Monday, March 21, 2016

Hello, demo dolly.

Many years ago, I attended an after-hours event at some mega industry trade show. Comdex? Internet World? I can’t quite remember.

What I do remember is that Microsoft sponsored the event, and the big entertainment was Chicago. By this point – somewhere in the 1990’s - Chicago was well past its prime. Even back in the day, when the band was Chicago Transit Authority, I wasn’t a particular fan. I’m pretty sure I checked out of the concert somewhere between Bill Gates introducing the band (it was a surprise) and the band’s launching into “Saturday, In the Park.” Chicago isn’t the worst. I don’t start stabbing at the radio buttons when one of their tunes comes on. I mean, they didn’t do Space Cowboy or Horse with No Name.* Just not a fan.

But at least, as an after hours event at a trade show went, a Chicago concert wasn’t offensive in any way.

Unlike Microsoft’s par-tay last week, when the party at a video game developers’ conference came replete with “scantily dressed female dancers.”

The party sparked a firestorm of criticism this week, in an industry that's been struggling to overcome longstanding complaints that it has objectified women and made them feel unwelcome as players and game-builders. In response, the head of Microsoft's Xbox division issued a statement saying the after-hours entertainment "represented Xbox and Microsoft in a way that was absolutely not consistent or aligned to our values."

An Xbox spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the dancers, who wore abbreviated school-girl outfits as they reportedly greeted party-goers and danced on platforms…In a statement, Xbox chief Phil Spencer acknowledged the event "disappointed many people" and pledged to "do better in the future." (Source: Bloomberg)

I am old enough to remember when scantily dressed females weren’t part of an after-hours gathering. They were on the conference floor.

I went to a ton of trade shows and conferences over the course of my career, and plenty of tech companies hired women dressed as cocktail waitresses to man, or, rather, woman, their booths. Their purpose, of course, was to seduce the largely male attendees in for a product demo.

Although we sometimes called them “demo dollies”, they were not generally capable of demoing much beyond cleavage. Many of them weren’t, after all, company employees. They knew how to turn something on, but it probably wasn’t a PC. Once they got you into the booth, someone in a business suit or, as the business world got more casual, khakis and a logo’d polo shirt, took over.

One time, I stopped by the booth of a tech company that my company was going to be partnering with. I wanted a product demo. There were nearly a dozen very pretty women in the booth, all wearing black cocktail dresses and heels. I spoke with a couple of them and they were, in fact, employees. But they were not in the part of marketing that felt compelled to actually understand what their product actually did. They were the ones who ordered the logo golf balls and looked cute at trade shows.  After coming up empty finding someone who could show me the product, I finally spotted a woman in a not-so-cocktailish black dress. More like something you’d wear to your grandfather’s funeral. She also had on sensible shoes and tights. I made a bee-line over to her and got a perfectly fine product demo.

But I walked away feeling a bit bad for both her and for the demo dollies.

The most outrageous thing I ever saw at a conference was at one run by the Security Industry Association. It will surely come as no surprise to anyone who read Liar’s Poker or saw The Wolf of Wall Street or Working Girl, that there are more than enough macho jerks in the financial services industry to go around. And the macho jerkiness extends to the behind the scenes guys, too. The ones who come to look at new and exciting products at the SIA show.

One year, an exhibitor – I believe it was British Telecom – had models in French maid costumes that barely covered their butts, tottering around on 5” heels giving out boxes of Twining’s Tea.

My company were giving out Harbor Sweets Sweet Sloops – a wonderful local candy – but I, in my menswear suit and floppy bow tie, could just not compete.

But that was way back when. Could it be 30 years ago already? Maybe more…

Kind of pathetic that, when the scantily dressed are wearing porn-y, disgusting “school girl” outfits – do I hear a yuck? – that things seem to have gone from bad to worse.

Let’s hope that Microsoft XBox, as they’ve promised, does better in the future.

That doesn’t have to mean a boring old Chicago concert, of course. Just something that’s not demeaning to women, thank you very much.


*Not that our current reality isn’t depressing enough, I just googled “Horse with No Name” – quite possibly the worst song ever written, IMO – and read an article on America’s (then) upcoming appearance in Elkhart, Indiana. A pop up on the screen advertised a Spring Break Getaway to Fort Wayne. How desperate would you have to be to take your Spring Break in Fort Wayne? Maybe to escape from an America concert in Elkhart. I’ll admit to humming along to “Sister Golden Hair Delight,” but given the risk of hearing “Horse with No Name” I will not be attending America’s April concert in Lynn, Massachusetts.

1 comment:

Frederick Wright said...

With the dramatic and sudden rise open openly gay software engineers, indeed an entire gay brogrammer culture, the vibe at some trade shows and conferences has shifted to match. I've got zero interest in being teased and manipulated by airbrushed model, vacant eyed model types, male or female, but it is always interesting to see companies pivot quickly to match the evolution of the culture.