John Birnsteel of Doe-Anderson was at CES. Here are his takeaways.

The 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas celebrated its 50th year last week, and John Birnsteel, chief operating officer of Doe-Anderson, was there to check in with clients, scope out the competition and learn about new and emerging technology.

Birnsteel, who called his trip “worthwhile and exhausting,” specializes in harnessing consumer, trend and competitor insights to help companies define and deliver their central brand promises internally and externally, according to the firm’s biography.

The 102-year-old Doe-Anderson, Louisville’s oldest PR and advertising firm, has as its motto “Adapt or die,” and what better place to learn to adapt than at the trade show where science-fiction ideas take front and center.

IL talked to Birnsteel upon his return to Louisville about noteworthy trends and insights he gleaned (not everything has to stay in Vegas):

All Alexa, all the time

Alexa is everywhere,” Birnsteel said, of Amazon’s cloud-based voice assistant, which powers Amazon Echo. “All the brands want to get connected to Alexa.”

Birnsteel said he found tremendous potential in Alexa in the aging care, financial and logistic spheres. He thought brands with good name-recognition, like Kleenex or Jell-O, would benefit from Alexa because consumers think of those brands first. Smaller and emerging brands will have a hard time gaining traction with Alexa users, he predicted.

Connected health

Many companies are pursuing follow-up medical care with technology solutions. “Hospitals want to stop readmissions,” he said. So insurance agencies and hospitals are now pushing the use of health networks. They are using video monitoring, sensors and medical tech to manage care.

John Birnsteel | Doe-Anderson

Sleep technology

CES allocated a lot of space to sleep-tech companies. Birnsteel estimated that it was 10 times the size of previous years. Connected smart beds were a big sell this year. The beds do everything from heating zones on the mattress (and not others), to monitoring sleepers’ breathing and heart rates to waking occupants up in the morning.

(The slideshow highlights other medical technology that caught his attention, including robots, wearables and medical monitoring.)

Ford

Ford made a strong showing for autonomous vehicles at CES this year. What struck Birnsteel is that usually car companies highlight the driver experience. But now that driverless tech is on its way, automakers are leaning heavily on things like the quality of the GPS and the comfort of the ride, among other technologies.

He said that VW was highlighting aromatherapy and massage options for its cars.

Ford has made a commitment to autonomous vehicles by 2021.

FirstBuild

Louisville’s FirstBuild co-creation micro factory was there and won Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2017 Award for its Paragon induction cooktop, which is currently crushing it on Indiegogo.

GE and Haier had a presence as well, and Birnsteel said he was especially struck by a smart mirror made by Haier. The mirror could start your shower water and turn it to the temperature you prefer — it recognizes people’s faces. It could tell you personalized information. You could read email and text messages on it. It’s just a prototype now, but it’s on its way.

Marketing

There was a whole section of CES 2017 devoted to marketing and advertising.

After years of talking about the need for targeted, customizable advertising and marketing, Birnsteel said, people are starting to talk about broadcasting again.

Advertising on television is seeing diminishing returns as many people cut the cord in favor of streaming, he noted, adding that many channels stream commercial free.

He was upbeat about “appointment TV,” such as sports and competitive reality shows, “anything that can’t be time-shifted,” saying it was still valuable ad space to buy. He said several sports league representatives were in attendance to pitch advertising during their games.

Billboards, especially, garnered a lot of attention. Birnsteel said a representative from Clear Channel, the nation’s biggest owner of billboards, said its biggest clients are tech firms like Google and Netflix.

One word of warning to the advertising community. “Fake news has been really damaging to advertisers,” Birnsteel said. If an ad for your product turns up on a salacious fake news page, it can be really damaging to the brand, he added.

Emojis

Yes, 2017 will bring you “The Emoji Movie,” so it shouldn’t be a surprise that brands are jumping into the emoji space, too. Birnsteel said that emojis and three-second GIFs are “digital hieroglyphics”– able to convey a lot in an instant.

For those who are skeptical, Birnsteel recalled that when email first came out, messages were long, like letters. Now in lieu of letters, people just tweet short missives.

VR

Birnsteel let IL test very basic virtual technology by means of a cardboard set from Google (by way of The New York Times). It’s freaky and hard to like at first — but again, it’s coming.

Birnsteel, on the other hand, said it reminded him of the first time he tried a Walkman (and admitted that dated him) and started hearing sounds in his music that he hadn’t heard before.

Doe-Anderson has tinkered with VR technology. The firm made a game for Maker’s Mark that involved the participant dipping bottles in wax in virtual reality. In the end, he summarized, VR and Alexa were new frontiers that Doe-Anderson would be keeping an eye on down the road.