Hawking Certification Like Light Beer

I was thumbing through a computer magazine recently, and I couldn’t help but notice an advertisement that featured an enlarged photo of a woman’s decolletage. Then, I saw the narrow banner above the picture, featuring a small image of a young man with a pair of black-rimmed glasses. He was wearing a white short-sleeved shirt, the pocket of which held half a dozen pens. Clearly, the point of the image was to scream Geek! Next to the man's picture was some text: “Thanks \[vendor name\] for helping two of my dreams come true. Two VERY BIG dreams.” The vendor was one of those MCSE boot-camp companies, promising to help you get your MCSE in two weeks.

Come on, fellas. Is business that bad?

Now, I’m not saying that these kinds of advertisements should be banned (although I do think they should end up wasting money for the companies that place them). Nor do I think the magazine that accepted the ad should be subject to censure. Yes, Windows IT Pro magazine refused to run the ad, but, after all, what criterion would one use in rejecting the ad, anyway? Sure, the image is offensive to many people. But what about the many people who have labored to study and master the concepts of Microsoft networking? Is it just as offensive to think that you can just throw down $6000 to $10,000, attend two weeks of exam cramming, and get a certification in return?

I wonder what percentage of the cleavage-flogging MCSE boot-camp vendor’s alumni actually end up passing all seven tests and getting their MCSEs. According to what many boot-camp vendors say, the percentage isn't good these days. Just a few years ago, Web sites for boot camp vendors were touting guarantees and claiming 95 percent pass rates. But today, a Web search of MCSE boot-camp vendors yields a distinct lack of solid guarantees and statistics. It’s got to be tough for a sales force to sell a training program that costs nearly as much as a new hatchback without offering the kind of bumper-to-bumper warranty you’d get with the hatchback.

So, maybe the ad makes sense. After all, if all else fails, won’t breasts work?

Maybe not. I remember a 1975 ad, from a company named Smoke Signal Computers, that featured some kind of add-on circuit card for a microcomputer. The ad showed the card nestled within the cleavage of a woman whose shirt was unbuttoned so far that you wondered whether she was expecting a stethoscope. (Perhaps she was experiencing heart palpitations at the very thought of such a nifty addition to her home-brew computer.) Anyone remember Smoke Signal? No? Well, maybe the ad wasn’t very effective. Clearly, I remembered the ad, but only because it seemed so pathetic. I don’t know many firms that want to be remembered as pathetic, but then again I’m no marketing expert.

Then again, cleavage sells beer, doesn’t it? Yes, but consider that the item for sale is beer. More specifically, light beer. It’s awful stuff that people ingest primarily to become cheaply intoxicated with a minimal weight-gain side effect. Choosing a light beer is making a choice from among lesser evils in a range of nearly equal options; in this case, breasts are just a tiebreaker. What purveyor of expensive two-week technical cramfests believes that his or her product is indistinguishable from those of his competitors? None, I’d hope. If there’s that little to offer the buying public then, as they say, "There’s always work at the Post Office."

Step into the light, guys, and think about touting achievement rather than enhancement. Because quite frankly, I’m worried that your next ad will attempt to appeal to your potential female students. And I’m shuddering at the thought.

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