Microsoft's Meter Maid Mistake


by Tim Moran

Things always seem to be hopping Down Under, and this recent story from Australia's The Age is no exception. Apparently, Meter Maids have been "iconic figures" on Queensland's Gold Coast since the mid-1960s. The story, "Meter maids stunt backfires at Microsoft geek gathering," never explains what these women actually do; I suppose all red-blooded Aussies know, but Wikipedia, of course, is there for the assist if you need it: "Bikini-clad meter maids were introduced in Surfers Paradise in 1965 in an attempt to put a positive spin on new parking regulations. To avoid tickets being issued for expired parking, the Meter Maids dispense coins into the meter and leave a calling card under the windscreen wiper of the vehicle."

So how did Microsoft mess up? Well, it hired some Maids, says the story, "to titillate attendees of its TechEd conference on the Gold Coast." Microsoft, however, says it had no idea that "its 'meter maids'. . .would be half naked," so the promotional stunt "backfired spectacularly." While the company apologized quickly after it earned a "stinging rebuke from its own staff members and a number of the 2700 IT workers it was trying to court at the conference," there continued to be much consternation all around.

The Age story also points out this delicious irony: The "iconic figures of the Gold Coast with skimpy gold bikinis that leave little to the imagination were present at the welcoming reception" of a Microsoft conference that had a "key session. . .devoted to 'women in IT.'"

In a statement, Microsoft said it would like to "sincerely apologise (sic) for any offense caused by the promotional staff," but many were having none of it. Kate Carruthers, a female IT worker who attended the conference, said: "It seems that there are still marketing and promotional folks in the IT world who consider objectification of women to be ok."

Furthermore, she said, Microsoft could have always just sent them packing: "It's just wrong as a brand alignment exercise," she said. Quite so. Even MSFT insiders were appalled. "Tracy Fellows, Microsoft Australia's managing director, said on Twitter that she felt the stunt was 'not acceptable PERIOD!' and 'no one will be confused that this is JUST WRONG!'"

In the end, though it had apologized, Microsoft tried to make the case that they were "unaware of [the Maid's] exact costuming until the day of the event, at which time it was too late to be addressed."

Carruthers boomeranged that one, saying that it should have been obvious to Microsoft what these female fixtures of the Gold Coast were going to wear. The final irony is that one of Microsoft's own products could have saved them this embarrassment: All the promo folks had to do was fire up IE and check out the Maids' official Web site.