ot long ago, I found myself digesting a book titled "Trade Shows and Exhibits," published in 1968. The yellowed pages offer tips and takeaways ranging from the evergreen to the wildly outdated, such as "Since the dust, smoke, and smog level of a trade show tends to be rather high, the problem of ventilation will greatly affect the effectiveness of your sales staff."
While much of the book deals
with the issue of booth staffing, one tip, in particular, caught my attention: "The appearance of the young ladies used as receptionists contributes to the image you are creating for your company." Were these "young ladies" the booth babes of a bygone era? I dug further into the book's contents to find that, "Young ladies have, for
many exhibitors, become the answer to
handling literature requests, inquiries, and telephones."
It turns out booth babes - err, young ladies - are as much a part of our industry's history as pre-show promotions. But is the use of booth babes merely a relic of the old-boys'-club atmosphere that typified the exhibit industry in the olden days?
Or are booth babes a surviving staple, a still-relevant element residing in exhibitors' marketing arsenals?
Certainly, much has changed in 40 years. Female attendees now outnumber their male counterparts in many convention centers, so the siren-like allure of a young lady in a corporate-hued miniskirt is unlikely to have the same effect it did on cigar-smoking, predominantly male buyers in the 1960s. And yet, booth babes have endured.
Granted, they are more popular at shows which attract a disproportionate percentage of male attendees. But at least a few can be found at nearly any show, targeting almost any industry.
Some show organizers, however, are discouraging exhibitors from hiring the often scantily clad spokesmodels
to schmooze with attendees. The Pax Prime show, a gaming-industry event, issued a "No Booth Babes" policy in 2010. What's remarkable isn't that Pax attempted to curtail the age-old practice. It's that the notoriously male-dominated gamer crowd seemed to welcome the ban.
In one post-show survey of more than 6,000 attendees, 60 percent said they "liked" or "loved" the ban, and only 20 percent "disliked" or "hated" it. Furthermore, 81 percent agreed that female brand ambassadors need to be trained on the exhibitor's product, and 43 percent said any attire considered "partial nudity" should be banned.
The truth is, sex sells. Depending on your industry, brand, objectives, and target audience, booth babes can draw prospects into your booth while reinforcing an edgy image. But gratuitous Playboy bunny-like booth babes can also damage your brand.
For one, they can offend and alienate female attendees. They can also send the message that your company's value proposition has less to do with what your product offers attendees and more to do with the logo-adorned young ladies in your exhibit. Trade show marketing quickly devolves into a "My booth babe's hotter than your booth babe" pissing match, and attendees leave the exhibit hall with more memories of Miss March than of your company's marketing messages.
While it seems odd comparing the pages of a 43-year-old book to the impermanent 140-character tweets of our more modern era, the reference to the "young ladies used as receptionists"
reminded me of a recent Twitter rebuttal to the Pax Prime show's "No Booth Babes" policy. The tweet, sent by @erikvanhorn read, simply, "Guess I can only bring chicks if they're ugly."
Whether or not you choose to hire booth babes, brand ambassadors, or "young ladies" to staff your space, there's one lesson from my dusty old book that still applies: "In considering the use of young ladies, be certain to check with the trade show manager for acceptable costume."e