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On Alice, Tik Tok, Marketing, CES, and Finding The Ground

By - January 09, 2009


I’m just back from a few days at CES in Las Vegas. The annual Consumer Electronics Show has become a white hot core of the marketing world, certainly for technology, but also now for nearly every major brand. Consumer electronics, after all, is the medium through which brands communicate and converse with consumers. If you care about your brand, you’re at the show.

This year, of course, would prove to be different. Gone was (most of) the ebullience and chest pounding; a more somber tone was prevalent, and most certainly the network of hotels, casinos, and convention centers that makes up the CES ecosystem was …. more sparse. It’s clear companies had cut back travel and thousands of folks simply did not come. Everyone remarked on that – cab lines were shorter, halls and walkways between events less crowded.

But there was something else in the air, and after some reflection, I think I know what it is. I’ll call it The Ground. I got the distinct sense from the marketers, developers, and publishers I spoke with that they had, in the main, found The Ground – they had been falling, out of control, for a long time, and finally, they’ve found themselves on the other side.


I think we all were worried that when we hit the bottom, we’d splat like a bug on a windshield. But we’re realizing it’s rather more like Alice or Tik Tok, falling through a long, confusing hole, and emerging, blinking, into a baffling new world. Strange, certainly, but at least there’s gravity and sunlight: We can get up, dust ourselves off, and look around to see what might come next.

The world we’re seeing is quite different indeed. For those in marketing, it’s a world where the assumptions of the past are no longer reliable. There are strange new creatures, and odd new lands (Twitter? Facebook? Blogs?). The practices which worked for the past 50 years are crumbling. Combined with the harsh reality of a deep recession, it’s clear we have our work cut out.

But here we stand, ready to do the work. That is what I sensed at CES. The journey will be difficult, there are losses still ahead, and we’ll be continually be tested. We will be forced to question our assumptions and deal with situations which on their face might be challenging, or even preposterous (a Cheshire Cat? Forests of Metal?!). But we can either hide from this new reality, or embrace it as an important narrative upon which we must embark.

And at least with the people I spoke to at CES this week, it’s clear they are starting to see things from the latter point of view.

This, to me, is very good news, and gives me great optimism about the future.

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9 thoughts on “On Alice, Tik Tok, Marketing, CES, and Finding The Ground

  1. oyun says:

    LAS VEGAS — If “convergence” and “finding common ground” are the key buzzwords of International CES 2006, there was no better example than the joint announcement from six major cable companies and a trio of top CE hardware makers of their commitment to make two-way digital interactivity a reality in the near future.

  2. Gail says:

    Excellent commentary, thanks for sharing your perspective.

  3. deb says:

    well said my friend – love the analogy – and glad that the mood is rolling up your shirtsleeves and getting stuff done!

  4. Tom Nocera says:

    Every rational person I know is hopeful that your observations from CES 2009 will prove accurate; that our economy from here and now can once again begin to grow. Only with the passage of time will we know. Yet, if the prevailing psychology has indeed begun to swing from the motivating mechanism of “fear” to the motivation of “greed” it could well be that given CES’s global connections, that it is an ideal fulcrum for the tipping point to occur.

  5. Brian says:

    Interesting perspective indeed. Thanks have a great 2009!

  6. player says:

    Thanks for your perspective from the show. Boy, we can all only hope that you’re right!

  7. fred wilson says:

    i love the alice falling through the hole analogy john and reblogged it at

    i’m totally ready for dusting off and see what might come next

    in fact, that’s our jobs and that’s why we are the luckiest people in the world

  8. nmw says:

    @fredwilson — I see you’re “catching on” to the Wisdom of the language ( ) — or have you had that .VC for some time already?

    😉 nmw

  9. Daina Middleton says:

    Interesting observations and consistent with my own. A coule of additional notes: tracks that are seperate currently at CES should be combined as the spaces are converging: reinventing advertising, social media, mobile (2 tracks), digital hollywood, etc. All had very similar topic titles and all were held simultaneously. Anecdotally, fewer panelists and more women would be nice. As a minority participant, I enjoyed seeing the rollout from a number of companies with products specifically designed for women who are serious professionals but don’t want to sacrifice style. Planitronics has stylish headsets with practical lipstick-like cases that trickle charge the device; HP and Asus with laptops, to name a few. My question of the day is: where would a technology conference be held for women? Certainly not in Las Vegas!