IBM is using good-looking women to get you interested in their business-to-business services. Are you cool with that?
I was reading an article on MSNBC about Donald Trump having an imaginary phone call with the North Koreans when I saw this ad panel at the bottom of it:
I was immediately intrigued. Cognitive capabilities in B2B — that is an awesome idea. But I had to know . . . who was that young woman with the curly red hair? I instinctively knew her name was Colleen. And I know a lot of B2B analysts, but Colleen was new on the scene. IBM had clearly poached her right out of Harvard or Stanford. One click and I’d get to see her B2B insights. But no. . .
She was nowhere to be found. Instead, I got an offer to download an IDC report in exchange for my email.
Ah. So Colleen worked for IDC. I eagerly downloaded the report, but somehow, IDC was giving two guys named Simon Ellis and John Santagate credit for her work.
So who was she? While her visibility in B2B is low, she apparently has a sidelight advising people on hair-care products.
This was proving to be harder than I thought. So I went back to the original article, but Colleen was gone. She’d been replaced by somebody new.
More B2B analysis from another attractive woman. You could tell this one was smart because of the short, stylish haircut and the head tilt. I had a feeling her name was Catherine, and that she was Colleen’s boss. But was she trying to take credit for Colleen’s hard work? Another click should reveal the truth.
Catherine was gone, replaced by a shadowy African-American man in tie. Once again, IBM was pulling a bait and switch. But a thorough search revealed that Catherine was actually a woman named Samia Laouedj, writing a blog posts for an agency in France called Findeur.
(I know the photo is small, but I’ve clicked on the image and it is absolutely the same woman.)
I had no idea that IBM’s network of contributors ranged so widely. And yet, they all seem to have something in common . . .
Using “booth babes” was reprehensible in the 80s. It still is.
In the 80’s, a common strategy for attracting attention to your trade show booth was to hire attractive young women to stand in front of it. They were called “booth babes.” And there were even agencies that would supply them to you.
Booth babes are no longer in fashion, thankfully. But in the Web era, apparently IBM’s B2B marketing team still thinks it’s fine to use stock photos of attractive women in ads to get you interested in their products.
I’m sure that these ads tested well. Most of IBM’s buyers are probably men. And like me, those men wonder about these women and what they have to say about B2B marketing. They might get lots of clicks. They might even get lots of clicks from people who have nothing to do with B2B, marketing technology, or anything . . . they just like curly red hair or nicely coiffed brunettes.
But if you’re a B2B buyer who is a woman, a gay man, or, for that matter, a man who makes decisions on a basis other that the attractiveness of the women in the ad — you’re not the target of this ad. Does that bother you?
If you’re a woman working for IBM — or a man there who supports actually judging women based on their accomplishments or intelligence — do these ads bother you? If you’re IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, is this the way you want to feature women in your ads . . . as clickbait?
I thought we were done with booth babes. It will happen eventually. I’m still waiting.