Are “Booth Babes” Outdated for your Trade Show Display?

20x20 trade show display island booth-resized-600Currently, one of the most heated and controversial topics in the world of trade show displays centers on scantily clad women, and their place at trade shows. Female models – informally nicknamed “booth babes” – have long been a staple of these expositions, back to the “Mad Men” days and beyond. Yet in recent years, heated debate has broken out over whether it’s time to end the practice.

On the face of it, the use of attractive female models may seem to make a lot of sense, at least from a pragmatic standpoint. After all, the business world used to be populated by a lot more men than women, and hence, many conventions were primarily attended by men. Like it or not, many men’s heads are turned by pretty faces. And clearly, if you’re trying to attract these visitors to your trade show booths, you want every advantage you can get.

The Trouble With Eye Candy

There are several significant problems with the practice, even from this pragmatic standpoint. Among them:

  • All too often, the models are poorly trained – if at all – on the products they’re advertising. What is the purpose of having a saleswoman who isn’t knowledgeable about what she’s selling?

  • Scantily clad models can be a distraction. You don’t have to look hard to find blogs full of trade show pictures, not of products and speeches, but of risqué photo’s. (Forgive me for not linking to them.) If the only thing a visitor remembers about your trade show displays is that you had the sexiest models, they’re not thinking about your products and services.

  • Many men, increasingly, see the practice as pandering and insulting. Prominent tech writers are beginning to declare that they won’t stop at a booth that employs booth babes.

  • Plus, of course, the simple idea that the process is often degrading and humiliating to the women involved, and often ignores any other more valuable contributions the women might be able to make.

 And now, it’s time for a couple eye-opening statistics.

One would expect a proposition to ban “booth babes” would be met with hostility among traditional trade show attendees, right? Well, a couple years ago the popular PAX Prime video game convention, a bastion of traditional male-ness if any still exists, did exactly that and banned all scantily-clad saleswomen and models. They followed it up with a survey among their visitors.

Of over 6,000 people polled, more than 60% supported the ban. Only twelve percent of video gamers polled hated the idea. Further, in a related poll, 81% of their respondents said they wanted the models to be educated on the products.

One could say, “well, this is just one niche industry talking,” but video gamers are generally seen as being more sexist than most consumer groups. If they don’t even support booth babes, who’s left?

Finding Some Alternatives

Honestly, there are a lot of alternatives to the practice. Perhaps the most simple, and least challenging, is to simply employ more “booth hunks” to balance things out. While this dodges some of the sexism complaints, it doesn’t solve the more underlying problems unless the models are all well-trained.

Another, better solution, is to seek novel acts to bring attention. Recent trade show displays featuring a Mr. Spock lookalike and a yo-yo master did brisk trade, and generated great buzz as well. Creative guests like these can attract people across both genders equally, and without making sex your sole selling point.

Basically, there is very little evidence left that booth babes are helpful at trade show displays any more.   Perhaps they were effective in the past, but it increasingly appears the world has moved on.  It’s time to move with it. The consensus seems to be that hiring attractive booth staff is acceptable – however, you need to make sure they’re well trained and can actually help your clients. You also need to realize that if they’re dressed like either Tarzan or Jane, you run the risk of offending or even chasing away some of your potential client base.

For more, check out our article on how to build trust with trade show booths or tips for success with trade show booths

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