Epic brand fail & scantily clad women?

It was interesting to see the Prime Minister weigh into the debate around sporting team’s attitudes to women, especially since there has been so much discussion of issues related to the treatment of women over the past few days:

“It’s very plain that it’s very important for sporting organisations across the country to show leadership in demonstrating proper respect towards women,” Mr Rudd told reporters.

In the light of this comment, and after discussing the (relatively tamely clad) NetRegistry nurses & some gender issues yesterday, I went for a walk with Jonathan Crossfield & Stilgherrian today. I was seeking out the other booths at CeBIT that I’d heard about with so-called “promo girls” who far outclassed the nurses in terms of scantiness of their attire.

The funny thing about this was that it was actually hard to find the booths in question because, while people could remember seeing the “promo girls”, nobody could actually recall the brand they represented nor the location of the booths.

Eventually a security guard was able to direct us to the correct locations. There were four booths that had women dressed in a sexualised fashion, making the nurses quite pale into insignificance. What I saw really did take me back to IT trade shows back in the last century. I had hoped we’d moved on from the objectification of women to promote technology. But clearly I was wrong.

There’s a bit of puzzlement on my part:

  • I’m not sure why an IT exhibition is considered a place for women to dress in this manner?
  • I’m not sure how many people would display images like this of women in the workplace?
  • I really don’t understand how this actually worked as a marketing exercise.
  • The fact that brand recall was so low that I had to ask a security guard indicates that it was not very effective as a marketing exercise.
  • Perhaps the “promo women” encouraged some attendees to take brochures?  I do wonder how was this linked to ROI?

Most of the exhibitors were happy to let their products be assessed on their own merits. Why did these four brands choose to take such an old fashioned approach? Did they think that women are not technology decision makers? Did they think that it was all in good fun? Would it have been in good fun if it had been well oiled young men wearing tight Lycra pants? In fact, why were there no such men in evidence?  At least that would have indicated gender equity!

BTW: this article by Karen Willis from the Rape Crisis Centre is worth a read

10 thoughts on “Epic brand fail & scantily clad women?

  1. Hear, hear! This was my first CeBIT, and I was actually quite surprised to see all “brochure girls” too – I had thought this thought of thing went out with Clement Atlee too.

    Perhaps some vendors still view their “core demographic” as the stereotyped (male) IT geek, who is so happy to get any female attention all, that it might actually influence buying decisions. If so, these vendors need to take a long hard look at themselves.

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  2. Kate

    Good post. What worried me was in viewing the NR video about it, one of the creative people was female.

    I figured all this sort of nonsense comes from blokes doing creative, is there still pressure on marketing staff that are female to implement sexist programs?

    It seems there is still a long way to go.

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  3. Appealing to the lowest common denominator is an obvious but stale marketing technique. It took quite some time for the car industry to realise that women purchase vehicles and are major influencers in purchase decisions. I suspect kind of like Moore’s Law, the awareness that women do purchase technology and influence technology purchasing decisions will happen in twice the time.
    There are however some recalcitrants like NetRegistry and others who believe nothing sells like a bit of nudge-nudge and T & A.

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  4. This whole debate has really captured my attention. Have nothing to do with ICT beyond business applications but have written academically on issues facing women.
    Re: first comment – not about looking at themselves as much as their marketing data (noted comment three). I think they may find the woman holding the purse strings are in greater numbers than they think. Good read on this “Don’t think Pink”.
    Re: second comment – Those nurses weren’t dressed in a particularly degrading fashion. As a woman & something of a feminist – I may well have come up with this campaign myself. Whilst I would like to see some well oiled objectified men, the nurses, unlike other stands, were really quite conservatively dressed. As Jonathan Crossfeild has pointed out a number of times it’s actually about audience perception and it has surpassed their market dreams really. The nurses (unlike stands pictured above) were barely nudge-nudge. We don’t have to ignore sexuality in order to avoid objectifying woman. The concept was good & valid, the nurses caused a stir – nice for NR exposure, did its job. My concern is not the use of sexuality in marketing the point that keeps being missed is the gender specification of the roles.
    Given that they are really a very ordinary looking crew who don’t appear to have been selected on cup size (unlike pic’s above) I really think everyone should get over it – actually no don’t this has been a catalyst for some fascinating marketing – all the subsequent tweet etc!

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  5. Yes, Kate, we’ve certainly had some interesting chats over the last couple of days and I’m sure many to come as we unpack this case study.

    I do want to address the comment made by @ireckon, who implied that Karen, our marketing assistant and expo organiser, was pressured into adopting sexist marketing techniques.

    Nothing could have been further from the truth and the suggestion that Karen was pressured is rather offensive. Karen selected the imagery, organised the nurses, selected the costumes and worked tirelessly to produce the stand without us pressuring her to add any kind of bias or directing her creative decisions. Karen has a highly respected voice in any marketing decisions our department takes and willingly says when she feels something is inappropriate. Much of the credit for the success of this stand must go to Karen, and she is happy to accept that credit.

    It is interesting that some critics believe this campaign could only be developed by misogynistic blokes and that if women are involved they must have been pressured. Could it be some women don’t believe this is offensive or sexist?

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  6. Hi Kate, INteresting post. I’m inspired to respond, because I DO have a memory of one of the booths – Kaspersky’s. Mainly because of he awfulness of it all! I work in the Consumer Security space, and found it amazing to think that Kaspersky’s stand literally had a scantily dressed girls who KNEW NOTHING about the Product they were promoting, aside from telling you with the Fake Credit Card they gave out, you could get six months free of the ‘suck em in’ version of their software.
    So not only did Kaspersky trivialise women with this booth, they also trivialised the whole space they are supposed to be working in. It must have been galling watching for the Distributor of their Business solutions who was just three booths away – at which, I am happy to say, I had an interesting engagement.
    Finally, i think, as Kaspersky are a highly respected security vendor, I found the booth even more amazing!
    Perhaps the short answer is, this is a cheaper way of getting bang for the buck than flying in a experts to actually have conversations with potential customers

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  7. Benjamin

    I think the whole premise of the argument is bad- it’s somehow you equate these women as meat because they “dress in that manner”.

    Sorry – to me looks like gym clothes – not sexualised and not distracting. Why would someone wearing something make them any sort of way? Why would you see this as sexualised?

    Shame on you for dumping on people trying to make an honest living. Gender issues would be better served attacking the issues of gender role classification that cause people to think “because she’s pretty she must be a promo girl” – if you let the promo people do their job and stop saying they’re somehow inferior for doing it maybe more males would go into (though I imagine they’d also be good looking and so you might think that’s somehow bad too)….

    what a storm in a tea cup – must be a slow blog day

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  8. Pingback: Stilgherrian · Look, about that damn topless gnome…

  9. Worst I saw was women in swimsuits, wearing wings and high-heels outside the federal court giving out cola to school kids – by the school-bag full.

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