When Dilbert and his peers poke fun at marketing trade-show tactics they’re often referring to the use of “booth babes.” Now, in recent articles by Don Tennant (Editor’s Note – COMPUTERWORLD) he first expressed his offense (“Using Women” – November 5th) at Vanco, a U.K. networking service provider using scantily clad “ring girls” in its boxing-themed display at the opening reception of the Gartner Symposium in Orlando last month. In his next column (“Getting Old, Indeed” – November 12th) he reported that his opinion was apparently off the mark as the majority of readers who responded to his column had no problem with Vanco’s use of scantily clad women. In fact, he wrote, “I got an earful from readers who faulted me for making a big deal about it and taking political correctness to an extreme.”
Tennant goes on to write “Vanco used the women to attract the crowd’s attention to its booth. And the mind-set behind the planning and execution of that strategy was that the target crowd would be attracted by provocatively dressed women. The targets were males.”
The article quotes Vanco representatives as saying they “used an Orlando based events agency to deliver the boxing setup, and relied on the agency to provide what would be appropriate for a U.S. market.”
I’m interested in this audience’s reaction. As a marketing professional do you consider “booth babes” appropriate for trade-show / conference events? I’ll have to admit that maybe I’m getting old too because I shared Don’s concern with the practice.
Ignoring the inane issues of political correctness, the question of whether to use sex to sell is an age-old one. I am not bothered about having scantily clad women on a stand to attract male visitors, that is a question that should be put to the women themselves, but I am concerned about whether the product can stand-up for itself when hordes of men arrive to oggle the women.
Too many event marketers overemphasise this kind of promotional sizzle, when they might be better off focussing on the more substantial product steak that customers are really looking for.
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager
I am saddened to think that your colleagues think that sensitivity to women at conferences is passé. That is a sign to me that exhibitors do not feel there are enough women decision-makers at these shows. I do not believe that scantily-clad women appeal much to prospective women buyers. So, to me, this is a sad step backward. By the way, if you replace the loaded term, “political correctness,” with “sensitivity,” you’ll find that some of these outmoded customs and behaviors do affect people.
Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink
You really could have stopped at “inane issues of political correctness,” since that sums up your attitude on the issue. You don’t mind exploititive practices in marketing, fine.
As far as the over-emphasis on the “sizzle,” though, you make a good point. That steak/sizzle adage is one that never sounded quite right. The more flash there is in marketing, the more the marketers are usually trying to compensate for, and I think everyone can agree at this stage in the game you’re not fooling anyone with flash.
I agree it would be hard to believe their booth appealed to prospective women buyers. In addition, Don voiced in his second column that “what was demeaning was the presumption that it was acceptable to adopt that strategy to target males.” In fact, Don went on to state that “representatives from Vanco and Gartner discussed the matter, and Vanco arranged for the women to be dressed more conservatively for the remainder of the conference.” The additional problem for the vendor (and the conference) is that you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.
Blog: Welcome to Marketing 101
Yes, I’m over 50 years old.
So, I cringe when I see booth babes because it offends more than half the human race and further, shows a startling lack of creative imagination. If you’re selling lingerie, go for it! But networking services? There must be somebody in their extended circle of marketing professionals who are no longer teenagers.
Sex in advertising is always going to be an emotive issue, as we see in the responses to Alan’s post.
On the one hand, it is a question of how liberal your morals are, in particular, whether you feel you have the right to tell adults engaging in a legal activity to stop doing so, just because you feel it morally wrong. It is clear that some people consider themselves so on the moral high-ground that they feel able to do so. This is a difficult position to defend in a culturally diverse society.
On the other hand, it is a question of whether sex sells. As Jim points out, it might in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. But it probably will not in this particular case. Although I am not a purchaser of network equipment, nor a visitor to computer equipment trade shows, I do believe that the company could have made more innovative use of its trade show budget to effectively differentiate its products from the competition.
As to Alan’s point about making a good first impression, as Oscar Wilde famously said, “Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals”. Such is life.
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager
There was an interesting article (“Too Modest for TV: Girls Gone Mild? Not on ‘Dr. Phil’) in the Friday, December 21, 2007 Wall Street Journal. Author Wendy Shalit writes:
“Sensing the makings of a more conservative generation, Phillip Longman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, warned readers in the February issue to “think twice” about touting sexually explicit video games: “Businesses that have relied on sex to sell products … could provoke boycotts or outright bans.” Today’s sexy marketing campaigns “could come to be seen as relics of a decadent past.” This is what happened in 2005 when teenage girls successfully “girlcotted” Abercrombie & Fitch’s “attitude tees.” It wasn’t parents but the girls themselves who succeeded in getting the clothing retailer to pull the shirts with sayings such as “Who Needs Brains When You Have These?”
At any rate, my original post started with the question of using scantily clad women as a marketing ploy at conferences and trade shows. I personally don’t like allocating any of my marketing budget on conferences. The ROI is generally not that great. With that said, we’ll still have a booth presence at two conferences this year; SD West and the Game Developers Conference. If you’re there I hope you’ll stop by … you can count on an engaging software demo, but not booth babes.
Blog: Welcome to Marketing 101
Sex is one of the primal instincts of being human. Much like food and shelter. The only question that we need to ask ourselves as marketers is “Does it work?” and the answer is that it does dependent on the situation. Yes, it involves objectification but that exists regardless of marketing.
Personally this is just a component of stunt marketing that people have become far too personally involved with. If you can show a positive return by having a half naked man or woman simply stand at a booth and chat people up, then by all means do so. Personally, I prefer something a little more original but if the situation came up where this was the most effective concept for my client I would do it in a heartbeat.
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Good post, having a professional looking booth is critical to drawing traffic in, I have seen many exhibits that look second rate and you can tell there not getting the traffic they want. In my opinion you should pay the extra cash for a better trade show booth, although many other aspects go into having a successful trade show other than just how nice your booth is.