5 CES Experiential Tech Activations That Raised the Bar for Exhibit Design and Brand-Building

January 27, 2023

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has always been the barometer of what’s trending in face-to-face marketing. At this year's show in Las Vegas, held Jan. 5-8, the the fast-changing experiential marketing landscape made it that much more exciting to see how brands chose to tell their stories and build connections at CES 2023–particularly through compelling and immersive tech activations at exhibits. 

Among the key themes on the show floor, Tom Maher, director of strategy and growth for Pinnacle, an experiential marketing agency, pointed out the rise of active solutioning, where demos go beyond selling a product’s features and benefits to enabling customers to tailor a solution to their needs.

“It’s a powerful pre-sales mechanism, allowing the customer to truly envision the possible impact of making the solution on offer part of the way they do business,” he said. 

Maher also noted the growing importance of quantifying reach and broader adoption of footfall and dwell-time tracking, heat mapping and passerby impressions, in addition to traditional business metrics, as brands are now looking for a much higher level of measurement.

Meanwhile, artificial intelligence (AI) will become a major force in shaping the future of exhibits and face-to-face marketing in general, Maher expects. 

“From text-to-image visualization (Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and DALL-E) for exhibit design inspiration to AI booth staff and more intelligent/responsive demos (ChatGPT) and post-event marketing automation, AI is making inroads into marketing and design in a big way, and exhibits will see a fair share of change in the coming years.”

Here are five CES exhibits that led the way in next-level tech experiences at this year’s show. 

SK Group

The floor is … ocean! As attendees entered SK Group’s dark tunnel lined with screens, the world landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty, the Sphinx and Big Ben, around them disappeared into the rising ocean, depicting the grim consequences of climate change. This unnerving experience was juxtaposed with a brighter future built with low-carbon technologies the Korean energy-to-telecom enterprise is bringing to a wide range of products. Attendees could go for a virtual ride in a life-sized air mobility simulator that showcased SK’s AI semiconductor’s applications and see a living space where carbon reduction technologies are commonplace. A massive splash wall and corresponding touch screens made it easy to learn about the future of cities powered by net-zero energy sources. 


What might have initially seemed like a calming forest break from a busy showfloor was actually a meticulously created escape room experience based on “Knock at the Cabin,” an apocalyptic thriller by M. Night Shyamalan. Leveraging Canon technologies, Shyamalan has created a mixed-reality experience where attendees can explore scenes from the movie, including picking up on clues around the exhibit, conversing with IA version of intruders and barricading the cabin’s door with virtual furniture to make a run for it. The eeriness and the thrill were more than real in the exhibit that blended the line between brand storytelling and an immersive movie trailer. 


High-tech industrial equipment manufacturers are no strangers to CES, but arguably the crowd favorite this year was Caterpillar and their 110-ton Cat777 off-highway truck, a massive—as in 20 feet tall—selfie opportunity and a showcase of the company’s advances in mining and construction technologies. Attendees could climb into the cab and also into the bed of this huge vehicle and participate in AR experiences about various industries and vehicle types. On the ground, they could remotely operate a Cat large dozer and an excavator in real-time hundreds of miles away. 


Turkish global tech brand Togg showcased its vision of the future with the “Digital Mobility Garden” experience anchored by Beyond X, an immersive digital tunnel with Saturn, Jungle, Futuristic City and Artistic Turkey scenarios; Self.Ai, where attendees could create their digital alter ego and upload it to their mobile devices; a Clean Energy solutions space; and a Trumore Experience, which featured semi-enclosed pods where attendees could take a break from the chaos of the show and test out AI that anticipates your needs and helps plan your daily routine. A perfect touch that married the digital to the physical was Turkish coffee, recommended by AI and handcrafted in traditional flavors such as cardamom and pistachio. 

GELG Electronics

Behind the massive screens, LG Electronics welcomed attendees into the Life’s Good environment that showcased the brand’s key offerings, such as the first wireless OLED TV, a transparent TV and a color-changing MoodUP refrigerator. But arguably the coolest aspect of the exhibit—and storytelling strategy—was the collective of emerging brands and collaborations that are part of the LG Labs. From brid.zzz smart sleep solution to Monster Shoes Club, an NFT project that merged virtual shoes and real LG Styler ShoeCase, it explored what’s next in curated, full-on experiences within a larger footprint, tying into the “home of the future” theme in unexpected, through-provoking ways. 

Special Mention: Schachzug aka These Guys

Experiential marketing agency Schachzug was already coming to CES to support its multiple clients on the showfloor but decided to take the opportunity to launch their American office—These Guys—and talk about some of the event technology that makes events measurable, including heat mapping and tracking neuroactivity in virtual reality before building out the actual event. Their presence next to Google and BMW hopefully is also a sign that event tech will finally claim its space in the fabric of CES.

Main photo: SK Group exhibit


New Research Provides Benchmarks for Trade Show Labor and Materials Handling Costs in 16 Cities

March 15, 2023

What is the average cost of trade show labor in Las Vegas? What is the average cost of electrical labor in Orlando? What is the average cost for materials handling in New York? How do these averages by city compare to the national average? 

The 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey — a new report by The Exhibitor Advocate, a non-profit organization dedicated to amplifying the voice of exhibitors — provides some benchmarks to review high-level exhibitor costs in 16 U.S. cities, from Las Vegas and Orlando to Chicago and Atlanta.  

“We believe this data is a valuable and important benchmarking tool,” said Jessica Sibila, executive director of The Exhibitor Advocate. “Every show is different but having a tool like the Material Handling and Labor Rate Survey allows exhibitors to better estimate their expenses prior to participating in an event.” 

She continued, “It allows show organizers to evaluate how their show compares to city averages and how their negotiated rates may impact exhibitors. And it allows facilities to understand how their costs compare to other destinations. All of this is important information for all stakeholders in the industry to have.” 

TSNN takes a deeper dive into the report to provide analysis of the survey, which was prepared by Tradeshow Logic, an independent show management and event solutions company, and certified by EVOLIO Marketing, an independent third-party research agency. To paint the full picture, we asked leading service contractors including Freeman, GES and Fern, and Exhibition Services Contractors Association (ESCA) to provide their take on the report. Here’s what we found. 

The Back Story

The Annual Survey of U.S. and Canadian Labor Rates was first published by Tradeshow Week magazine beginning in 1980. After Tradeshow Week ceased publication in 2010, various groups produced the survey intermittently. The most recent version was prepared in 2017 by EDPA, the Experiential Designers and Producers Association. EDPA has officially turned over the production of this annual analysis to The Exhibitor Advocate.

“The pandemic caused many shows to skip one, two or even three show cycles. In the process of building back, the exhibition industry has faced rising inflation, staffing shortages, added health and safety costs, and supply chain issues,” according to the 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey.

The Methodology

The data included in this study is based on secondary research sourced from 160 publicly available convention and exhibition exhibitor manuals and rate forms. The events, manuals and forms have been selected by market, based on availability of data (rates and services) across a representative sample of events and major industry sectors and sizes (net square footage and number of attendees).

What It Means

When evaluating the data, it’s important to understand: “Many variables beyond just the cost of labor factor into the determination of labor and material handling rates, including: size and complexity of the show; depth of attendee services and show management requirements; show schedule; required equipment; distance to deliver equipment; dock accessibility; and ease of moving into and out of a facility,” according to the report. 

The result: It’s extremely difficult to come up with year-over-year percentage changes unless you have an apples-to-apples comparison with the same show data, as well as a significant sample size. “It should be noted that the rates are averages and should serve only as a benchmark. Every show is unique,” according to the report.

“It is apples to apples in that the same cities were used for both 2017 and 2022; however, a random sample of shows was utilized,” Sibila said. “This is not meant to be a study of particular shows from year to year.” 

That being said, the 2022 Material Handling & Labor Rate Survey provides a starting point for budgeting and a baseline for future years (especially if the same shows and cities are used).  

Key Data Points

The averages are compiled from data that represents events held during January through Nov. 2022, at 16 major U.S. convention centers and facilities in Anaheim, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

The report provides cost ranges from high to low:

  • The lowest average straight time installation and dismantle rate was in Atlanta ($99.66), and the highest rate was in New York City ($235.05).
  • The lowest average straight time electrical rates were in Nashville and New Orleans ($77.00), and the highest rate was in Philadelphia ($187.60).
  • The lowest average Per LB material handling rate (before deadline) was in Atlanta ($1.02 Per LB), and the highest rate was in Philadelphia ($2.86 Per LB).

Outpacing Inflation

It probably comes as no surprise to show organizers, exhibitors or suppliers that trade show labor and materials handling costs outpaced the rate of inflation in 16 cities from 2017 to 2022, according to the report. But by how much? The answer depends a complex set of factors, which some industry leaders contend makes it nearly impossible to prove.

Based on the report’s analysis over the period from 2017 to 2022:

  • The average exhibitor kit installation and dismantle rates outpaced the rate of inflation by 3-6%.
  • The average exhibitor kit electrical labor rates outpaced the rate of inflation by 8-12%. 
  • The exhibitor kit material handling rates outpaced the rate of inflation by 18-31%.

“I would not be surprised to see that anything labor related reflects the general economy and as a result significantly outpaces general inflation,” said Aaron Bludworth, president and CEO of Fern. “This would especially be the case in an industry like ours that had a rapid decline and a rapid recovery. As to the percentage, that would require a very complex analysis that is unlikely sufficiently done in this report.” 

He continued, “Most importantly, Fern works very hard to keep costs to our clients, both exhibitors and organizers, in check and pacing with our costs of operating our business. We are also very transparent in the process, which is why we created the first in the industry fully transparent, no added charges, material handling pricing model Fern’s 1Rate.”

In response, Sibila added that all industry stakeholders have a vested interest in the viability of conventions and trade shows. 

“The current economics are creating an existential challenge and resulting in reduced participation in exhibitions,” she said. “It’s important we work together to address this issue with all stakeholders in the industry.” 

Big Picture

“Generally, I look to industry media and organizations like CEIR for industry data and reporting that are not focused on a specific outcome that could tend to sway the way data is interpreted and portrayed,” Bludworth said. “So, I look at these types of reports with skepticism, regardless of the characterizing done.” 

TSNN asked ESCA to weigh in. 

“Our current economic landscape has driven inflation rates to a recent high,” said ESCA Director of Operations Julie Kagy. “Our members are not immune to these same cost pressures and are working diligently to manage the impact on their organizations. Data shared by our members confirm they have incurred significant cost increases in direct labor, indirect labor, supply chain, equipment rental and petroleum-driven costs that far outpace average inflationary rates.”

She added, “We have requested the raw data utilized to compile this survey. We look forward to thoroughly analyzing that data and providing an insightful reply.”

Freeman and GES declined to comment on the results of the study. 

"Under the methodology section, it cites that the information was retrieved from 160 shows (~5%) which we believe is too small of a sampling size to form an opinion,” according to GES officials. “We also don’t have any info on the show profile to agree or disagree on this claim.” 

Sibila added that as stated in the report, and validated by two independent third parties, the sample size constitutes a representative sample for the research. 

“There is a margin of error of +/- 10% and does not account for variables such as net square footage, industry segment or attendance,” she said.

For a full list of costs by city (and to make your own determination about how to use the data), download a free copy of the survey here.


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