EV vehicle and served with a spoon promoting the hashtag, #NissanCES. Sweet. Agency: George P. Johnson Experience Marketing.
Photo courtesy: Kathryn Rapier
Talk about beautiful experience design. To play up its status as one of the last positive digital platforms that allows brands and consumers to connect in a “purely additive” way, Pinterest’s exhibit encouraged attendees to “Stop Interrupting. Start Inspiring.” The space was designed to whisk attendees away from the chaos of the show floor into a stylish respite where they could relax, take meetings and check out the brand’s top 100 trends to try in 2020 in the flesh and via various screens.
The exhibit featured five curated meeting spaces, each based on key “dimensions,” including positive, action, novel and visually appealing. Among touchpoints: Risograph art walls, “hacked” furniture items, a boardroom table surrounded by a swing-set seating arrangement, funky lighting and curated wall displays showcasing a range of décor and tchotchkes. The meeting spaces were complemented by refreshments from Pinterest’s 2020 trends list, including single-origin coffees, turmeric-infused lattes and ring pop champagne cocktails. Agency: NVE Experience Agency.
For the last several years, Twitter Commons has offered a cozy escape from the show floor where the brand can connect with clients and partners face-to-face in a laid-back environment. For CES 2020, Twitter created another stylish getaway, this time centered on great tweets from partners, brands and consumers. The tweets were showcased throughout the space via dedicated vignettes that offered a little background on each post. Here’s the breakdown:
When Wendy’s discontinued its wildly popular spicy nuggets, the internet lost its collective mind. But things changed when a well-known musician tweeted a message of positivity, wrapping up with a prayer to bring back the beloved nuggets. The tweet attracted so much attention that Wendy’s saw an opportunity to connect with its online fans and posed a challenge: If the tweet got 2 million likes, the brand would bring the spicy nuggets back. In less than 48 hours, Twitter users compiled the likes and Wendy’s made good on its promise, even expanding its spicy menu options. The moment was brought to life inside Twitter Commons with a fiery wall featuring the Wendy’s tweet, with a “In case of tweets break glass” display beneath it featuring a serving of the nuggets and a #BestofTweets2019 placard explaining Wendy’s branding win.
The Ritas is an irreverent beverage brand that stands for speaking your mind, so for the return of its popular Cran-ber-Rita, the brand leveraged tweets from real fans declaring their love for the flavor to create a video announcing the product’s return. The scenario inspired a speakeasy environment at Twitter Commons, where attendees could try out the beverage for themselves.
Popsicle earned Twitter’s best product launch ranking by leveraging the platform to launch a new product. When a celebrity announced via Twitter that he could no longer find the brand’s traditional Double Pops, fellow users felt his pain and, together, they urged Popsicle to #BringBackTheDouble. The verdict? Later this year, Double Pops return. At Twitter Commons, attendees were treated to a fresh popsicle from a popsicle truck, a popsicle stick installation and a close-up look at key tweets from the scenario, supplemented by a placard.
Ahead of a video game launch, player ratings tend to be a hotter topic of conversation than the title itself, so NBA2K turned its highly anticipated player rating reveal for 2K20 into its own live-streamed event. The brand unveiled the top NBA stars’ 2K20 ratings live on Twitter, helping drive pre-orders of the game and achieving record viewership (825,000 views). The hashtag #2KRatings also trended to No. 1 in the U.S. during the live stream. At Twitter Commons, attendees got a chance to play the game live. Agency: N/A Collective.
Google returned to its gargantuan footprint just outside the Las Vegas Convention Center for a third year in a row, offering two floors chock-full of devices and demos. Visually, the draw was a set of four colorful, two-story slides that led down into a ball pit (the footprint’s two massive outdoor screens didn’t hurt, either.) Strategically, the main attraction was a 15-minute walkthrough experience called “Change of Plans: A Google Assistant Journey” that demonstrated how the brand’s voice assistant helps consumers carry out everyday tasks. The scenario took attendees through detailed vignettes that put the Google Assistant’s “everyday” features to the test, including at a grocery store, in the car and at home. Directed by a Google Guide and a live voiceover, groups of six were invited to take the journey and interact with the Assistant when prompted to solve problems and advance the narrative.
On the floor below the Assistant Journey, a wide range of connected devices showcased Google’s efforts to simplify the smart home, advance speech technology and protect consumer privacy within a sleek environment that, once again, placed the products in context. Agencies: Sparks; Deeplocal; Brands New School (LED graphics); Red Paper Heart (LED graphics).