Yes, We Are Still Talking About Booth Babes And, Yes, They Are Still Here to Stay
Whether you like it or not, booth babes are still very much a part of exhibitions. Despite the controversy, bans and threats you will almost definitely see a booth babe at the next trade show you attend.
Promotional models spend their time posing for photos with delegates and gawkers alike. Questions have been raised as to whether or not using booth babes can improve the effectiveness of your exhibit.
Let's, once again, take a deep dive into the world of booth babes.
Promotional model agencies offer businesses the chance to hire these trade show models. Companies like Exhibition Girls and Dreams Agency allow you to hire booth babes and exhibition staff. These girls are contracted to perform tasks such as:
- Greeters and Crowd Gatherers
- Product Demonstrators
- Data Capture
History of Promotional Models
We can trace the use of promotional models back to the first CES show. In 1967, CES hired several models and gave them the title "CES Guides". The girls were hired by event organisers to greet and pose for photos with attendees and delegates.
These young ladies became known as booth babes or demo dollies. It was almost 20 years before "booth babe" became recognized vocabulary. Jonathan Gross describes his experience at CES in 1986:
"the quality of the products was inversely proportional to the chest size of the booth babes handing out the literature"
Attitudes are Changing
Booth babes were a huge part of exhibitions for so long they became engrained in the culture. Brands wanted beautiful women to lure men onto their stand. It was common practice to have scantily clad women posing and handing out tequila shots.
Despite a steady reduction, the booth babe debate is as prominent now as it was twenty years ago.
Some people don't see the problem and believe using promotional models is a fantastic business strategy. Other people believe it is an outdated concept and brands shouldn't be allowed to commodify woman for business gain.
The use of promotional models on an exhibition stand has become quite a controversial debate among the industry. Some event organizers have chosen to ban booth babes or unappropriated clothing altogether, threatening brands that choose to use models with fines.
The main shift in attitude comes with a global incremental increase in the share of women in senior roles. According to Catalyst, in 2019 almost 30% of senior management roles were held by women.
More women in decision-making positions means more women attending exhibitions. Are booth babes still relevant to a brand that is marketing to women?
Gaming and Tech Exhibitions
In male-dominated industries, it is a different story. Promotional models have a huge presence at gaming, motoring and tech events.
Exhibition models may still be present, but they're not necessarily wanted. The number of women in senior roles within these industries is increasing. The general consensus is that using semi-naked women to lure in men is alienating various audience segments.
PAX West received a petition signed by over 6,000 people to ban the use of booth babes. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) changed their protocol following a sexism row, stating exhibition staff:
"may not wear clothing that is sexually revealing or that could be interpreted as undergarments"
We have yet to see booth babes banned at these events though. In January 2020, Molly Wood witnessed a global brand using booth babes in the main hall of the convention center at CES.
She highlights the fact that implementing a stricter dress code doesn't get rid of promotional models. Attractive female models are going to be attractive regardless of whether they wear a gown or a bikini.
Do brands still use Booth Babes?
Just when it feels like the industry is adapting to changing attitudes, vape and CBD exhibitions arrive. Austin, from Quadrant2Design, describes as a cross between an "alternative rock festival and a carnival", curating a sub-culture.
Booth babes are very much a feature at these events. The 'Miss Vaper' contest hosts a parade of models and girls in hot pants blow the scented vapour into your face.
The CBD industry is no different. William Breathes highlights the use of women and promotional models at these events:
"What does a skeezy beauty pageant, and "hot ass" and "best orgasm" contests have to do with medical marijuana? Nothing. But for some reason all three are events were listed as contests as recently as Tuesday afternoon for the upcoming HempCon convention."
Brands are still using booth babes. Perhaps more so now than ever before.
For Booth Babes
E3, a popular gaming exhibition, decided to ban revealing clothing in 2006. This seemed like what the industry wanted however they found a reduction in the number of visitors and exhibitors decreased in the years following.
In 2009, E3 decided to lift the ban. Their exhibitor list more than tripled compared with the previous year. Despite 6,000 signatures in favor of a ban, this evidence suggests booth babes are a popular attraction at an exhibition.
They increase footfall, particularly among a male demographic, which is good for lead generation. The models also actively engage your audience, attracting attention and bringing prospects to your stand.
Many people are against the use of promotional models. Their main argument is that sex has always been used as a sales hook in advertising, how is this any different?
Sexual harassment and objectification have been a consistent theme among the arguments against booth babes. The fact of the matter is these girls are choosing to be there. Flores, one of the promotional models at CES, said:
"You're not always going to look this way, and if you can find your way to monetize it without jeopardizing your character and having people respect your boundaries then you should do it"
Exhibition hostesses are choosing to do a job that doesn't tie them to a desk so they have more time to study, build their career or raise a family. According to Flores, harassment isn't as common as you would expect.
Most of the men that attend these shows are nervous and shy. Using booth babes is a way to break the ice and start a conversation according to Edgar Cedeno, Orion's general manager. If the visitors, models and brands don't identify a problem, then is there one? Surely the problem lies within the visitors who stop to gawk, grab and take photos of the girls rather than the brands who hired them to look pretty or the women earning a living from their appearance?
Against Booth Babes
The general consensus in the media is that businesses should be banned from using booth babes. Using scantily clad women to benefit your business is immoral. There are three main arguments for this.
Firstly, using underdressed attractive models creates a sexually charged atmosphere. Forcing an atmosphere like this upon attendees ruins the experience for those individuals who are there for a purpose.
Brands want to create this atmosphere of course. They want energy and excitement to increase engagement. This brings us to our second argument - using booth babes as a marketing strategy alienates certain audience demographics and offends the rest.
Although the use of underdressed models increases footfall among a male demographic, it completely alienates other audience segments. Females in male-dominated industries are ignored and pushed aside, both by the exhibition models and the male attendees.
The males also have a reason to complain. Rab Florence discusses how offensive it is when brands assume that "tech products can't be sold without appealing to the worst elements of a perceived demographic." If booth babes don't appeal to men then are they even necessary?
A final argument is that the sexually charged atmosphere and outrageously forward booth babes discourage serious contribution from women. Perhaps more women would be involved in these industries if the big names didn't use sex to sell to a predominantly male audience?
Staffing an Exhibition Stand
Booth babes would likely have seen a full ban if people weren't convinced that they improved an exhibitors ROI and got more people at the event. When thinking about staffing an exhibition stand, leading exhibition stand designer's, Quadrant2Design, believe that your team must possess these skills:
- Strong selling skills
- High energy
- Product knowledge
- Positive attitude
In this respect, you have to question whether or not using booth babes is an effective strategy. Many people argue that hiring models to appear for a single event is unlikely to give them time to understand your product.
Booth Babes are an ineffective marketing technique
According to this article, booth babes are lazy, intimidating, and ineffective. The girls look great, attract attention and engage prospects. But they don't sell products.
Promotional models have been proven to generate a third of the footfall and less than half as many leads when compared with fully trained salespeople. Spencer Chen was offered additional floor space at an exhibition and decided to find out the truth about booth babes marketing potential.
On one of his stands he used exhibition models and on the other he asked the agency for staff that had key selling and relationship building skills. According to Chen, the booth babes were lazy, not doing much other than showing up to collect their fee.
The leads that they did manage to get were low-level, overconfident employees that had no decision-making responsibilities. Booth babes have no problem attracting low-level attendees, but business execs want to talk to people that know the product.
The second stand performed much better overall. Describing the employees as 'grandmas', Chen notes the women's ability to keep the attention of prospects until a team member was able to demonstrate the product.
On the other hand, making the kind of assumptions highlighted above is offensive, no? Is the outdated concept not that you have to choose between brains or beauty?
"Booth Babes" do convert
One argument suggests that booth babes do convert. They attract attention whether you've got men gawping at your models or women shaming them. Having more people paying attention to your exhibit isn't directly linked to conversions, but it's a good indicator. If attention is good for business surely booth babes are good for business?
Not only do booth babes attract attention, but they engage potential clients. Their job is to interact with people. They pull them onto your exhibit, immersing them in your brand story. Forming relationships in this way generates high-quality leads. It gives your sales team more time between product demonstrations.
Furthermore, it has been proven that attractive people are more successful in life. According to this article, attractive people are considered:
- More able
- More confident
- Better at building relationships
- More competent
- More trustworthy
- Better at negotiating
The social skills that they have been able to develop with increased confidence allow them to excel in a work environment. These skills make them more successful as they can negotiate business deals, salaries and build meaningful relationships.
Booth babes are worthy of so much more than objectification. Exhibitors do not have to choose between beauty and brains. Many promotional models choose that line of work for its flexibility and earning potential. This evidence suggests booth babes do convert and could be better than your sales teams.
Future of Booth Babes
This is an argument that is likely to crop up time and time again. It seems like every time the subject is in the media, new practices are put in place to try and silence the critiques. These practices are dismissed as soon as the booth babe debate is no longer a talking point.
There are valid arguments both for and against the use of promotional models on an exhibition stand. Evidence can even be used to prove a booth babes effectiveness in terms of ROI. With this in mind, what does the future of this industry look like?
Gender equality campaigners, The Female Quotient, have joined forces with CES and become the event's official Equality Partner. As well as enforcing dress code and shifting people's attention back to the product, The Female Quotient aims to bring in more female keynote speakers and women founders.
They want to make the event more inclusive of women in general, not just by banning booth babes. This strategy is likely to be adopted by other events in the future, particularly those that have faced scrutiny for their male centricity.
There is, of course, a way that the tech companies can get around the dress code and restrictions. Virtual reality has boomed over the last few years. Brands are using it on their exhibition stands to create experiences and tell stories.
The first virtual babe was created by US-based porn company, Naughty America. They reported over 1,000 people had visited their exhibition and taken part in a demonstration before 4 pm on the first day of CES. Booth babes may be a dying trend, but sex sells and companies aren't about to forget about that.
There is one more option. If a feminists main argument is that women are objectified and commodified, then gender equality arguments suggest it's time to do the same to men. With a rising population of female CEO's in previously male-dominated industries, it must be time to bring out the booth boys.
This guest article was written by By Natalka Antoniuk from Quadrant2Design.