From voice assistants to vibrators, CES puts consumers first

By Tom Lee, Senior Account Manager

The annual global innovation showcase known as CES has seen brands from across the globe take over Las Vegas and compete for the limelight since the ‘60s. Companies need to stand out from the crowd and cut through the noise, particularly at a show where nearly every technology company in the world can be found under one roof. The sheer scale of the event is a reason having a strong creative public relations and communications strategy can enable key brands to steal a march on their competitors.

In the past CES has been viewed as a gadget fun-fair which lacked any connection to the everyday consumer, but this year things are different. This year the consumer was put first.

When talking about winning the race for consumer favour you need look no further than the fierce battle between tech giants Amazon and Google as the two dominate the voice-aided smart speaker space. Amazon is estimated to have a 41% share of the global smart speaker market while Google has 28%, following a year of significant investment to catch up to their tech rivals.

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant (GA) AI technologies need no introduction, but they are still in the early adoption stage as consumers come to grips with the benefits of smart-home tech and connected devices. Their comms teams have acknowledged this by demonstrating the technology in-use, through partner technology like JBL’s new GA headphone range and the smart TVs that have Amazon Alexa functionality built in. The marketing teams highlighted new functionality, but unlike previous years, the benefits of the products have been the focus, rather than the gizmos themselves.

Google managed to pull off an elaborate stunt involving a ride which uses voice commands to move the consumer along a journey, putting the user in control – Hey Google, give me a thrill but don’t make me throw up.

Speaking of thrills, a robotic sex aid for women by Ose was banned from this year’s show, which caused uproar on social media. Commentators on Twitter adopted the hashtag #CESGenderBias to debate the organiser’s decision and suggest there was a double standard because male-friendly sex products were displayed at last year’s show.

Despite this biased PR decision which plays into the broader gender discussions in society over the last year, many organisations have quickly adopted policies in their recruitment and business operations that will create a more diverse workforce and empower female leaders. Comms professionals can help tackle the issue by creating strategies that position business leaders from different genders and ethnic backgrounds to be equally represented throughout PR and marketing campaigns.

If one company were to win the award for best stunt, then in my view it has to be Apple. Apple wasn’t even exhibiting at the show, yet it managed to troll the competition with a giant ad on the side of a Las Vegas building, that read: “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone.” The obvious dig at privacy standards in the industry puts the pressure firmly on the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon. Ultimately, I believe consumers are in the process of benefitting from the increase in attention on privacy, as devices become more secure and safe to use. And in one fell swoop it looks like Apple, not Amazon or Google, won the CES comms war.