Today on the Penny Arcade Report, Ben Kuchera explains why the E3 convention’s reliance on booth babes to sell video games is a fundamental misreading of the video game market:
The first thing I saw at E3 this year was a group of scantily clad ladies giving out energy drinks in front of the Los Angeles convention center. There was another group of female models posing for pictures upon entering the building, and to the right was another pod of “booth babes” giving away T-shirts. Going up the escalators I was greeted by yet another leather-clad group of women pitching a war game. The amount of female flesh on display before you even enter the show floor was impressive, and impossible to miss. The message it sends is clear: This is a show for men, with advertising, promotions, and booth design aimed at grabbing male eyes. In a time when console makers and major publishers are struggling to connect products with gamers, this is a dangerously short sighted marketing strategy…
There is very real money to be made marketing technology to women, or at the very least creating an environment where women feel like they can be part of the discussion. Consider that the high level of consumer adoption of technology by women happens despite the fact that trade show are usually designed by men for an aggressively male audience. In fact, E3 isn’t the only show to struggle with the changing reality of the market. CES has long pandered to a male audience, despite the huge female market for emerging technologies. “It’s confusing, because it’s sending this message of what my sex is here to do, and obviously I don’t feel that way, because I’d rather be learning about the products,” Molly McHugh, a technology writer for Digital Trends, stated in a piece about booth babes at the show.
And the New York Times reports that GoDaddy, the domain name company infamous for its boneheaded ads featuring scantily-clothed celebrities and assorted other women, has realized that the campaign may not be in its long-term best interest, because it sends the message that the product is cheap and unserious:
In July, private equity powerhouses that included Kohlberg Kravis Roberts paid about $2.25 billion for a majority stake in GoDaddy and named Warren Adelman the chief executive; Mr. Parsons became executive chairman. In a recent interview with Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, Mr. Adelman signaled that the era of racy GoDaddy marketing would come to an end. “We are synonymous with inexpensive domains and sexy girls,” Mr. Adelman told the magazine. “I think there is a different message we have to expose people to.”
GoDaddy appears to be learning faster than the video game business, but it’s amazing to see how long it’s taking both an industry and this company to absorb a fundamental point: sexism looks increasingly dated. And nothing’s less sexy in advertising than looking square.
There’s been a lot of talk in recent days about Alexis Madrigal’s piece for The Atlantic about how women are the unacknowledged drivers of technology and social media adoption. We hold up half the sky, we control, if not quite half the country’s spending dollars (thanks, pay gap), a reasonable chunk of change. Unless you’ve made a very specific decision that you don’t want our money, it’s stupid to accidentally send us that message and lock yourself out of a potential customer base.
And sexism doesn’t only send a message to women that your product is not for them. From writing this blog, and from conversations I have every day with folks on Twitter, I know there are an enormous number of men who are discomfited by sexist imagery and sexist advertising in their entertainment. They may still play video games, or watch movies, or read comics with sexist depictions of women. But those depictions are a hindrance rather than a draw, a hurdle to brand loyalty rather than a facilitator. Panting sexists aren’t a majority. And whatever their visibility, they aren’t even a majority of guys. That companies can get the basic math here so wrong is baffling.