[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.


  1. Observations from a technology trade show really don’t indicate much about how things work at a comics con. They have different crowds and different goals for exhibitors.

    For example, a booth at CES is trying to line up retailers or distributors for their product, while a booth at CCI is trying to put a product directly into the hands of consumers. And at a con, that product is more likely to feature underdressed breasty women, so a booth babe is actually “on-message”.

  2. He’s saying they’re lazy in the context of CES: they’re not grabbing people off the floor to pitch to because they’re used to working shows where they’re not expected to.

  3. @Jason A. Quest, you’re not entirely wrong, of course, but I would venture say that (sadly) a tech trade show probably has fewet female attendees than a comic con. On top of which, as you point out, if the comics product contains scantily clad women, then the art itself is enough to advertise such. You could accomplish the same effect with a cardboard cutout.

    Actually, you could probably do that at a trade show too.

    But at the end of the day, even a comics booth staffer has to be able to talk about what they’re selling and be good at selling it. In this sense, it’s not even better to hire a couple of grandmothers with good people skills who can memorize the salient points of the product, you need people who can recommend based on whatever random bits of information the potential customer gives you.

    Case in point: at Baltimore Comic-Con last year, I wandered over to the Valiant booth and was considering an Archer & Armstrong TPB. The guy at the booth engaged me in conversation and I mentioned that A&A appealed to me because I like Fred Van Lente’s writing, but I preferred his more comedic works and wasn’t sure if A&A would scratch that itch. Not only did he assure me it would, he also gave me the hard sell on Quantum & Woody and–perhaps hazarding a chance based on my gender–asked me if I liked Ming Doyle, then informed me she would be drawing a few upcoming issues, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to catch up. I ended up spending $30-40 there.

    Now, you could tell a hired sales rep, babe or grandmother, “Quantum & Woody is our funny book” and they could probably get some sales sharing that information with those unfamiliar with the book. But it would be too much to ask that they memorize the talent list and familiarize themselves with the sorts of work they each produce so they can give recommendations based on that. You need someone immersed in comics to maximize the amount of product they can move.

  4. I have to agree with Quest and others. This piece doesn’t connect in the comic book world. I’ve seen this article shared on my Facebook and Twitter streams, and while the headline sounds good, the fact is (which is what some folks in the comic industry are trying to imply) that this is apples and oranges.

    Especially at comic conventions, as Heidi noted, when a percentage of the audience might wear less than a booth babe because the cosplay community is so large. Nonetheless, as the Beat suggests it is worth pondering over — though that will vary with each person, venue and situation when they consider using a model.

  5. I’m probably an anomaly among men, but I am more attracted to competence than tits so when I see “booth babes”, be it comics or other trade shows I’ve been to (car stuff mostly), I automatically assume the product is inferior because they’re bringing out the “razzle dazzle” to make up for it. I’m usually not wrong when I decide to look anyway.

    This is completely different than a sexy cosplay fetish situation, but I think it shows something important about gender roles in “promotion-heavy” industries (such as comics) where the public face of a company is just as much the product as the actual product.

    I don’t think this guy’s findings would pertain to a Porn Convention, though :P

  6. I know for a fact that booth babes at porn conventions are generally more versed in every detail of the product they represent, and the porn industry operates with a built-in level of respect that booth babes at comic cons do not get.

    We live in an age where booth babes, whatever gender, however revealing, is as society demeaning to the roles people play in our lives.

    I wouldn’t use porn as your support of booth babes though, no sir. The porn industry for all of it’s sins against female empowerment, sexually transmitted diseases, etc is an industry built to support those who contribute to it. (The legitimate porn industry I mean, I do realize that lowlifes still think getting people high and rapping them on film is still cool for some circles… but why does society keep pandering to such things).

    Booth babes are a washed up concept of 1970s boating shows and need to be rethought.

  7. I also avoid booth babes.

    Maybe it’s just me, but I think guys that are attracted to booths and buys stuff because a booth babe suggests they do are dumb. Fools whose money are being quickly being parted. Do they think buying whatever she’s being paid to sell will get you closer to getting in her swim suit? A company that hires one tells me they have a very low opinion of their potential customers (meaning me). So I automatically avoid their booth and don’t care what their selling.

  8. Back in the ’90s, I used to have this sort of discussion with a friend of mine who modeled. She wanted to help me out by dressing as Lorelei, a succubus character I’d created that was somewhere between Vampirella and Satana–but with more clothes on.

    I kept politely refusing, explaining that when most people interact with a booth babe, you walk away remembering the sexy, underdressed woman you just spoke with, but not so much the product she was representing. Brand recognition is completely lost when it has to compete with the lingering mental image of boobies. ;-)

  9. I am uncomfortable walking through a show where booth babes are employed. There is sooo much wrong with that whole approach, I don’t even know where to to start.

    I’m embarrassed, and feel sorry for them, I resent that a company would pander to that type of audience, and so on.

    If you are not selling lingerie or makeup, there is no need to hire lightly dressed women to stand around and attract attention. In 2014, the message should be all about your product and its unique competitive advantages.

  10. And this just in from the Zeitgeist:

    2014 Detroit Auto Show: Hot Model Headed For Mom-Hood
    “Jennifer Parmenter is a hot property—a smart, well-spoken, attractive auto show product specialist (you know, the models who look good and know things) for the Smart city car brand. Oh, there’s one other thing: She’s seven months’ pregnant with her first child, which is hard to overlook in the world of picture-perfect show models drawing attention to their clients’ cars often by sheer force of beauty.”

  11. As an account executive for a reputable trade show model agency, this article really got under my skin. The models I work with daily couldn’t be further from the “uneducated, lazy, bimbo” picture this article painted of them. Many of our models have college degrees and years of sales experience under their belts.

    I strongly recommend reading the article below to get both sides of the story before forming an opinion of promo models:


Comments are closed.