Eli the horse among gimmicks to win attention for OTC tech displays

HOUSTON — Eli looks a little out of place standing amid the drilling rigs and production systems in front of NRG Center.

After all, this Offshore Technology Center visitor isn’t wearing a suit. He doesn’t have a goody bag full of brochures. And he certainly isn’t scanning his iPhone to plan his next stop at the conference.

But Eli has an excuse; he’s a horse.

Trotted out to OTC to deliver business to a booth inside NRG Center, Eli is just one of dozens of come-ons designed to lure prospective customers to company displays.

In Eli’s case, the pitch is for ZF Friedrichshafen AG, a German engineering company that makes transmission systems. A poster near the quarter horse’s makeshift pen outside NRG Center proclaimed that ZF transmission is up to “handling the big horses.”

ABB Group, the maker of power and automation technologies, passed out chocolate bars at OTC.

ABB Group, the maker of power and automation technologies, passed out chocolate bars at OTC.

Debra Bellinghausen, with Impressive Events, the Houston-based company that set up the promotional display, said it seems to be working to steer people to ZF’s booth inside. When visitors stream by to pet or photograph the quarter horse, Bellinghausen hands them a card with information about ZF.

Other companies are employing a range of different strategies for encouraging conference-goers to step inside their booths, from spinning wheels that offer the promise of prizes to scantily clad models and sketch artists.

ABB Group, the maker of power and automation technologies, was passing out chocolate bars. One worker at the company’s booth could barely keep them stocked; almost as fast as she put out a box of the candy bars, they would disappear, swiped by the fast-moving crowd.

Mints are a popular item at OTC booths. Dragon was giving away these. (Jennifer A. Dlouhy, The Houston Chronicle)

Mints and bags are popular low-cost giveaways at OTC booths. Dragon was giving away these. (Jennifer A. Dlouhy, The Houston Chronicle)

There’s also liquid refreshment, too. Every afternoon, vendors participate in an official “happy hour” where beer and sodas help lure in would-be buyers. Axon Energy Products doesn’t wait; it dispenses drinks from its tent outside.

Whether or not the strategy yields paying customers, it seemed to be delivering traffic midday Wednesday.

“I am going to eat first,” said one man to another, clearly plotting his lunchtime strategy as they walked down the parkway just after noon Wednesday. “Then,” he said, “I’m going to get a free beer at Axon.”