Shocking claim: Booth Babes Don’t Work

[Photo via Hasbro]

Does sex really sell? We all know it does, but marketing dude Spencer Chen has a post at Techcrunch that suggests Booth Babes Don’t Work. Booth Babes, as we all know, are very pretty, often revealingly clad models, almost always female, who are hired to lure people to trade show displays. The recently concluded CES is a hotbed, so to speak, of these kinds of booth workers, and debate has raged for years over whether it’s fun or exploitive,

Chen suggests it just does’t make good business sense, recounting an instance at a trade show where his company had TWO booths at a show, one staffed by traditional attractive young women, and one by middle-aged women with more sales chops:

Upon meeting my contractors, my sales VP was right. They weren’t just older than your typical booth babe, one was literally a grandmother. Shit, what have I done?? But it was too late now. After updating the sales team on our staffing strategy it was time for the big show.

The results? They were great. The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic (as measured by conversations or demos with our reps) and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form) while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year.

Crazy? Maybe — Chen lays out several reasons for this result, which he says he’s replicated at other events. “Booth babes” can be intimidating, they don’t work as hard for your specific product, frivolous spokespeople drive away serious business people, and

4. Low-quality leads. Back to point No. 1, the ones that the booth babes had no trouble attracting were often low-level, overconfident IT nubs — the guys that were already always first at the hosted bars and whose highlight for the quarter was being authorized to travel for the event. They had neither the authority nor the budget that made them ideal prospects for our sales teams. All these guys do is lower your conversion from lead to opp and lower your ROI on the show.

There’s a lot of common sense based on real human nature in this post. Some of my twitter followers suggested the comments were awful after I tweeted this link, but I found a variety of suggestions based on marketing techniques that provided more food for thought. One of them offered a simpler formula: “Sex doesn’t sell, but sexy does.”

Several people leapt in to suggest that booth babes aren’t “lazy,” as Chen suggested, which I would cosign. The point isn’t to put down the efforts of attractive people (of either sex) who make money by being attractive and pleasant. I doubt there is one person reading this who wouldn’t be more open to a sales pitch by an attractive person of the sex you prefer. BUT you would probably be far less persuaded of the seriousness of the pitch if the person was wearing a swimsuit. FACT.

And in fact beauty is intimidating, as discussed in another piece on CES floor workers:

Again and again, the models tell me the same thing: As compared to other cons, CES is awash with nervous men.

They don’t approach except to shyly ask for a photo. One has to wonder: If CES attendees feel intimidated by a booth spokesperson, why is that spokesperson chosen to do the job? Why not let the models dress down, adopt girl-next door makeup, and actively demo the products instead of standing around in heels waiting for the next photo opp?

Granted, this shy blabbering is far preferable to the harrowing tales of harassment that are all too common these days, But that goes back to the “often low-level, overconfident IT nubs” Chen mentioned.

It’s interesting to compare trade shows and comic-cons. The sexiest people at most comics shows are cosplayers, and it is generally accepted as empowering to express yourself in that way. And yet if comics publishers were to hire a bunch of scantily clad women to hang around their booths, I think we all know there would be some discomfort with that. The message is the same but the motivation is different. Choice and freewill are always preferable.

Sexy people get attention — whether its on trade show floors or on comic book covers. Maybe what we should ponder after reading this article is whether the type of attention drawn is appropriate for the task at hand, whatever that may be. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it really, truly is not.

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