In the #MeToo era, employing a half-naked booth babe as buyer bait is not just bad marketing; it's insulting.
Each year, EXHIBITOR publishes its Best of CES list, which ranks the 20 best booths from the annual International Consumer Electronics Show. These exceptional stands are among the créme de la créme of the event's more than 4,400 exhibiting companies, and our hope is that they will inspire face-to-face marketers to emulate their experiential-design acumen. But in addition to recognizing exhibiting excellence, it's occasionally important to point out abject failure. And one CES booth in particular was so bizarre it still makes my skin crawl.
When I first approached the sad excuse for an exhibit, all I noticed was a throng of equally sad middle-aged men with cellphones in hand. As I got closer, I realized the focal point of the booth's design was an elevated stage set behind a baby-blue Lamborghini. But the featured presentation wasn't a demo of the exhibitor's Transformer-like home massage chair. Instead, BodyFriend Inc. served up a pair of miniskirt-wearing women dancing to loud royalty-free music. The resulting spectacle was the live-presentation love child of Maxim magazine and a bad "So You Think You Can Dance" audition. This fusion of scantily clad booth babes and the kind of soulless dance moves Elaine from "Seinfeld" might bust post zombie apocalypse was like a car crash I couldn't look away from. If any of you remember the YouTube video of dancers inside Alpine Electronics Inc.'s exhibit at the Bangkok International Auto Show, you know what I'm talking about.
After stewing on the quandary of whether I felt more pity for the dancers or the men filming them, I moved along to the next booth in the aisle. But a full hour later, I still couldn't get over how off-putting – and offensive – that exhibit truly was. So I returned and shamefully raised my own camera to document the wretched display. While the masses stood slack-jawed as they ogled the women, others did double-takes before grimacing and looking away. One passing couple stopped momentarily before the man turned to the woman, stupefied, and said, "You've got to be kidding me," at which point she added, "They should be ashamed of themselves."
I'm not sure if she was referring to the booth babes, the onlookers, or BodyFriend itself (which sounds more like an escort service than a massage-chair manufacturer), but she's right regardless. Booth babes aren't anything new, and not long ago the North Hall of CES was awash in spandex-clad models posing near tricked-out autos, often promoting car-audio companies. But when the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) started cracking down on booth babes, other shows followed suit. Before long, their appearance went from being the norm to being the tawdry exception.
One could posit that while offensive to some, this kind of tactic appeals to BodyFriend's target audience – and that may be true, considering one site that reviewed the company's product also boasted a banner ad for the "best outcall massage" in Las Vegas. But I suspect even the most misogynistic massage-chair connoisseurs aren't likely to drop $30,000 on a piece of furniture just because a couple of women gave the booth a lap dance. In the #MeToo era, employing a half-naked booth babe as buyer bait is not just bad marketing; it's insulting and incredibly tone deaf. Or, in the words of Victoria Song, a Gizmodo writer who penned a piece titled "Sitting in This Lamborghini Massage Chair was Like Having Bad Sex with Optimus Prime," the tactic was simply lewd.
Despite my blunt and colorful critique of this exhibit, my intention isn't to booth shame BodyFriend, but rather to share what I believe is a cautionary tale. Because while it takes an incredible amount of time, money, and creativity to be the best of the best, it only takes one ill-conceived idea to irrevocably tarnish your brand.E