Women's tech conference draws Macy's, not Google

At the BlogHer 2008 conference, female bloggers are surrounded by the very mainstream brand advertisers that the Internet media industry has clamored to attract for the last 10 years.

Correction on July 21: The address for a new Sesame Street site was listed incorrectly. Information on the site can be found at SesameStreet.org.

SAN FRANCISCO--On the tech conference circuit, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google are the typical deep-pocketed sponsors. But when the tech is geared toward women, the pockets are those of Chevrolet, Macy's, and K-Y Jelly.

Here at the BlogHer 2008 conference, nearly 3,000 female bloggers are surrounded by the very mainstream-brand advertisers that the Internet media industry has clamored to attract for the last 10 years. It takes just a few moments to notice the stark difference in marketing pitches.

A women's luncheon with Rocco DiSpirito was sponsored by olive oil maker Bertolli. Stefanie Olsen/CNET News

The 7 a.m. yoga sponsored by food maker Boca...cupcakes courtesy of Sesame Street...a luncheon with hunky Chef Rocco DiSpirito hosted by olive oil company Bertolli. Typical tech conferences host a coffee break at 10:00 a.m. But at BlogHer, it's milk and cookies brought to you by the dairy industry.

Not to downplay the tech. Nintendo sponsored a Wii Fitness booth, and iRobot, a new sponsor in 2008, showed off its autonomous vacuum.

Why is this important? Internet advertising is still struggling to pull its weight, despite the Web's fast audience growth and widespread usage. Much of the complaint from ad-dependent Internet publishers is that brand advertisers--those companies that could afford to buy expensive display ads or sponsorships --have yet to fully embrace the Internet in lieu of TV, outdoor, or print. The largest brand advertisers like Coke or McDonald's spend only an estimated 2 percent of their budgets online, though the Internet in general captures about 8 percent of the total advertising dollars spent annually in the United States.

Sesame Street hosted a salon with the puppeteers behind its famous characters. Stefanie Olsen/CNET News

BlogHer's conference at least shows that more Main Street companies are paying attention to women online. (BlogHer recently teamed with NBC Universal's iVillage to better sell to these advertisers.)

"This is a hugely important audience for us," said Ellen Lewis Gideon, vice president of corporate communications for Sesame Workshop, which is here promoting a new Web site for toddlers set to launch this fall.

In fact, that's the marketer's argument across the board. Women, particularly mothers, wield enormous buying power in the home, and women are increasingly spending their time online. What's more specific to this conference is that women are often blogging about products, services and programming within a community of their peers.

Gideon added: "Moms are the caretakers, and they have a loud voice for us."

Jory Des Jardins, co-founder of BlogHer, said that in the four years since the company started the conferences, it has drawn more and more consumer goods makers every year. This is the biggest year yet for BlogHer, she noted, both in terms of conference-goers and advertising sponsors.

"We're much more consumer than we've ever been, especially in the parent space," Des Jardins said.

No scantily clad booth dudes here. Stefanie Olsen/CNET News

Google and Yahoo used to be sponsors of the events, she said. But they're mysteriously absent this year. Microsoft and Hewlett Packard are sponsors, though, hosting free 10-minute massages in the "makeover pavilion."

New sponsors this year include Starbucks, Turner's TNT network, K-Y Jelly, and Macy's, which is hosting a party Sunday at the close of the event. These companies spend anywhere between $10,000 and $150,000 to be part of the conference, according to Des Jardins.

Michelin, also a new sponsor of the event, is "greening" the conference by buying offsets for 200 tons of CO2, or the amount that it expects is created by BlogHer 2008. That means it will plant trees to offset those emissions, according to Des Jardins. Similarly, GM sponsored the free use of hybrid cars for women who wanted to carpool to the conference from across the country.

Sesame Street bought a salon room at the conference, with cupcakes, children's videos, and the actual puppeteers for Grover and other Sesame Street characters. The company is promoting its newly redesigned Web site for toddlers at SesameStreet.org, set to launch in October.

Sarah Graesch, a mom blogger, chalked up all the new consumer advertisers to mom's buying power in the home.

"We spend a lot of money," she said.

Nintendo hosted a Wii Fit station to let women test-drive its exercise-oriented games. Stefanie Olsen/CNET News
 

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