Goodies, competitions, presents, Amazon vouchers and snacks… At events, there’s no limit to the imagination of exhibitors when it comes to attracting prospects to their stands, in the hope of initiating a conversation and generating a precious lead.
To this end, some even hire models, men and women, often in skimpy clothes, and dressed in the company’s clothes. We know this practice is quite fashionable – even systematic – in the automobile and video games industries, two sectors quite far behind on the subject of equality between the sexes. Take a look around car shows, I challenge you to find one stand where the most beautiful cars are not presented by top models.
This technique, which is not new, seems better suited to another time. And yet numerous companies resort to it at all types of events, as we can see below at the Dmexco event in Cologne, which took place in September 2016.
For those who don’t know, this German trade fair is not some marginal event. It brings together the cream of web professionals (950 exhibitors), attracts around 44 000 visitors and competes with the biggest events in this sector, like CES Las Vegas or Cebit in Hannover.
Even so, some exhibitors, albeit a minority, make a marketing choice to hire models for the event. Positioned in the surrounding areas of the stand, these people are tasked with ‘reeling them in’. Fortunately their participation isn’t limited to a nice smile and a simple display of their ‘assets’: they’re also expected to hand out flyers.
Obviously on the stands there are of course more female models in a digital sector still dominated by men. Unions put the difference between women and men at 33% – 67% in the digital industry, as against 53% – 47% on average when all other industries are calculated together.
Add to this the ‘glass ceiling’, which is still an issue: the higher we go up the ladder, the bigger the divide (although the divide is sometimes worse in other industries).
So it seems that the answer to the question “Where are all the women in digital?” is, alas, “at the bottom of the ladder”. Sometimes even hidden in a sandwich board. In a sector crying out for diversity, this type of marketing is particularly unwelcome. This practice conveys a stereotype of a sector of geeks where women don’t have an equal place amongst the thousands of people attending the event.
Does objectifying women sell ?
Businesses have sales objectives, exhibitors resort to these models and justify it as a way to grab leads and get one over on the competition. However let’s set out the economic argument for doing so.
The exhibitor is only targeting a sample of the male audience, and has foregone any female interest by doing so.
If those annoying ads selling household products have a persuasive power, it’s because they play on the identification of a female consumer with the female in the ad. Of course this is open to debate, but at least we can see the logic behind it. In the context of a professional web trade show, we can reasonably assume that a woman will not identify with the woman sandwich board. There is also no obvious link between a green latex costume and the product that is being promoted, this form of advertising is just irritatingand a section of males are also put off.
Even if women only represent 33% of the workforce, we should take them into account in our marketing campaigns.
Clearly Sixt and Numéricable have decided that female customers don’t interest them, in other words a large slice of the market. On the other hand, some businesses try to use sexism more cleverly to associate their brand with a female cause – sometimes clumsily (Think like a man?).
Using Originality to differentiate
To attract attention to your stand, you need to be creative and original. And this is not original. Truth be told, we can always find ‘funny examples’.
To really differentiate your business, originality can take many forms. There are many alternatives: gifts, food, juggling and many other ideas can work at an event, remembering to stay in perfect harmony with the product or service being sold.
Another example, a bobby, celebrated member of the London metropolitan police, seen in London on the stand of the company LiveBuzz at the Festival of Marketing 2016. Simple but original – and nicer than human puppets.
— LiveBuzz (@livebuzzevents) 6 octobre 2016
Exhibitor risks criticism and then the criticism goes viral
Worse than being accused of bad taste, the company also risks being branded sexist. The criticism can sometimes snowball, as we can see here.
Don’t hire models for your next event. This is a good resolution which makes sense. An easy one that won’t cost you anything – better still, it’ll lower your costs. Worse than bad taste, objectifying men and women is a useless risk that could create a bad buzz and makes no economic sense. You can keep your latex costumes for another special occasion.
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