High Programmer > Blog Archive > "Activities for the better half" is bad branding
Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Activities for the better half" is bad branding

For the last few years, Gen Con has offered the "SPA" track of events, targeted at non-gamers and gamers looking for something a bit different during the convention. Animal training, dance lessons, a haunted walking tour, photography, and more. It's good idea. But what about the full name and icon?

An icon of a ball and chain. It is labeled 'SPA - Activities for the Better Half'

There are many good arguments about why this is a bad idea. Vanir summarized them well in his post that recently raised awareness. My wife covered it well as well, adding in some actual examples of sexism she has experienced at Gen Con. Gen Con answered, and blew off those concerns. (Yes, it's an official response.) I thought I might try a different argument: this is bad branding, and thus, bad business.

Despite the name, these activities are, mostly, of interest to both women and men. That I need to say "despite the name" highlights the first branding problem. "The better half" has meant "wives" for decades. Many Gen Con attendees who might enjoy these events will never look because they erroneously assume they're only of interest to women. Gen Con is selling these events short.

The branding problem is also related to the name, and it's the implication that women, or at least wives, are somehow not interested in the rest of Gen Con's offerings. It's a relatively mild implication, but it's still there. There is unfortunately view held by some, both in and outside of gaming, that "women" and "gaming" are disjoint sets. A logo that suggests the otherness of women reinforces this belief which hampers Gen Con and gaming as a whole.

These are both relatively mild problems. But the logo is a serious problem. A ball and chain. We're dragging up a decades old, negative stereotype of wives. Yes, it's used ironically, we get it. That doesn't eliminate the negative emotional impact.

Gaming has an unfortunate image as a boys-club rife with sexism. Some potential attendees are on the edge, and concerns about sexism could push them from attending to not attending. Something as simple "Activities for the better half" illustrated with a picture of a ball and chain might be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

This is bad branding. It can drive away potential attendees. And what's the benefit? Will a single additional person attend Gen Con because of it? I find it unlikely. It's just not that amusing.

Update 2010-04-29: Other interesting posts on the subject: "SPA Should Not Mean Prisoners" from Pixiepalace. "Dear Gen Con: This is not ironic. This is stupid." from Introspective Navel Gazing.

Contact webmaster