Only a handful of hours removed from the end of Pando’s 24-hour Don’t Be Awful event, a gathering dedicated to fostering ideas for a better Silicon Valley, and we already have another glaring example of why such an event is desperately needed.
Dice.com, a self-described “a job searching platform for technology professionals,” is advertising its service with a Bay Area billboard that reads “Find the hottest tech talent” and which is adorned with shirtless men, who I guess we’re supposed to assume are developers. Apparently this advertising campaign has been running for several months and is featured on muni buses across San Francisco and on similar billboards in Seattle.
Tonight was the first time I personally encountered this incredibly offensive and tone deaf campaign, thanks to a tweet by Mattermark Founder Danielle Morrill, and a subsequent (and justifiably outraged) discussion that followed.
My question is, if this has in fact been a campaign that is so widely spread, why hasn’t it caused more outrage sooner?
As Morrill notes, imagine if the gender roles were reversed and if these billboards featured bikini-clad women? How different, and more swift, would the reaction be? Males are no more deserving of protection from this sort of objectification than women are, but they’re no less deserving either. The reality is that any hiring activity that is based on physical appearance is both illegal and immoral, regardless of the lens of categorization on which it’s based.
Some have suggested that this is troll advertising, meaning that the very fact that we’re talking about it means it’s working. I take exception with that conclusion. When something awful is happening within our community, it merits discussion (and in some instances, public shaming). To do as much doesn’t equate to validating or furthering the aim of the original message.
Morrill, for example, might be viewed as the “target audience” for this king of message. She is after all a female founder who is in a position to hire tech talent. But it had the very opposite of the intended affect. As Morrill herself tweets, as a “if I go use dice.com after seeing that what kind of human am I, as a married female manager?”
Barkley, the advertising agency that appears to be behind the campaign, tweeted self-congratulations for a similar ad now being displayed on a giant Time Square digital billboard:
To borrow from The Princess Bride, “ You keep using that word [awesome]. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Tragic. Horrific. Embarrassing. And, ultimately, ineffective, are all better words. I trust that not only will most of Silicon Valley not be using Dice, thanks to this campaign, Barkley will be the last advertising agency most firms will choose to work with.
In an environment where there are so many disenfranchised groups struggling to be taken seriously, it’s almost unseemly to fight for the rights of the male developer. But this discussion isn’t about male or female. It’s about the overall tone of the industry and community that we all want to be a part of.
Dice.com and campaigns about “hot tech talent” have no place in that community. Hopefully the company will get the message loud and clear, as should any future brands look to be “edgy” or “creative” in their marketing. Just, don’t be awful. Just don’t.