Can We Finally Say: Bye Bye Booth Babes?

Isn’t it time for our industry to stop using booth babes once and for all?

There used to be an annual tradition around Comdex–Every year, a week or two after Comdex (and then later CES) InfoWorld or Computerworld would write an editorial complaining about the use of “booth babes.” at the show.

These editorials and the maturing of our industry seemed to have had a great effect. Each year there seem to be fewer and fewer booth babes at major tech shows–but they are still there–just in smaller numbers.

Attitudes are also continuing to change. More and more companies are realizing that booth babes are out of place at tech shows. In addition, these companies have also begun to realize that booth babes may be a bad business move.

In writing this article I googled to find the gadget and gamer blogs’ annual roundups of trade show booth babes and was pleasantly surprised to find a comment from Daniel Cooper, an Engadget contributing editor, that said:

“Oh, and regarding ‘booth babes:’ scantily clad women trying to tease the über-geeks at CES: if your product needs a semi-nude woman to sell it to nerds, you don’t have faith in your product.”

As a launch consultant, I couldn’t agree more. Nowadays to break through the noise companies need an innovative product, great user experience and clear communications. Booth babes do none of these and can even distract from the story companies are trying to tell. They are the shiny object that can distract for a moment–but only a moment. I have typically found that the companies using booth babes do not have much of substance to show or are trying to mask other problems. And in the unusual case when it is a great product being promoted by a booth babe, many people miss it because they make an assumption that it couldn’t be a great product if it is being promoted by a booth babe.

As we move into an era where we are no longer just selling technologies to enthusiasts but are selling to mainstream consumers, our industry’s collective attitude and image are important. This year it was not an industry pub that was covering the issue but the very mainstream BBC. Not only does this piece highlight the problem but it tries to send the message that the industry can’t see what’s right in front of its face. If we don’t reform as an industry we can expect more of the same. Every bit of negative attention focused on our industry is a moment when the media and customers are not focused on our industry’s products. And lets not forget how many technology purchasing decisions are made by women. Is this the image we want to send these customers?

The industry has done a good job of encouraging women to move into science, math and technology and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) did a good thing in “divorcing” CES from the adult video show, but for the industry to not try to do something about booth babes sends a very mixed message.

For whatever reason, be it business, social or other, as an industry, we should actively encourage a move away from booth babes at tech trade shows once and for all.

Unfortunately, the industry does not currently take a strong stand against booth babes and one prominent press event organizer, Pepcom, uses them at virtually all its events.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of  the CEA, owners of CES, said “As long as they don’t violate show rules, I can’t do anything about it.”   While creating rules banning booth babes will probably never work that does not mean that organizations like the CEA and Pepcom and others should do nothing.

But Gary also says “…and if some companies think it works, they are going to use models in their booths.” and I think that is where the challenge is for our industry:  Educate companies that booth babes do not work and are not welcome.

As an industry we should endeavor to teach companies that best practices for launching products, exhibiting at shows and sponsoring events is more about great products and clear messages than sexy women. These shows should begin to include text to this effect in their exhibitor and sponsorship manuals and work on other ways to discourage this practice.  In addition industry publications and blogs should stop publishing booth babe roundups and not use pictures of scantily clad women showing off tech products.

Lets get together as an industry and once and for all say “Bye Bye Booth Babes.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.