TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Marketing Mayhem at Consumer Electronics Show

Marketing Mayhem at Consumer Electronics Show

Leslie Walker (
Thu, 5 Jan 2006 12:30:42 -0600

By Leslie Walker

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 4 The Big Pitch assaults me here like some rock opera:
See me, feel me, touch me .

It started months ago, in a trickle of e-mails offering advance
briefings; followed by a drumbeat of phone calls, printed invitations
and more e-mails; building up to a crescendo here Thursday as the
nation's biggest trade show opens with about 2,500 gadget vendors
screaming for media attention.

The Big Pitch for the annual Consumer Electronics Show starts earlier
every year and involves phantom products that may never reach store
shelves along with real gadgets being shown for the first time. Over
the past two months, I've read more than 400 pitches inviting me to a
private showing of some "life-changing" device or offering access to a
"highly exclusive" party where such devices will be celebrated.

Big companies are flying in celebrities to entice people to attend
their product launches and after-hours parties.

Thursday night, chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices is presenting the
Black Crowes at MGM's Studio 64 club while rival Intel has snared
hip-hop stars the Black Eyed Peas. Over at the House of Blues,
Motorola is putting the Foo Fighters on stage, as Samsung holds an NFL
"Champions Dinner" at the Wynn casino featuring "chalk talk" from
Boomer Esiason, Troy Aikman and Steve Young. And the nighttime fun
continues Friday with a Monster Cable awards ceremony featuring Stevie

But because marketers use so much hype, techno-babble and
incomprehensible acronyms in their wind-up to the five-day show, I am
always torn about how to tackle an exhibit area taking up more space
than two dozen football fields.

Quick, what should I see first?

Do I make a beeline for the S.beat, which creator Swissbit billed in
an e-mail as the first Swiss army knife with a built-in music player?
Perhaps I should gawk at the "clothes that glow" from Elam USA, which
the company assured me contained "the world's first washable lamp
designed to be sewn into clothing."

Seriously, folks, those were both real pitches.

Then again, I might head over to LaserShield's booth, taking that
little black fob with a panic button the company mailed me last month,
so I can pick up my review copy of what it billed as a "revolutionary
wireless Plug 'N Go fully monitored LaserShield Instant Security

In one of many previews held for the media Wednesday, pitch men and
women from about 100 companies set their shiny gadgets on a spotlit
table in a ballroom of the Venetian resort and casino and gave
one-minute spiels about how you and I might actually use them.

There was the latest "digital hotspotter" from Canary Wireless that is
supposed to save time by telling you right away if a wireless data
signal is nearby. I don't know about you, but I don't waste a lot of
time booting up my laptop in search of Wi-Fi signals.

Of slightly more interest was a doohickey from Spotwave Wireless that
supposedly boosts cell phone signals to extend your phone battery
time. Even that didn't get me fired up, considering my phone already
has ample juice to match my gab time.

Among the cooler gadgets I've seen is the SkyScout, a handheld
star-viewing assistant. Point it at any bright object in the sky, and
it will identify the object using global-positioning-system
technology. A new biometric system from Fujitsu called PalmSecure
identifies people by capturing vein patterns in their hands using
near-infrared rays.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, the opening speaker Wednesday night,
came with a vast marketing army, trumpeting where Microsoft aims to
take everyone with its new Windows operating system called Vista, due
for release this year. All of its major rivals -- except Apple
Computer -- also are here, including Sony, which is hosting one of the
biggest booths.

There were more news conferences Wednesday than a lone reporter could
attend in months. While big companies tried to lure reporters with
celebrities, fancy food and highly scripted presentations, the little
guys had to work harder.

A start-up called MusicGremlin picked me up at my hotel in a white
stretch limo and took me to my first appointment -- just so co-founder
Robert Khedouri could do a back-seat demo of what he calls his "record
store in your pocket." MusicGremlin's software lets its portable music
player bypass computers and pull music directly from the Internet.

That's a goal big companies here are tackling, too -- streamlining
music downloads so you don't need a PC to snag a fresh song -- but
only MusicGremlin went to the extreme of giving demos inside limos
equipped with traveling Wi-Fi signals.

"We're a small company; we don't have a booth on the show floor," said
Karen Novak, the PR rep who talked MusicGremlin into hiring five
limousines to ferry reporters around Sin City this week. "What is the
one thing everybody really needs and can't get here? Transportation."

The lines to hail a cab -- and even those to get on the Las Vegas
Monorail system -- are a nightmare.

Of all the advance pitches, Kodak's paper campaign seemed the slickest
-- the film giant mailed a series of glossy photos showing black-suited
spies handing off suitcases and sexy, tattooed young folks hanging out
in a bar. They accompanied mysteriously worded invitations to Kodak's
party at the Ghostbar Wednesday night, where details of its secret
"Project Gemini" were to be revealed. Kodak even sent black plastic
admission badges hanging from black lanyards, as if to illustrate its
claim that the event would be "highly exclusive."

But I still have no clue what Project Gemini is about because the
Ghostbar hoo-haw was to start at 10 p.m. Vegas time, or 1 a.m. Eastern
time, which meant Kodak was winding up its digital gears just as my
personal analog clock was set to wind down -- and I needed to conserve
energy to wade through the tens of thousands of gadgets that go on
display starting Thursday.

Oh, did I tell you about Loc8tor, the pocket fob that lets you find
anything if you remember to stick a postage-stamp-size tag on it in

I just might start with that. If I plaster myself with Loca8tor tags,
maybe I can keep track of my senses amid the marketing lunacy
engulfing the Consumer Electronics Show.

Leslie Walker welcomes e-mail

Copyright 2006 The Washington Post Company

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