Opinion: do "booth babes" bear fruit at trade shows?
By Oster and Associates president and creative director Bev Oster
Is it appropriate? That’s often for the market to decide, and we can always hope that the market has a moral and social conscience that matches our own.
A basic of marketing is to understand the heart, mind and activities of your target market, then create and disseminate your messages in a way that will be most appealing to that particular group of people. So, you may ask how that relates to scantily clad women in trade show booths.
First we need to look at a few important points about the industry:
- Men largely outnumber women in the industry. We need to assume that most men will be more attracted to this type of tactic than most women.
- In a small trade show booth, it is extremely important that each person who is in the booth representing the company is able to talk about the products with knowledge. In a larger booth, we often have personnel that are less than experts, but are there to get the attention of customers and other show attendees. From an advertising perspective, they’re our headlines.
- "Scantily clad" can be subjective. What is common attire to one group of young women may be disgusting or suggestive to someone else.
- Being a "booth babe" is a job for many young aspiring actresses who are hired to attract trade show attendees to the booth. That's as far as the job goes, and it should not be misconstrued to mean anything else.
Once we have embraced the composition of the industry, it is important for each exhibitor to look at his/her own customer profile. The use of specific tactics at trade shows is not going to change the make-up of the industry, but it may change the way those who attend trade shows think of your company. No buyer has to do business with any particular exhibitor, but if you can relate to those buyers in a way that is appealing to them, then you have a better chance of winning their business.
Men like more direct approaches, and will engage with an exhibitor and sales force that can relate to their masculine sensibilities. Sometimes women won't like those sensibilities, but we need to acknowledge that attractive young women will get their attention. If those young women are friendly and outgoing, they are an asset to the booth. They shouldn't be asked to completely sell your products, but they may be an important element to engage your customers.
Women are more attracted to a subtle approach. They connect with sentimentality, and it is important to understand how to drive this emotional appeal. They will often be more readily attracted to artistic displays and social responsibility programs, and they may find overly sexy young women a barrier to pursuing more information about your company and/or products.
If men and women choose to be on an equal level in the produce industry, they need to respect the opinions and the positions of those who are the same, and those who are different from them. There are enough real issues to deal with in the marketing of produce without making the trade show hiring practices of a few male-oriented institutions a major crisis.
Personally, I would never choose to be a booth babe. But then I also wouldn’t choose to be a cocktail waitress in a night club, a dancer in Las Vegas or an actress in a low-budget movie. It's not my style, but it is absolutely the best way for some young women to advance their careers and be independent wage-earners. I wouldn't take that right away from them any more than I think my right to use my mind to advance my career should be taken from me. I also wouldn’t take away the right of a very good looking young man to be used as "eye candy" for the produce industry if we had a plethora of women produce buyers.