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Booth babes and burlesque: Tech's tiresome little secret

With Mobile World Congress around the corner, Natasha takes exception to Microsoft's burlesque-themed MWC party.

Technology trade shows are the least sexy places on Earth. The lighting is unrelenting, the endless halls are soul-destroyingly huge, and the parade of grey suits has all the charisma of a robot army.

Add to that the unflinching exhalations of dinosaur-sized air conditioning units that flay all moisture from exposed flesh, leaving a cracked and desiccated husk where your hands used to be. And your poor, poor feet -- blistered, aching, a full size bigger than usual, thanks to the miles of conference carpeting they've trodden in search of a thimbleful of water. If you're not nursing a piercing scream inside your skull by the end of day one, you're doing it wrong.

This barren and hostile landscape, devoid of the merest suggestion of mood lighting, is one of the reasons why a few unimaginative exhibitors add a lineup of underdressed women to their stands, to stand prettily beside the products -- in the hope, presumably, that someone will notice them (the products, not the women).

These so-called booth babes stand out as only a chestful of exposed flesh in a sea of grey suits can. The result, as any sane person will tell you, is not even slightly sexy -- it's dad-dancingly cringeworthy, injecting a cocktail of contextless confusion, uncomfortable incongruity and an occasional publically horny businessman to this most asexual of ecosystems.

Dreary booth babes

These women are just crazy for servers, and the men who sell them.

It's like visiting the dentist and realising, as you lie back in the chair, that he's not holding a metal tooth probe in his hand -- but is in fact preparing to ram a red rose down your throat. 'Do not want' does not even begin to describe.

But of course it's not just unwanted, it's downright sexist. It's also inherently stupid. You might as well stick up a huge sign yelling, "CHECK IT OUT! WE'RE NOT BIG! WE'RE NOT CLEVER! SEE! BOOBS!"

In recent years, Mobile World Congress has not been the worst offender in the booth babes stakes. It's no CES, whose CEO memorably defended booth babes: "It does work. People naturally want to go towards what they consider pretty." Sure, there's that Russian company that turns up every year with an excruciating display of flesh-baring dancing ladies, who perform on the hour -- and stand around scantily for the other 59 minutes. But this is the exception. Most flesh remains safely suited and booted.

Until now. Step forward Microsoft -- which has sent out this burlesque-themed teaser to a Windows Phone 'after party' to be held at Barcelona's El Molino club...

Microsoft Windows Phone MWC party invite

Microsoft shouts 'TITILLATION AHOY!' with its burlesque-themed invite.

Whatever you think of burlesque (Mark Kermode calls it "stripping with A-levels"), putting it on at a trade show party sends out the same message as racking your stand with booth babes.

Context is always king. If someone chooses to go and watch a spot of artfully executed brassiere removal in their own leisure time, fair enough. But putting on strippers at your trade show party? Really Microsoft? What were you thinking?

If Ballmer & Co are trying to tell us that Windows Phone is just for men, they couldn't have found a less subtle way to get the message across.

Titillating industry execs and jaded hacks with booth babes and burlesque is tech's tiresome little secret. The only burlesque dancing I want to see from Microsoft this year is Steve Ballmer can-canning on to the stage for his keynote. Feather boas, beaded necklaces of sweat and artfully positioned Windows Phones are all optional.