22 March 1999
Facts on CeBIT:
CeBIT is the largest computer show in the world. There are 7,500
companies from 63 countries displaying their products and services.
And over 650,000 people from 100 countries will attend CeBIT this
year. Also, over 10,000 journalists cover this show. Every day a
150 page magazine is published (CeBIT News) actually, two separate
magazines: one in German and one in English, covering the vendors'
announcments and other news from the show.
The show is in 26 halls - each hall is about the size of a football
stadium. The total display size (not counting hallways, walkways,
services) is 385,000 square meters (90 acres!). This is absolutely
immense - there's no way anybody could visit every booth, even by
using the whole seven days.
It seems that in Europe, people go all out for CeBIT. The large
vendors have immense displays, with live entertainment, magic shows,
and dancing girls. Smaller booths (like where we are) smile at people,
give demos, and hand out literature.
We're displaying in Halle 6, which is one of the software/internet
halls. Around us are a bunch of small vendors. We're all working
hard to attract customers away from the shows and into our booths.
Right across the aisle from us is a small company: MAS Elektronikhandels
GmbH. They are the German branch of a large Russian/Eastern Europe
reseller. They are selling web servers, fax clients, and various
One of the MAS brochures is a web-translation service that they
offer. For a fixed price, MAS will add up to 10 languages to your
web site. Pretty cool service for European countries, where the
language changes as you cross borders.
MAS must have printed thousands of these little brochures. Their
goal is to get them from their booth into people's hands. They stand
in the middle of the hall, trying to hand them to the people as
they walk by. It's fun to watch people's reactions as they are accosted
by the MAS people.
On Friday, MAS was not having much success with their distribution.
Our booth was pretty empty, and I was watching them. The attendees
had various ways of NOT taking the brochures:
1) Avoiding eye contact. Either by looking up, down, or at the opposite
2) Walking really fast past the MAS people.
3) Waving their hands at the MAS people, saying "Nein!"
I felt like MAS could use some help. I told him that the American
way was better - direct, forceful approach. So I proposed to Wolfgang
a competition - I bet him 10 Deutschmarks ($6) that I could pass
out 5 consecutive brochures (without missing anybody) before he
could. This would show them how much better the capitalist ways
The bet got everyone around us excited. All the nearby vendors heard
about it, and gathered around Wolfgang and me, leaving only a narrow
pathway for the attendees to pass through. We stood across from
each other, and each accosted the people coming from our left.
You can tell what type of person will take your brochures. If someone
is carrying several bags, all of them bulging with literature, t-shirts,
and toys, chances are he'll also take a brochure from you - he's
a packrat. if people are walking slowly and looking around, they'll
also take the brochure - they're open. However, two types of people
are most difficult: people woh have NOTHING in their hands, and
other exhibitors. They're impossible.
Wolfgang was taking the suave approach. He stood there, drinking
a glass of champagne, languidly passing out the brochures. It seemed
to work. He quickly passed out two brochures, and then missed the
next guy. Ha! Meanwhile, nobody had come my way. I was getting nervous.
Then, four people came by, and by taking the very direct "American"
approach, I was able to convince them to take a brochure.
Everyone was impressed with my four in a row. But they were mostly
packrats and open people - not a big deal. Wolfgang was impressed.
But he rose to the challenge, and quickly passed out four brochures.
He was lucky. Nevertheless, we were tied; both waiting for the next
person to come our way.
Wolfgang's guy came first. He was walking fast, and carrying nothing.
I smiled. Wolfgang was determined, though. He grabbed the guy by
the arm, and put the brochure in his face.
The guy smiled, shook his head, and stared to walk away. Wolfgang
followed him, tapped him on the shoulder, and offered the brochure
This time, the guy shook his head, smiled, and pointed at Wolfgang's
champagne. Wolfgang sighed, rolled his eyes, and handed over the
glass. The guy quickly finished it off, and walked away WITHOUT
TAKING THE BROCHURE.
All the vendors were laughing as Wolfgang tried to chase the guy,
but he couldn't catch up to him. And, coming my way, was my chance
It figured - it was an exhibitor. He was walking fast, and had nothing
in his hands. I was in trouble. But I was determined. "Sir, I need
you to take this brochure. You need this!" This is what worked with
the other four.
The guy was an American. He smiled at me, and said "Why?"
Oh, these Americans with their questions! "I'm having a contest,
and I want to win. If you take my brochure, I win". He smiled again.
"It's gonna cost you".
Now, everyone is laughing. I offer him 5 Deutchmarks - nothing doing.
I reach into my pocket and pull out my wallet, showing him my bills...
We conduct our transaction, and he takes a brochure. I have won!
And have proven to these guys the superiority of the American approach...
.. and it only cost me twenty bucks.