At last year's Cloud Expo event, I didn't see any booth babes at all. I chalked it up to the very slow economic recovery and to their relative uselessness. This is a show for business professionals, I thought, not consumers. There's no need for that kind of base misogyny here.
This year, one company bucked the trend and fielded a pair of spokesmodels in tight tops and short shorts.
Solar VPS was the only company to feature booth babes at Cloud Expo this year. The gentleman behind the promotional models seems unmoved.
My first reaction was, "I guess the economy's looking up." If there were zero models last year and two this year, that's a slight uptick. Maybe next year's cloud expo will look more like the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) or the Consumer Electronics Show.
A colleague suggested that I look at the financials of Solar VPS, the New Jersey company that hired the models. It hosts virtual servers and apps for clients. Its model is very similar to that of other IaaS and hosting providers -- sign up and launch a Windows or Linux server template, choose administrative add-ons, and load an app on it. On a related note, the cloud industry as a whole seems to moving away from bare-metal resources and toward app templates and all-inclusive resource stacks. Some call this blueprinting. Others call it wrapping.
Back to the babes. Since Solar VPS is a private company, its financials aren't readily accessible. It did claim $3.4 million of sales for 2012, and it does seem to be expanding (from 35 employees last year to 50 now). Perhaps my economic indicator theory isn't completely off base. I will say that its entire booth strategy was very bro-oriented; it also featured Nerf guns and rocket-ship graphics. That might be the company's brand strategy, or it might have been going for intentional irony.
What's interesting is that the concept of booth babes seems to be falling into disfavor. Fast Company's Sarah Kessler wrote last month about how they alienate women. And because women's spending power is growing rapidly, she argues, objectifying them is bad for business. This month, an Associated Press story pointed out some sexist undertones at E3, even though the popular tradeshow featured fewer spokesmodels this year than it did last year.
The presence of scantily clad women hawking games and gizmos seemed in particular contrast to a report released this week by the Entertainment Software Association, which organizes the gaming industry's annual trade show. It found that 45 per cent of the entire gaming population is now women, and women make up 46 per cent of the most frequent game buyers.
Some of the sources quoted in that story said that, even though women may be buying more games, they're not as well represented in the gaming industry as they are elsewhere. And as long as most of a show's attendees are men, booth babes will be featured.
That still seems to be the operating mode across the Pacific, where the notion of hiring booth babes is alive and well. Computex Taipei wrapped up last week, and TechPowerUp's coverage of the event includes six pages and 126 photos of the promotional models hawking laptops and accessories there.
Members, this is clearly a contentious point. Booth babes may reflect an outdated and distasteful ethos that belongs to the Mad Men era. They may also reflect the economic well-being of their employers. What's your take?