NECC – Vendor excess (aka Do pink Cadillacs really sell printers?)

I am by no means anti-corporation. And many companies have been very good to me and CASTLE. And I know they’re an important part of the NECC convention each year. And yet, when I went into the NECC 2009 vendor hall today, I was struck by the sheer extravagance of many of the booths: exhibits two or three stories high, a bistro, a singing Elvis, giant computers hanging from the ceiling like Damocles’ sword, an enormous white cave, a two-part neon-illuminated complex that was larger than my backyard, and more

I’m not the only one who left a little unsettled:

The Bloggers' Cafe is buzzing and Twitter has been all-#NECC09-all-day.

For the most part, it seems like the educators here are mostly interested in access, connection, and sharing info via Web 2.0.

I didn't find a single booth downstairs that talked about any of those things. [Shelly Blake-Plock]

I can’t quite put my finger on what I felt down there today. A little sick at the waste / uselessness of it all (is bringing a pink Cadillac really going to help OKI sell more printers? do they have data on that?)? A wish for more substance and and genuine engagement and less flash?

Maybe it was just such a sharp contrast to the authentic interactions I felt I was having with folks in the Bloggers’ Cafe. Or maybe my crap detector was just on high alert…


Photo set: NECC 2009 Vendors

16 Responses to “NECC – Vendor excess (aka Do pink Cadillacs really sell printers?)”

  1. I remember buying a town home a few years ago. My real estate agent drove a very pricing BMW. I know he did so because it communicated success and competence to his clients.

    I just thought about how he was making enough money off my purchase to afford such an expensive car and felt ripped off.

  2. I haven’t seen the pink cadillac yet.

    I DID see a woman drawing with a program called Animation-ish in one of the halls (School 2.0, I think) and later caught up with those folks in the hall. I was impressed with their product, and the ways that my kids could use it (if I convince my school to purchase it), or the ways that I could use it to communicate to kids (if I bought it).

    On the other hand, I was buttonholed at least twice by salespeople who focused in on me as if I was wearing a sign that said, “deer in headlights! hit this one” who gave me demos of products irrelevant to my teaching experience.

    I have a school full of dyslexics. They’ve got great oral communications skills. We’re a Mac school. Can someone please, please, please make voice recognition software that works on our computers?

    Moreover, I know my school. They’re lovely people, and wonderful teachers. But our one smartboard was essentially, effectively eviscerated four years ago and never reassembled. The one computer that ran the board, the projector, and the board all wound up separated from one another, and from the computer classroom that tied together demonstration with practice.

    All the tech in that room could be given to my school for free tomorrow, and no one would have the slightest idea what to do with any of it. It’s not entirely clear that they would want to bother to learn.

  3. I have been woefully disappointed in the booths at vendor halls at nearly every technology conference I have been to in the past three years. Quite frankly I feel sorry for the poor folks who have to represent their companies at these events. At the TIES conference in Minneapolis this year I witnessed people with iPhones talking to vendors and doing price comparisons on the spot that every time blew the competition away. Show me something new that I can use! Show me something that makes sense and I have never seen before!

  4. Scott wrote:
    A wish for more substance and and genuine engagement and less flash?

    This is a perfect description of my wish for tech integration in schools, Scott!

    So many building and district leaders forget about substance and engagement when making decisions about digital directions, opting instead for “shock and awe” campaigns designed to get gizmos into classrooms.

    Now I know where they’re learning their lessons!

  5. Scott, I agree with your statements, but you’ve asked the essential question when it comes to commercialism. Does a swoosh or Tiger Woods mean it is a better running shoe or golf club? Does two guys arguing if a PC or a Mac is better mean a better product? (Or better, does a woman throwing a sledgehammer at a TV screen mean a new age is coming?) Maybe, maybe not, but it does get our attention. However, once they have our attention, then what? That, I believe is the key to good instruction. We know technology is engaging to many students, but once they are engaged, then what? All flash and no substance as Bill stated above, or is the Pink Car an attention getter, and then the real substance begins?

  6. What’s the difference between a snake oil salesperson and an IT salesperson?

    At least the snake oil salesperson gives you something to drink.

  7. I agree, Scott. A vendor with whom my district has a long history re-did their entire booth for this conference. It was filled with lots of “beach furniture”: umbrellas, blow-up chairs, etc. I was speaking with one of the reps at the booth and he told me they liked the new design because they didn’t have to deal with the expense of shipping materials home from the conference; they just leave it all behind and buy new stuff for each new conference. There you have it: the disposable booth. What a waste!

  8. I agree with your comments. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put all the like-product vendors together on the exhibit floor? All interactive whiteboard companies in one section, all content providers together in a another section, etc. Maybe that would help drive innovation and give us educational purchasers an easier way to compare features and prices?

  9. I stopped by the OKI booth to see what the Elvis/Pink Cadillac hype was all about. I thought it was hokey until they told me they were donating $5 for breast cancer research (hence the PINK cadillac) for every picture taken with Elvis… plus, they printed off your picture in 30 seconds and gave it away free.

    As for the other booths, demos were too long, and I was really frustrated with the amount of internet filter tools, lockdown features, etc. (because schools can’t trust their employees and students!). The exhibitor area gets more and more circus-like every year.

  10. As the former Acting Co-Chairperson for SIG-IVC at I.S.T.E. I was surprised at my first N.E.C.C. by the apparent disconnect between the vendors on the floor and the variety of available professional workshops.

    The gaudiness of many of the vendor displays was reminiscent of many of the midway attractions of the countless state fairs I had attended growing up.

    I then was given some insight into this disconnect when it came to my attention that these same vendors, all employing various techniques to grab the attention of a potential buyer, were providing some of the revenue that makes conventions, such as N.E.C.C., possible.

    Whenever possible, there is a separation between the workshops and many of the vendors thus allowing ‘customers’ the ‘option’ to venture forth and peruse what may be available for use in any given educational environment.

    With the cost involved in these types of endeavors it may be best described as a necessary evil…taken in that light, it can also be quite entertaining!

  11. I went into the exhibit hall for one thing–my complimentary engraved 2gb flashdrive. I debated–exhibit hall or bloggers cafe/neccunplugged. Everytime I opted for the latter. I do like the collection of t’s and freebies to giv away at saff development sessions, but my time is better spent away from that dog and pny show down there. LAst year my husband bought a pass to the exhibit hall to visit the Destiny booth. He reported one of the vnedors who was VERY rude to him when he did not stop to “talk” with them. He reported the fellow way up the food chain too–with the guy’s name and the conference. We received some coupons for free stuff, which we threw away too. I just dont have time for the exhibits. And in these tight budget times–no money, so no use to go when it will just cause wishful thinking.

  12. I can’t speak for this particular conference, not having been at NECC, but at every one I ever have been to, the exhibit floor was the least worthwhile place I ever spent time. The best experiences I had on an exhibit floor were the places where the representatives helped me learn something rather than trying to sell me something. In the long run, those are the companies I’m most likely to want to deal with anyway.

  13. Hi Scott,
    I blogged about this very thing recently as well. I think the role of companies at educational technology conferences is experiencing a shift. I invite you over to my post (where I actually referenced one of your posts) to see the whole vendor hall issue from a slightly different perspective.

    It was nice spending some time with you at EduBloggerCon and NECC.


  14. I’m convinced that we had the least expensive exhibit booth at NECC. After all, we are a very small company and couldn’t afford more than we did. (The exhibit space alone was more than $3,000.) Despite the relatively low cost of our booth, I’m hoping that our product is as high quality as any other. I’ll let you be the judge. For our NECC stimulus package visit

  15. I (a vendor) also find it appalling that ‘we’ have to compete for such attention from our valued customers. Believe it or not, some of us are in the business because we believe we can make a living while truly still furthering educational goals. That’s why I work where I do, and I do not just peddle hardware or some other non-instruction integrated service just for a quick buck. I was initially offended at the Elvis and Pink Cadillac, as my mother is a survivor, and the profiteering offended me. However, how many companies do we buy from that donate to charity? While we had what I think was a nice looking booth, we did not go ‘all out’. We truly spent more on the space than the actual display. Unfortunately, we and similar minded companies get generalized along with the prime offenders. Now I pose a question, ‘what would you suggest we do to capture the attention of attendees, based on pure content?’ Have educators and attendees perpetuated the issue by being enamored with the glitter and glam? Lastly, I’m hoping some participants are happy that vendors are there to help pay for such nice venues to have the conferences at so attendees can go to sessions and collaborate.

  16. The points of view above are absolutely valid, but as an International attendee at NECC in previous years (no spare $$ this year!) one of the important parts of the conference is the Exhibit Hall to actually see the stuff in 3D and talk to vendors about their products. We don’t get to see or try most of the products in the hall ‘live’ and have to rely on the internet to purchase (or magazines or a small range of stores who only show a limited range of products). We don’t have big stores like Best Buy etc etc either. So it is one of the things I am missing abut not having been this year. Don’t get me wrong here – I attend for the learning and the networking, but the chance to explore the geek tools is important too.
    Auckland, NZ

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