Data & Tech

Why CMOs and other marketing execs flock to CES every year

CMOs from brands like Duolingo and Reddit, ad execs from platforms like Reddit, and other marketing leaders from agencies and trade orgs weighed in on why CES matters.
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Ethan Miller/Getty Images

· 5 min read

CES is so back.

Last year’s event saw more than 115,000 people come through the Las Vegas Strip—and, as per usual, many of them were marketers. This year, which is expected to attract 130,000 attendees, is proving to be no different. Despite the effects of the pandemic on business travel, several marketers said CES is just as relevant as ever.

“It’s kind of like an agenda-setter for the rest of the year,” Chris Vollmer, a managing director at media and marketing consultancy MediaLink, told Marketing Brew. “It can be a hard reset coming off of vacation, but the benefits are huge.”

Vollmer was far from the only person to lament CES’s proximity to the holidays. So why, exactly, are agency, media, and brand execs still turning out in droves? In addition to establishing the industry’s agenda for the year (and the proximity to Sphere, of course), here are three other reasons marketing execs told us they keep coming back to CES.

Anyone who’s anyone: CES started out hyperfocused on technology, and in many ways, the tech sector is still front and center. But that’s not all it’s about these days.

“You have this gathering of all of the different publishers, you have a number of different retailers, you have a number of different channel partners,” Emily Ketchen, CMO of Lenovo and a long-time CES attendee, told Marketing Brew. “Marketers might meet with a number of different folks all in one place.”

Duolingo CMO Manu Orssaud, who attended and spoke at CES for the first time this year, said he made the trip in order to “meet a lot of people within the same place,” especially agency representatives and other marketers.

There’s also a whole lot of potential customers to ask about their product needs, Ketchen said, plus stakeholders traveling in from overseas. It’s not every day that execs and consumers from around the world are all accessible in one place—especially since the onset of Covid-19.

Friendly competition: With all those companies under the same roof(s), scoping out the competition is inevitable. Ketchen said she keeps an eye out for what other tech companies are up to at CES, and Digitas North America CEO Amy Lanzi said that her team uses CES to gather intel on behalf of clients about their competitors.

As a trade organization, the IAB doesn’t necessarily have competitors in the traditional sense, but CEO David Cohen, who said he’s been attending CES for about 20 years, told us that he sees it as a way to take the “pulse of the industry,” like what people are excited or anxious about for the coming year.

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Further upfront: Some marketers and media execs see CES as something of an upfront to the upfronts. “A lot of the major media companies start unveiling what their themes are for the coming year and what they’re actually going to talk about as they build towards the upfront,” Vollmer said.

For Disney, CES “kicks off our journey to the upfront,” Wendell Scott, SVP of Disney Advertising Sales, told us. On Wednesday, the company hosted its Global Tech and Data Showcase that Scott said would serve as a “little bit of a peek under the tent” as to what’s to come in May.

It’s not just traditional media companies that treat CES as a pre-upfront. Reddit set up an interactive experience to “showcase…opportunities for brands” on its platform, Alex Underwood, global head of agency development, told Marketing Brew after walking us through the installation. His most valuable CES meetings, he said, tend to be with both agency leaders who have relationships with Reddit and their clients, during which Reddit can pitch its value proposition—primarily its contextual advertising offerings.


Dial it back? While marketers still find CES to be useful for business, some said their companies aren’t sending as many people as they once did. Lenovo sends a team of more than 50 people from its offices across the US, Europe, and Asia, according to Ketchen, but that’s still a smaller group compared to pre-pandemic.

That’s not the case across the board. Digitas, which has been a part of CES for about 20 years, according to North America SVP of marketing and comms Stephanie Gilbert, hasn’t much changed the size of its team on the ground—five or six content creators plus a few execs. Lanzi said she’s noticed that the agency’s clients seem to be sending fewer people to conferences than they were before Covid, but that doesn’t make CES any less important to agencies and brand marketers.

“It establishes our ability to come back to either share this with clients, or be there in person with them to look at all the opportunities, to help be their partner to make decisions on where they should be investing to get that next purchase, build their brand, etc.,” Lanzi said. “We want to be in that role with the clients. We don’t want to be waiting. We want to be leading the market for them.”

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