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Strippers and Steaks Mentality
January 16, 2014 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Booth Babes Don't Work
It’s a pretty indefensible practice. The hiring of young, college-aged females to dress as provocatively as possible to help promote…um, Ultra HD TV sets, Android tablets and Internet-enabled toothbrushes. It’s a relic of old enterprises, but that’s just the way they like their world. But what nearly every critic has failed to mention is a real concrete business reason to end the practice. Well, I do: Booth babes do NOT convert.
posted by jillithd (102 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Booth babes belong in Mad Men, not the 21st century.
posted by boubelium at 12:07 PM on January 16 [25 favorites]


Agreed. I'm frankly surprised it still goes on.
posted by jquinby at 12:10 PM on January 16


I'm frankly surprised it still goes on.

I'm frankly surprised anyone bought the BS about it having been about promoting sales in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:16 PM on January 16 [10 favorites]


"Many times I observed that while my team was busy in demos with other prospects, the booth babes were unable to hold the interest of these execs for the extra five minutes that I needed to get a person from our team to engage."

Meanwhile, granny at the other booth is a small-talk master- execs couldn't get away if they wanted to.
posted by stinkfoot at 12:16 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Big conventions in general are kind of bullshit. They're just ways for the sales team and executives to embezzle a free vacation from the company without going to jail. I don't know why shareholders put up with it.
posted by empath at 12:17 PM on January 16 [53 favorites]


Yeah, it goes on because there are plenty of corporations out there that still have "number of badge scans" as one of the metrics they use to define whether or not a show was a success for them.
posted by jbickers at 12:17 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


its a good point he's making - that you get bad leads and waste a lot of time and it doesn't end up paying out. i was pretty disheartened that through his entire piece he didn't once point out that it's not just men at these conferences. it was all "booth babes intimidate men and are lazy and male execs won't waste their time with them" and none "beyond all that, there's 50% of the population and a growing percentage of your customers who are the gender you're exploiting for bad leads which in turn gives you even less good leads."
posted by nadawi at 12:18 PM on January 16 [61 favorites]


Thank God a dude has now said this, and we can therefore act on it.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:18 PM on January 16 [126 favorites]


A lot of my friends did this in college. I went once because it paid well. (Not tech). Honestly we thought most of the attendees we interacted with were assholes and had zero interest in talking to them beyond the contractually obligated mindless pleasantries. The total lack of interest and vague contempt we had for the guys who actually talked to us must have been palpable, especially considering we were very, very high. Most people with any kind of authority or standing ignored us completely. Female attendees were contemptuous. I can't imagine how that supposedly helped the businesses at all.

Btw, everyone I knew who did this was a hard science major or grad student at a Big Science university. They told us not to mention that little fact.
posted by fshgrl at 12:20 PM on January 16 [31 favorites]


They weren’t just older than your typical booth babe, one was literally a grandmother… 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.
Amazing. Go grandma!
posted by grouse at 12:21 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I attend these type of trade shows quite often and can attest to the fact that they do not work.

Image a gaming conference, filled to the brim with socially awkward nerds. Some of us have aged, have families and are quite content in life. But it doesn't change who we were in highschool. I walk by a booth with booth babes and all my highschool insecurities come back. Those girls are too hot and too popular to give a shit about me and I know if I go over there, they're just going to make fun of me. :)

The whole thing is about 1/2 a second in my head before I remember I'm in my mid thirties and married, but it's instant and enough to ensure I don't go to those booths or deal with those companies.
posted by dogbusonline at 12:21 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Lastly, there still exists the “stripper and steaks” mentality in sales, where it’s less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the “close.”

This, at least in the area of "supply chain management".
posted by Slothrup at 12:22 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


nadawi: "its a good point he's making - that you get bad leads and waste a lot of time and it doesn't end up paying out. i was pretty disheartened that through his entire piece he didn't once point out that it's not just men at these conferences. it was all "booth babes intimidate men and are lazy and male execs won't waste their time with them" and none "beyond all that, there's 50% of the population and a growing percentage of your customers who are the gender you're exploiting for bad leads which in turn gives you even less good leads.""

To be fair, your own critique is hetero-normative.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:23 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Still felt the need to include a bunch of pictures of booth babes though. I guess they still drive traffic to websites.
posted by IanMorr at 12:23 PM on January 16 [29 favorites]


I'm frankly surprised anyone bought the BS about it having been about promoting sales in the first place.

Is there any evidence that anyone actually did though?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:25 PM on January 16


The ones that the booth babes had no trouble attracting were often low-level, overconfident IT nubs —

Hey!
posted by nubs at 12:25 PM on January 16 [67 favorites]


To be fair, your own critique is hetero-normative.

not really. as a queer woman i feel like pointing out that women (even women who like women) are turned off by this sort of thing isn't off base.
posted by nadawi at 12:25 PM on January 16 [42 favorites]


@IAmBroom, I think nadawi's point wasn't that the people referenced (women) aren't attracted to booth babes, but rather, that many of them will see booth babes as exploitation rather than decoration and be thoroughly turned off.

edit: beaten to the punch by nadawi. #highfive
posted by entropone at 12:26 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


I know if I go over there, they're just going to make fun of me. :

If you're in your thirties and wearing a wedding ring? Yes. Yes they are.
posted by fshgrl at 12:26 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


This article is so poorly written and not best of the web I almost feel like writing a TechCrunch article called, "In Defense of Booth Babes."
posted by phaedon at 12:27 PM on January 16


He's just confessed that he's not a booth-babe job-creator.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:27 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


I am not here to participate in the bigger social debate on whether exploiting women as booth babes is bad for all of us in the long run…or if it’s simply wrong.

He's trying to sound objective, but this makes him sound like an ass. The larger social debate is important to have and something that businesses should be a little more concerned about. Also, it makes it seem if his results were found that booth babes provide a slight edge or if his results were inconclusive, he would still defend the use of booth babes.
posted by FJT at 12:27 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


I walk by a booth with booth babes and all my highschool insecurities come back. Those girls are too hot and too popular to give a shit about me and I know if I go over there, they're just going to make fun of me.

My girlfriend, who is a gamer and tall, remarked to me that she thought it was funny how all "booth babes" at gaming conventions were short. Speculatively, this might be intended to alleviate the intimidation factor of beautiful Amazons towering over nerdy guys.
posted by cribcage at 12:29 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I'm frankly surprised anyone bought the BS about it having been about promoting sales in the first place.

One thing that I've learned professionally is that the reason that most businesses don't break out and become wild successes is because much of their decision-making is built off of groupthink and cliche. They abhor truly creative thought and often make decisions based off of no more analysis than what everyone else is doing. The very phrase "best practices", which has a real meaning in places like coding that value good tools and workflows and structure, most places in business means "standard practices", i.e. "what everyone else is doing".

If booth babes aren't actively hurting sales, there's every reason in the world to use them, because your competitors are using them, and everyone knows you have to use them, because "sex sells" is a two-word phrase that everyone learned as a kid and no one ever questions.

Also, the guys responsible for approving the booth babes then get to go visit the con and look at titties.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:31 PM on January 16 [13 favorites]


I think nadawi and I got about the same bad taste in our mouths at about the same time from this. I totally get the point, and it's nice to see even very fuzzy quants, even though this isn't A/B testing, really (different locations, different ambience, different circumstances). However, this is something that people have been talking about for a long time - there's already plenty of anecdata, much of it from women.

And the tone of blaming the "booth babes" (lazy, intimidating to the men, incapable of social interaction) is kind of a turnoff - even down to the term "booth babe", which is a derogatory nickname that has turned into the standard term of address for promotional models.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:31 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Full disclosure: In China, one of my many "white guy jobs" was to act as a "booth babe" of sorts at education fairs representing international universities. I just had to stand there and talk to kids taking English courses (who will flock to the opportunity to try out their "skills" in a "safe" canned environment) and try and get them to sign up to receive solicitations from universities around the world. My job qualifications? Primarilly, I was a white guy that spoke English and had a suit.

Oh, and it was aweful. I spent days on end with no breaks standing for hours at a time in sometimes terrible climactic conditions (in the south it was sweltering and I risked heat stroke, in the north I nearly got hypothermia - note to anyone who does this: Chinese convention centers and gymnasiums are largely unheated and unairconditioned). Then, when the days were done and you just wanted to go to bed you had to go to some banquet with the mayor of the backwater town and drink bad baijiu with every table in the room. Super fun.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:31 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


not really. as a queer woman i feel like pointing out that women (even women who like women) are turned off by this sort of thing isn't off base.

As a straight man, I find it demeaning - both to the women involved and the implicit assumption that I can be manipulated into being interested in a product through such means.

Make a good product, that's what I'm interested in.
posted by nubs at 12:32 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry you feel that way, phaedon. I thought it was an interesting article that would bring up some good discussion. We can't all write posts like filthy light thief. :)
posted by jillithd at 12:33 PM on January 16


I guess they still drive traffic to websites.

Seriously. I know it's silly to expect anything resembling good taste or self-awareness from TechCrunch, but the illustration-to-text relationship here must top the charts for unconscious irony/performative contradiction even in the world of greasy clickbait.
posted by RogerB at 12:34 PM on January 16 [8 favorites]


Nadawi nails it for me as a woman (and for all my female friends who aren't hetero, too) -- I'm offended when I see it, and my reaction is to walk away from said booth.

My other possible reactions, which are likewise not conducive to selling to me, are to ask the woman in the booth about whether she has any concerns with the way she is being treated or head straight to a competitor's booth.

I'm not normally an angry feminist, but I am always a feminist. These days that's pretty standard for just about all women and, in my view, the majority of men, regardless of sexual orientation.
posted by bearwife at 12:36 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


The ones that the booth babes had no trouble attracting were often low-level, overconfident IT nubs

nubs: "... Make a good product, that's what I'm interested in."

Dammit, now I don't know what to believe!
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 12:36 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


i'm not saying men don't find it demeaning or off putting, as that's what the entire article is about. i was really just saying that there was a big unspoken thing through the whole article about how the customers were men with nary a mention indicating he understood that women were at these things too, and not just in vinyl shorts.
posted by nadawi at 12:36 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Oh, and I just want to add that I certainly didn't have to deal with creeps in my job, so at least I had that over the "booth babes" demeaning existance.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:39 PM on January 16


Primarilly, I was a white guy that spoke English and had a suit.

FYI, that qualifies you to work in a trade fair booth in the U.S. too.
posted by chrchr at 12:39 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


The main takeaway I get from the article isn't that pretty girls are bad, it's that dumb representatives are. His biggest success is in hiring people who can make small talk and draw people in. You could imagine a pretty young woman or man having that skill in addition to good looks and being doubly successful. But of course that's not what a booth babe is hired for.

Another disgusting thing about booth babes is that it then diminishes the role of women who do have things to say. I've twice made the mistake on a conference sales floor of talking to the wrong person because I thought the right person was just a booth babe. In both cases there's a pretty young woman and a schlubby older guy; I completely ignored the woman assuming she was a booth babe and therefore a waste of my time. Turned out the schlubby guy is some salesbro and the woman was the smart sales engineer who could actually explain the product to me. I felt like a jerk, but even worse I had to waste my time getting away from the clutches of the salesbro. Bleah.

there still exists the “stripper and steaks” mentality in sales

Yes, and fuck those guys. Seriously, fuck them. All of them. Particularly in my Internet software industry, disgusting pigs. There's a depressing number of men who thinks this way, a whole sales culture, it's revolting.
posted by Nelson at 12:41 PM on January 16 [30 favorites]


I wonder if "booth studs" are or will be a thing.
posted by FJT at 12:41 PM on January 16


Wasn't trying to undercut your point nadawi, just try to express what I think parts of the article was trying to get to without the dancing around. Sorry.

Dammit, now I don't know what to believe!

Cognitive dissonance: it builds character.
posted by nubs at 12:41 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


edit:

[Periodic gentle reminder: do not use the edit function to add content to a comment, it's for typo-level issues only. Just add another comment.]

posted by cortex at 12:42 PM on January 16


It's worth noting that the original article links to this and this.

jillithd, i think the topic and the discussion that follow more than validate the post. just my 2 cents.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:42 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


These shows may be useless and booth babes are pretty much a guaranteed waste of money, but having worked a trade show as a non-babe, these events are not a vacation for the staff. Companies spend millions on these nebulous affairs and there's a lot of pressure for them to be SOMETHING, regardless of what something is. It's a huge amount of work to make these wastes of time happen.
posted by GuyZero at 12:44 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Booth babes have always served the function of informing women at trade shows of their place. The best thing about this study is that it will make that clearer to people who think they're just serving the bottom like and don't, therefore, have to behave ethically.

But having booth babes would be bad practice even if it made money (despite what capitalism tells us about money being the greatest good), because it is demeaning to both men (they're too dumb to know when they're being manipulated with sex appeal) and women (sexual object) and genderqueer folks, who are always left out of either/or gendered thinking.
posted by spindrifter at 12:44 PM on January 16 [12 favorites]


Nelson-- a million times yes.

From reading various articles on CES this year, it seems that the employment of booth babes is declining, so progress is being made.

In general, I've got nothing against pretty people selling products-- the annoyance factor to me in these situations is, they're not selling the product-- they're just standing around. Spend your god-damn marketing money on good sales people, if they happen to be a handsome person, all power to you.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:44 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


Lastly, there still exists the “stripper and steaks” mentality in sales, where it’s less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the “close.”

My dad had purchasing power and his favorite vendor had this sort of mentality - world-class steakhouses and - I don't know about strippers but maybe - Super Bowl/World Series tix.

That sales guy probably had a lot of fun in pursuit of his sales.

In China, one of my many "white guy jobs" was to act as a "booth babe" of sorts at education fairs representing international universities

What's something like that pay?
posted by codswallop at 12:47 PM on January 16


I guess they still drive traffic to websites.

...which is also kind of a point that's being missed, I think, in the article. If you're selling a consumer good, you might not be solely concerned with meeting the kind of people who command corporate IT budgets. The models in the picture are promoting, among other things, a nicotine hand gel, a console game and a casual gaming company. IT and procurement managers are not going to be buying these products in bulk, but they have just got their brands in front of the large, consumer audience of Techcrunch, and from there to many other places via linkage.

If you're manning a booth at E3, you don't expect Andrew House to come over, be intimidated by your models and decide not to buy your studio after all. Your big win is probably Destructoid or Kotaku putting a spokesmodel with your name on their T-shirt into one of their more or less ironic "hot women of E3" galleries. You are aiming for a different audience, basically.

(Which is why top-down policies on inappropriate workware at PAX and Eurogamer Expo, for example, are in place, and also why their bounds are frequently challenged.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:47 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


The article just doesn't make any sense. Executives already have set meetings when they go to conventions, they don't troll the floor looking for other executives. Also, calling women cheap and lazy kind of sucks. And if you think in your face objectification isn't used in the highest echelons of multi-million dollar marketing, like "babes" is some antiquated "cheap way out," you're wrong. It's a totally prevalent, if not therefore defensible, practice. Don't direct your ire at me, I can't explain how or why ass and titties are used to market tech products and services, or pretty much everything else. Just ask GoDaddy.
posted by phaedon at 12:49 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


nadawi: "To be fair, your own critique is hetero-normative.

not really. as a queer woman i feel like pointing out that women (even women who like women) are turned off by this sort of thing isn't off base.
"

Ah, thanks for the clarification.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:49 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Still felt the need to include a bunch of pictures of booth babes though. I guess they still drive traffic to websites.

The same way that most articles about the terrible sexism in games includes a dozen examples of the kind of thing the author claims not to want to see anymore.
posted by Foosnark at 12:51 PM on January 16


I'd like to hear more about those grandmothers. From the article, it sounds like they were local people with no relation to the company, so their role was essentially to talk to people (especially if the actual tech people were busy with someone else). And they rocked at it.

It reminds me of Liza Dalby's comment that the most successful geisha were those in their 50s-- because they were adept at talking and bantering with men, unlike the pretty apprentices.

Still, I'm curious whether leads would go up or down if instead of hiring the chatty grandmothers who don't know the product, the company just brings along two more people who do.
posted by zompist at 12:54 PM on January 16


To summarize:

Booth Babes don't work

(insert picture of Booth Babe)

because of one experience the author had

(insert picture of Booth Babe)

which totally proves his case. So stop

(insert picture of Booth Babe)

using Booth Babes.

(insert picture of effective high-tech grandmother)

..... although that last insert didn't happen, did it?

__________________________________________

The faux-righteous tone of the article made me as queasy as any booth full of babes or dudes. The author appears to be as creepy as whoever is making the decision to go for boobs over substance.

Exhibit A: A quick word search shows that he refers to women as:

babes .............. 27 times
women ............ twice
grandmothers .. twice
hot girls .......... once
dames, chicks, or ladies ... never
posted by kanewai at 12:56 PM on January 16 [13 favorites]


"There's no such thing as an anti-booth babe article."

- François Truffaut
posted by Panjandrum at 12:58 PM on January 16 [13 favorites]


What's something like that pay?

Not very much, less than the commercial acting jobs (seriously, very same qualifications!), but the plus side was I got to see the convention centers, gymnasiums, and 2 star hotels* of many of China's "D-list" cities all expenses paid!

*My boss was cheap and a CCP member so I got sneaked into members only low-level functionary hotels where I had to stay in my room except when they'd rush me into a waiting car like Justin Beiber when the pre-bribed desk workers and guards said the coast was clear. Good times.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:58 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Do you come with the 3D television? ;)
posted by dry white toast at 12:59 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Oh you...
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:00 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Has anyone ever tried staffing their booths with actual babes? You know, like one year olds?
posted by octobersurprise at 1:03 PM on January 16 [10 favorites]


He's trying to sound objective, but this makes him sound like an ass. The larger social debate is important to have and something that businesses should be a little more concerned about. -- FJT

I don't read it that way. His audience is not us, but sales and marketing people who are trying to justify not using 'booth babes'. The people fighting this are the asses. They'll argue that anything that increases sales is what we go with, we're not here to save the world. If you try to argue the bigger picture you'll immediately lose their attention. So you speak their language--numbers of leads, numbers of sales. Here's are multiple cases with hard numbers that show that it doesn't work.
posted by eye of newt at 1:05 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Has anyone ever tried staffing their booths with actual babes? You know, like one year olds?


Hell no. People buy tickets for these shows, man.
posted by jquinby at 1:05 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Mind you, having the Powerpuff Girls at your booth can't do anything but help.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:05 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


octobersurprise - Most do. They're called sales people.

I'm convinced that these huge trade shows are just massive excuses for sales people to pretend like they're doing something with all the money they're spending, but without actually requiring them to do anything particularly useful. Sorta like the huge fund-raisers that spend 99% of what they bring in on booze/entertainment.
posted by petrilli at 1:06 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


I haven't been to hard tech, gaming, or hacker conventions (so I instantly waive my credibility to contribute to this thread, joke).

I have been to academic conferences, the American Library Association conferences, and the Washington, DC federal agencies' convention that promotes ADA hiring.

At the first two kinds of conferences, anyone young, extremely good-looking, and wearing a suit is immediately presumed to be a publishing or tech salesperson.

At the last, I witnessed the worst possible use of a "booth babe." Who authorized using a tall, very conventionally attractive blonde young woman as a rep at a convention that supposedly serves people with disabilities? Granted, she might have a hidden disability (not Deaf, as she wasn't signing). But it still seemed like a clueless choice to put übermädchen out there.
posted by bad grammar at 1:06 PM on January 16


One defense I'll give for shows is this - depending on the show, your customers will go, and often many of the higher-ups at your customers will go as well. They'll sort of expect you to be there along with everyone else, and most exhibitors will use the opportunity to set up high-level meetings betwixt the visiting execs and their own.

I did a lot of tradeshow stuff during the mid-90s, when things were still completely gonzo for any show that was Internet-related (hi, Mecklermedia!), but I had understood that things had sort of calmed down. I guess it has. As mentioned above, the booth-babe phenomenon needs to head for the ashbin of history.

And also the squeeze stress balls. I hate those things.
posted by jquinby at 1:11 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


(Disclaimer: I am not defending the practice.)

Guy responsible for my company's trade shows speaking. While we have never used booth babes, I have been to plenty of shows that have.

Trade shows are not all about making sales. In fact, many of them explicitly prohibit selling in the exhibitor contracts. Trade shows are also about brand-building opportunities. The way to build a brand is to get noticed, and this can get very expensive vary quickly. One way companies get their brand exposure at shows on the cheap is with booth babes.

Is it effective for brand-building? Perhaps, expecially if there's a gimmick involved that ties the booth babes' outfit to the company name. I still remember a telecoms trade show from 2006 or so that had a couple smokin' hot young ladies in bikini tops and grass skirts.

The name of the company? Hula Networks.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:19 PM on January 16


Big conventions in general are kind of bullshit. They're just ways for the sales team and executives to embezzle a free vacation from the company without going to jail. I don't know why shareholders put up with it.

they put up with it because of everything you don't see on the convention floor.

conventions like IDC are sometimes the ONLY opportunity people from two companies will get to have face time in a meeting room somewhere.
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:20 PM on January 16


Big conventions in general are kind of bullshit. They're just ways for the sales team and executives to embezzle a free vacation from the company without going to jail. I don't know why shareholders put up with it.

As a trade journalist for 10 years, part of my job - a pretty big part, in fact - was to go to these shows and cover them for our publications and the special marketing "Show Dailies" we used to put out at the convention.

And I can confirm this from direct experience. There is literally nothing about these things that is not bullshit.

If anything, IT is less egregious than some other industries. My favorite story along these lines:

Once upon a time, there was a golden age of the wireless industry, when the Bell monopolies had been broken up, and hadn't had time to reform again as they more or less have now. There were maybe six or eight big players in each major market and a whole raft of smaller regional and second-tier market carriers. There were actually two competing wireless trade associations, for God's sake! The industry was big enough to have money to blow, but not too big to fit into the Moscone Center in San Francisco, so that's where a lot of the wireless association trade shows were held. One year my company actually booked our team into the St. Francis on Union Square. Like I said, it was a Golden Age. (Within five years, we'd have to share rooms at a Marriott in the Dallas suburbs. Now I don't know if they even bother having trade shows anymore.)

So one year, a big equipment vendor - I won't name them, but it was Qualcomm - held a party for press on a rented boat cruising the bay. There was food and drink, nice views of the city, the obligatory briefing about the host's product line and brilliant growth strategy for the coming year, etc. And then there was entertainment.

In this case, the entertainment turned out to be a Prince impersonator.

I'll repeat that in case you need a second to catch up. In this case the entertainment turned out to be a Prince impersonator. Skinny guy with sort of Prince-y hair, tight purple pants, and a floppy white poet shirt. Attended by a couple of very lithe stripper types who flashed more skin than was appropriate and crawled all over the guy as he lip-synced to When Doves Cry.

And everyone is watching this and going WTF? The poor women from Qualcomm Industry Relations who booked the thing and didn't ask enough questions about just what the package they were buying meant by "entertainment' were mortified. And then the girls slipped into the crowd to drag guys out to vamp on. Everyone was backing away and checking over their shoulders to see how far they had to go before tumbling backward over the rail. Finally the PR women stepped in and shut the thing down. It was deeply, deeply awkward.

Of course we still had an hour of cruising around the bay. And I ended up chatting with one of the dancers for a while - I think they were worried they weren't going to get paid if they didn't find some way to entertain us, so they had actual conversations with us. (She was actually a really interesting person to talk with - she was majoring in design at The Art Institute.) But she mentioned that they were kind of surprised our bunch of reporters had the reaction we had to their show. They'd partied with a bunch of electrical equipment salesmen a couple weeks before and they'd loved it.
posted by Naberius at 1:21 PM on January 16 [26 favorites]


Naberius, I would drink with you and hear your stories.
posted by jquinby at 1:23 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


- the annoyance factor to me in these situations is, they're not selling the product-- they're just standing around. Spend your god-damn marketing money on good sales people, i

Ironically, when I did this I had a couple years experience working part time as a sales person/ "expert" (think boot fitter at a ski shop) at a sporting goods store. I was great at sales! Customers loved me! I could chat with anyone! Not a part of the booth babe gig at all.
posted by fshgrl at 1:23 PM on January 16


Perhaps, expecially if there's a gimmick involved that ties the booth babes' outfit to the company name

See, if Logitech would bring back the "feels good/feels better" campaign, they could staff their booths with swaddling babes.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:30 PM on January 16


At the last, I witnessed the worst possible use of a "booth babe." Who authorized using a tall, very conventionally attractive blonde young woman as a rep at a convention that supposedly serves people with disabilities? Granted, she might have a hidden disability (not Deaf, as she wasn't signing). But it still seemed like a clueless choice to put übermädchen out there.

Sounds like a combination of the younger-skewing demographics of DC and the tactics of the pharmaceutical industry.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:39 PM on January 16


octobersurprise: "Has anyone ever tried staffing their booths with actual babes? You know, like one year olds?"

My sole experience manning a booth at a trade show, I was 9 months pregnant. My partner was 8 month pregnant. We are both short and we were both carrying GINORMOUS.

These are regional shows (wedding expos, construction trades, that sort of thing) in a venue that invites local charities to staff unsold booths. (This was a children's charity.) This was some sort of construction-and-home-design expo, so a lot of tradesmen in their 50s, a lot of married couples in their 30s and 40s. Some of the booths had "hostesses," some with more aggressively "booth-babe" aesthetics, some less. They were mostly women from regional colleges, who mostly got the gigs on CraigsList, they were all very nice. (They kept offering to get us water or hot dogs.)

ANYWAY, they mostly stood around and smiled a lot and looked bored in between and didn't get a lot of interest because, well, they were just there to look nice and smile a lot.

My pregnant buddy and I, however, had a CONSTANT STREAM of people who were walking by, glanced at us, and said, "Oh, when are you due?" "Is it your first?" "My sister just had a baby!" "My wife is six months along, she's so miserable!" "Oh, I just had my third three months ago, this is my first time away since he was born!" "I have six grandchildren!" It was an irresistible conversation starter for just about everyone who walked by, and of course with an opening to conversation you can dive into your sales pitch. We handed out more literature than the rest of the weekend's volunteers at our booth all combined, and we had a lot more on-the-spot donations and people giving us their info for mailing lists than anyone else. We never even stood up, we were too pregnant to be on our feet and every time we shifted position we had to pee.

So anyway, frontiers in booth hostesses: Hugely pregnant women. Followed shortly, I'm sure, by fake bellies.

I have a friend who does these all the time for the League of Women Voters, where they sign up voters at all sorts of events, and she sits and crochets because they're boring. She says people come up to her constantly to say, "Oh, my grandma used to do that!" or "What are you making?" and she has the highest rate of voter sign-ups in the area.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:50 PM on January 16 [24 favorites]


See, if Logitech would bring back the "feels good/feels better" campaign, they could staff their booths with swaddling babes.

Or puppies.

Puppies and kittens.

They both feel good to hold and snuggle and press your nose against. But which feels better?
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:04 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


That this behaviour still happens makes me cringe. I've also never understood the idea of guys getting their photo taken with booth babes, grid girls or whatever - does it make the guys feel more masculine because they managed to get someone whose job it is to do so to stand beside them for a few seconds? What do they do with these photos later?
posted by dg at 2:04 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Puppies and kittens.

I would totally push my way to the front to snuggle with booth kittens.
posted by Zed at 2:06 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


Man approaches "booth babe":

"Do you come with this cloud-based financial software development workflow management system?"

"Hee hee hee! Oh, you!"

Man leaves. Second man approaches:

"Do you come with this cloud-based financial software development workflow management system?"

"Hee hee hee! Oh, you!"
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:18 PM on January 16 [9 favorites]


It was an irresistible conversation starter for just about everyone who walked by, and of course with an opening to conversation you can dive into your sales pitch.

I was going to put in something about dogs being a well-known icebreaker, but I bet kittens are even better.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:20 PM on January 16


Back in my undergrad days, I had legitimate jobs with a couple of tech and gaming companies, and represented them at trade shows and conventions now and then. Men and women working the show had the same clothes and were kinda equally nerdy-looking, but guess which of us got ignored due to the "young + female + trade show = booth babe" thing. Bleah.
posted by asperity at 2:21 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


You know what doesn't work? Standing somewhere in public like a scrub either as the tool with the clip board or the booth babe hired as a piece of meat. In either case, the company that is hiring you is wasting their money. No offense to you if that's your job... just understand, the ROI is non-existent. The ONLY exception to this is if you are a credit card company and you are trapping the next generation into poor saving habits and bad debt. That always makes some coin.

For everybody else, You know what does work? Television. And not the scrub television spots at 2:30 in the morning - I'm talking about that prime time real estate and the real events - the stuff that costs some serious coin.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:38 PM on January 16


I would totally push my way to the front to snuggle with booth kittens.

No joke: I worked at a nonprofit expo convention (sponsored by a major telecom company) where there were 'team building' wolves at the booth next to us.

Needless to say, we didn't get many leads.
posted by knownassociate at 2:42 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


Wolves? They look too much like dogs and I've seen dogs before. I want see something new and different. Booth wolverines!
posted by Area Man at 2:49 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


As someone who has done a number of trade shows, these booths tend to fail in the same way (or together with) the uninterested host who sits in the back of the booth on their smart phone / laptop / talking with a friend and ignore trying to engage passers by. Always seems like a huge waste of money for a company.
posted by nickggully at 2:56 PM on January 16


Man approaches "booth babe":

"Do you come with this cloud-based financial software development workflow management system?"

"Hee hee hee! Oh, you!"

Man leaves. Second man approaches:

"Do you come with this cloud-based financial software development workflow management system?"

"Hee hee hee! Oh, you!"


Canada introduced polymer bank notes a little over two years ago, starting with the $100 bill. As these were going to be of an entirely different feel to the previous notes, the Bank of Canada set up a number of temporary kiosks in shopping centres across the country to educate the public, oass out leaflets, etc. I passed by one kiosk several times in the Rideau Centre, staffed by a pleasant and professional woman of my own age (fortyish). After a few times passing by, I stopped and loitered within earshot on a couple of occasions. About every twenty seconds all day, she had to field the same question: "Are you giving out free samples?"

I would have murdered someone by about hour three of this, but to her credit she was smiling appreciatively at this joke even in the fourth day of her stint there.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:01 PM on January 16 [11 favorites]


Heh.
posted by knownassociate at 3:09 PM on January 16


I think I'm going to link to this thread next time someone wonders why schools aren't run more like businesses.
posted by Killick at 3:31 PM on January 16 [4 favorites]


A comment from the 2000 thread that knownassociate linked to:

As far as I'm concerned, as long as the booth-owners are dumb enough to pay them, I'll be happy to drool.

Occasionally, you actually find one worth making conversation with; though they certainly select for bra size, rather than IQ.
posted by baylink at 7:43 PM on September 5, 2000 [+] [!]


It's good to see that either metafilter or the general culture has gotten significantly better in the last 14 years, because I'm pretty sure anyone trying to pull that crap on Today's MeFi would get their dumb comment deleted or their asses handed to them or both.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:12 PM on January 16 [16 favorites]


Mind you, having the Powerpuff Girls at your booth can't do anything but help.

I know. Especially since the IT department hired that Mojo Jojo guy.
posted by jonp72 at 4:40 PM on January 16 [6 favorites]


It's good to see that either metafilter or the general culture has gotten significantly better in the last 14 years, because I'm pretty sure anyone trying to pull that crap on Today's MeFi would get their dumb comment deleted or their asses handed to them or both.
Has it really been 14 years since 2000? Oh man!
posted by peacheater at 4:43 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


a few years back, before PAX banned booth babes, Good Old Games came up with a fun way to get some attention while also poking a bit of fun at those companies using them. Since they largely sell reto and older games they had "booth grandmas" handing out cookies.
posted by Riemann at 4:51 PM on January 16 [5 favorites]


This is good to know, but it doesn't make any difference to the ethical question of how right or wrong the practise is (it's wrong, of course).

Also, where are the pictures of the grandmothers?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:55 PM on January 16


I don't know what's more shocking in that 2000 thread: the unapologetic misogyny or the fact that they were promoting the imminent release of Duke Nukem Forever at cons.

I guess, as we eventually found out, those two things are not as far apart as they might at first seem. But wow.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:34 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


Also, where are the pictures of the grandmothers?

For the love of all that is pure and holy, please let it not be 4chan.
posted by jonp72 at 6:08 PM on January 16


Lastly, there still exists the “stripper and steaks” mentality in sales, where it’s less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the “close.”

This, at least in the area of "supply chain management".


Well, I did have a vendor take me to a gentlemen's club for lunch once. The entertainment was good, the food...not so much.
posted by MikeMc at 6:54 PM on January 16


This isn't a defense of booth babeism but the article and the experience it was based on doesn't really show that booth babes don't work, merely within the limits of the experience that they don't work as well as "a couple of show contractors that knew the local area and had established people skills" to which I think anyone could hand out a great big Duh!.

dg: "I've also never understood the idea of guys getting their photo taken with booth babes, grid girls or whatever - [...] What do they do with these photos later?"

My experience (as the show-ee not the show-er) in trades not tech is that guys show them to their buddies or anyone who will hold still for it. Especially now that the pictures are on their phones which they have with them all the time. Which I guess is the theory on why the practice would work at least for brand awareness purposes.
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on January 16 [2 favorites]


Needs more data.
posted by zscore at 7:35 PM on January 16


My experience (as the show-ee not the show-er) in trades not tech is that guys show them to their buddies or anyone who will hold still for it.
Figured that. But why? Do people really think this makes them look better/more masculine? I guess they do, I just don't get why.
posted by dg at 8:32 PM on January 16


Anytime a sale needs to be converted, it means that the person trying to convert needs to pay close attention to the prospect and look for clues as to which way the interaction. A guy in a plaid jacket and base comb over is much more likely to possess this ability than a 19 year old model sent out to the convention for the da by her agency. The booth babe is more an ornament than a real person here.

So why even have booth babes? Because some secretly (or not so secretly) misogynistic guy at the company thinks sex sells and all that he needs to sell his mega widget is a hot chick batting her eyelashes. It shows a shocking lack of imagination and a real disdain for women in general.

I think an innovative or interactive display would be much more memorable and useful. But maybe that kind of thinking is why I'm not in product marketing.
posted by reenum at 8:32 PM on January 16


I would have murdered someone by about hour three of this, but to her credit she was smiling appreciatively at this joke even in the fourth day of her stint there.

Incidentally, before I wrote this, I did a quick search of my history to see if I was repeating myself on the blue. I searched for previous times I had used the word "hundred." How many previous posts before today from me employed the word? One hundred exactly. Whoa.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:38 PM on January 16 [3 favorites]


dg: " Do people really think this makes them look better/more masculine? I guess they do, I just don't get why."

IDK. What drives people to get their picture taken with athletes, actors, mascots, or presidents?
posted by Mitheral at 8:41 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


No idea - it's not the sort of thing I'd do. I guess it's not that different to getting their picture taken with landmarks that serve as a reminder or memento of a trip or activity they enjoyed, though. I can see athletes etc as someone they look up to (if I squint a bit) but a random female selected only for the ability to attract males (and possibly females, I guess, but I doubt the people that make these decisions would consider that) with no thought as to their likelihood of being potential customers. I'm sure there are better ways to build brand awareness that don't alienate significant portions of a target demographic.
posted by dg at 8:53 PM on January 16


I would be all over the "grandmas with cookies" booth.
posted by Harald74 at 11:19 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]


I work in corporate IT infrastructure. I've worked on both the vendor and customer side of the coin, so I've attended these "conferences" as a customer, and also seen how they're organised as a vendor.

In my experience, as a vendor, the whole thing is organised by the sales people, mainly guys. They share the load of sales people having to man the stall by creating a roster to cover the whole week, or however long. Then they hire the attractive talent. So all of the sales team attend, but the engineering/technical staff are specifically told NOT to attend. As a techo, I took that as the sales guys thinking we'd convey an undesirable impression, which I'm quite sure is right.

However, as a customer, that concept couldn't be more wrong. I go to these conferences to learn about current and upcoming products, not look at women. The ONLY people I'm really interested in talking to are technical people who know about the product. And even though I'm "just" a techo, I'm senior enough that I do actually have a lot of say in what the company I works for purchases. Just this week my current employer bought a $50,000 service based solely on my recommendation.

In reality, the actual day-time conferences at these events seem kinda of irrelevant from a sales perspective. It's more about after-conference drinks and/or dinner with your existing customers. It's the epitome of a junket.

And yes, the attractive hired talent is insulting to everyone. I think the sales guys organise it just for their own benefit.

I do disagree with one particular point in the linked article (well several, but this is one I wanted to point out). The author claims that the use of this attractive hired talent is dying out thanks to the new startup companies. In my experience, the opposite is true; Your IBMs and HPs and VMwares rarely employ this "method" any more, and it's more the try-hard startups who will have a bevvy of beautiful babes vying for your attention.
posted by Diag at 3:18 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


I would be all over the "grandmas with cookies" booth.

True, though I think I'd go further and say I would be all over the "anybody at all with cookies" booth.
posted by asperity at 7:43 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


> But why? Do people really think this makes them look better/more masculine? I guess they do, I just don't get why.

You're thinking of women as people, is your mistake. Think of it more like taking a photo with an interesting statue, or in front of a billboard with a funny slogan, or something. It's "look at me with this sexy object I found at the convention", not "look at this beautiful girl, I was thinking maybe she would want to hang out but she didn't, so it's weird that I'm showing you this I guess". There's just no "she" there, in their minds.
posted by gilrain at 9:46 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


That makes sense, I guess. I wish it didn't, but I'm sure you're right.
posted by dg at 2:40 PM on January 17


I wonder if "booth studs" are or will be a thing.

I went to a large medical conference in the US a couple of years ago, which had a big hall of vendors' stalls pushing their drugs, diagnostic systems, journals, etc. to the medics. The salespeople were roughly 50:50 male:female: almost universally in their early 20s, strikingly good looking, perfectly coiffed, and dressed in what I mentally categorised as "business sexy".

So, not "booth studs" as such, but definitely as much effort put into having hot guys out front as having hot women.

As an aside, the vendors' ethics were a bit weird at that conference. Absolutely no swag could be handed out at the stalls (fair enough when you're worried about drug companies' influence on doctors), but there were many "competitions" in which answering (easy) questions could get a prize posted to you, and half the city's restaurants must've been booked out by reps taking groups of doctors out for expensive-sounding dinners. It seemed very much a "letter of the law" system, in which whoever wrote the law hadn't been too interested in having it actually work.
posted by metaBugs at 11:16 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]


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