The rationale behind hiring a trade show model is simple – nail the first impression by leveraging the old advertising maxim of sex selling. And for years the trade show model was a staple, pulling show-going crowds towards booths and hopefully towards products. Recently, though, trade show models, or as they are more commonly known “booth babes,” have been going the way of the caribou. Case-in-point, the 2008 SHOT Show, previously known for its pairing of guns and babes, was so lacking in trade show models that Field and Stream Magazine was forced to pad their annual review of models with pictures of men sporting unusually long beards, and causing many readers to question, why are exhibitors messing with a good thing?
In 2006, the Electronic Software Association (ESA), the trade group behind the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) issued a press release stating that for the first time, the dress code, typically flouted by models, would be enforced. And by “enforced” the ESA meant a warning followed by a $5000 fine. Common motives associated with this new rule enforcement stemmed from the reputation of the trade show (previously described by IGN’s David Adams as “ribald”), the fear that the ESA was marketing sexually-explicit content to children, and the fact that the video game industry was reaching sales parity with Hollywood. There is, of course, a common thread between these arguments: the product didn’t need the sex, instead it needed to be viewed as professional. For the ESA, the video game had matured beyond the quick, impulsive sell that sex grants, and was finally a legitimate part of living rooms around the world.
The ESA was telling exhibitors to do something every trade show exhibitor should be doing anyways, they should be considering their brand. Whether you are an entrepreneur, an executive, or merely an employee, trade shows are worked with the explicit intent of drawing quality attention to your brand. The trade show exhibitor is there to build excitement that should ultimately turn a booth visitor into a repeat customer. The booth is a means to forging a lasting relationship on a personal basis. Working a booth allows a company to press the flesh and promote with a passion that simply can’t be found in traditional advertising. So, why would a company risk potentially isolating half the attendees at a conference with a booth babe?
Half? Well, close to it. According to a survey conducted by AffiliateTip.com, 70% of the female respondents and 41% of the male respondents (56% overall) said that they were less likely to visit a booth that used a booth babe. Conversely, 29% of the overall respondents said that a booth babe caused a null opinion, and a mere 15% said that a booth babe would positively impact their opinion of a booth. Perusing blogs will lead to an even larger mountain of anecdotal evidence that suggests that not only are individuals less likely to visit your trade show displays if a booth babe is present, but they are actually more likely to form a negative opinion of your company to boot.
Of course, not all trade shows are following the trend presented by the ESA, yet booth babes seem to be disappearing just the same. The use of booth babes at YAPC (Yet Another Perl Convention) sparked a thread on the Use Perl official message board regarding whether or not booth babes should be used at other conference. The quote that seemed to sum the experience up was “that is so auto show.”
The debate surrounding the use of booth babes even leaves the trade show, with various media outlets debating about whether they should continue to feature photos of the “best” babes, often opening up the discussion to readers. Tom’s Hardware, a forum and media outlet focusing on technology posed the question to their readership and the first response cut to the heart of the issue – juxtaposing the ‘for’ being juvenile and mainstream against the ‘opposed’ being adult and technical. Tech Republic, also opened the question up to their readers, and gathered likewise responses. It seemed that even the media was turning their backs on booth babes.
There is, of course, one final theory on why exhibitors were shying away from tradeshow models. At the 2006 E3, Disney was there presenting the video game tie in for their Pixar animated feature “Cars.” There between near-life-size examples of the film’s star cars was, you guessed it, a trade show model. The model in question was decked out from head to toe in skintight black jumpsuit, complete with plunging neckline and a checkered-flag racking stripe running up her sides, and covering just enough to show that Disney could play by the new E3 rules. Perhaps the world at large saw Disney’s display as truly jumping the shark and everyone simply moved on.
Whichever theory you subscribe to – maintaining an professional image, fear of isolating potential clients, or merely staying one step ahead of Disney, the use of trade show models are certainly on the decline. And as John Davis, editorial director for Ziff Davis Media Game Group told ABC News, “Not having the booth babes isn’t going to make any difference.” Instead, of babes, the new trend seems to be presenting your products in a professional manner, with booth workers who go beyond gimmick or sex and instead have a passion for your brand and a knowledge base to match. Guess which one leads to more quality sales?