Booth Babe Challenge: Show Me the Money!

June 18, 2012

From Small Biz Trends:
Show Me the Money: What Timing and Integrity Can Do for Business

Last week included an in-depth twitter discussion about sexism and the phenomenon of booth babes at tech trade shows.  The discussion was rehashed on Twitter when AmberBaldet wrote a blog post on why she chose to leave a burlesque show being given at SummerCon.  Personally I thought her blog post explained the issue of what’s appropriate perfectly.  She didn’t argue about the performers or burlesque shows in general, but their relevance and appropriateness at a conference.  So a twitter conversation ensued which I suspect motivated @corum to share his point of view regarding Booth Babes.  Again, another article I felt was dead on and from a male’s point of view.

I think the general consensus regarding whether booth babes are appropriate is a resounding, NO, yet vendors still find it necessary to use this strategy.  Even amidst complaints by conference attendees & public mocking on social media sites, vendors stick to their marketing guns and bust out the busty femaninas.  Now I don’t have a marketing degree or know the first thing about marketing, but I’ve got to assume if the booth babe route is still used then there must be evidence that the strategy works.  I mean, why a vendor chooses to purposely offend people unless there was some benefit makes no sense.

So here’s my challenge: I challenge vendors who use booth babes to share their booth babe ROI! I’m not interested in lead generation, because it doesn’t take much effort to scan someone’s badge or get a business card.  I want to know, for the amount of money spent on booth babe talent, how much sales revenue is actually generated.  Prove to us naysayers, once and for all, that booth babes are a financially sound investment…..a revenue generating investment. I don’t want to hear about the failure of sales when leads don’t translate into revenue.  If that’s the case I’d argue you’d be better advised to invest in a better sales team than booth babes.  I’d even go so far and challenge vendors to provide an explanation on how using booth babes are more advantageous than staffing booths with knowledgeable engineers.

My argument against booth babes has always been about effectiveness. Does the use of booth babes actually work to sell products or services? I acknowledge the argument that sex sells in certain scenarios (beer & car advertisements) and I am willing to tolerate and concede the use of booth babes if it can be demonstrated that booth babes lead to direct sales.  From this standpoint many can then decide to continue to stand on the sidelines and turn their noses up at the practice but may have a harder time arguing against the business side of the equation.  Show me that some thought went into the decision. Show me that big ‘ole titties are more effective than an engineer who knows her shit.  SHOW ME THE MONEY!

13 Responses to “Booth Babe Challenge: Show Me the Money!”

  1. DM said

    I’d even argue that it’s not necessary for beer or cars. Lots of beers have done exceptionally well without resorting to advertising w/T&A. Samuel Adams comes to mind as (with an exception or two) Rolling Rock.

    • diami03 said

      I agree and I wasn’t necessarily saying it was a necessary tactic but one that isn’t completely out of character or stands out as being wholly inappropriate. And, although I’ve never been to a car show, from what I’ve been led to believe, many of those women can carry on some serious car talk. I’d be more impressed if a booth babe was able to carry on a decent conversation about what they are promoting. But again I agree, the booth babes are not 100% necessary.

  2. Bravo! I cannot agree more. When I attended at InfoSec in London earlier this year, I was severely irritated to find that most stands by larger businesses were filled with either booth babes or poorly trained sales guys. How the heck am I supposed to discuss the technical implications of their product / service if the person I’m talking to has no idea what it does, or why it’s useful in certain scenarios? The worst part is that you can see how mind-numbingly bored these people are. It’s just depressing. It completely put me off talking to people at those stands, let alone investigating their product.

    People at these conferences want to know three things: what the product does, how it does it, how much it costs. What we need on these stands is the standard tier-based support team structure – a couple of well-trained techies, a couple of mid-level techies, and a bunch of sales peons to filter out the easy questions.

  3. Several thoughts:

    1. Are you offended at the notion of only women being boothbabes? Can’t us guys serve in the same role? Don’t know about what others think, but my significant other thinks I can play that role.

    2. The collecting names for purposes of lead generation is actually the point. The more people you get to “market” to, the better. I would love to have the names of hundreds of IT executives within Insurance that have given me “permission” to market to them.

    3. Isn’t it somewhat hypocritical to refer to your blog as Top Heavy and then to rant against boothbabes?

    4. At some level, the trend you are observing is not conference specific. We know in the general marketplace that attractive people tend to be more successful than ugly people. Would you liked to be served food at a fine restaurant by some pleasant looking or someone with acme breakout who looks like they got hit in the face with a bag of nickels?

    5. I know we live in a world of EEOC, but what you are challenging is primordial in nature.At some level, if you have a tool in your toolbox and you aren’t leveraging it for successful outcomes, then what does that say about the business?

    6. Sorry for the counterpoint. This is just my personality. From incite comes insight… Signed McGovernTheory.

    • diami03 said

      Thanks James for your comment. Below is my response to a couple of your questions:

      1) I think the issue is all about appropriate presentation. The outfits the women are put into is just inappropriate. If I saw a booth that hand hot men in cabana boy outfits I would be disgusted all the same. If vendors what to hire “hot” people to pretty up their booth, then placing them in a nice business outfit should be sufficient. Cover their entire outfit with logos and client references. I’m all for looking at some luscious mounds, but when I want to do that, I’ll go to a place that’s more appropriate.

      2) The lead generation thing I’m still trying to wrap my head around. If 50% of leads were only obtained because of the proximity of a person & his/her badge to a scanning device, then what are the chances that that lead would have ever turned into a sale. My belief is a lead has a more likely chance to turning into a sale if the person visiting the booth was remotely interested to begin with. If half the people whose contact information was obtained as a lead have absolutely NO interest or need for a WAF, then the eye candy just wasted time. The sales guy is going to be chasing a non-sale and the person has to take time out of his/her day to fend off sales calls. Does a vendor not care about marketing’s tactic as long as marketing can show they collected a butt load of names? Or does the organization at some point reflect and do some analysis of how much of those leads actually pan out?

      3) I see nothing hypocritical about my blog name and a booth babe. My blog is not sexually explicit, exhibit sexually graphic content, and I like to believe actually has come helpful information. TopHeavy is a pun and a play on words and accurately describes me physically. Calling out the blog name is like chastising me for wearing low cut and sexy attire, which I’m known to do. So what? What I do as an individual woman should not been seen as representing all women in infosec. I think the thing to keep in mind is that these women are only being used as sexual objects. The vendor IS portraying women as nothing more than eye candy. Although I am against the outfits the women are placed in, if they were able to talk infosec circles around the potential clients, I would be less vocal and maybe slightly more tolerant.

      4) Yes the idea that “good looking” people get ahead is alive but that leads to another argument/conversation/debate about discriminating based on looks which I am not getting into here. The subconscious wants what the subconscious wants.

      5) And your point here is exactly what my post is about. How many organizations can actually show that booth babes = profits? That’s all I’m asking for. Show me the evidence.

  4. I think the problem exists because ill informed or inexperienced marketing drones look at the demographic of who attends IT & infosec conferences and (let’s be honest with ourselves) realize they are mostly male and decide that the lowest common denominator will get some results. They aren’t interested in the “best” results – just “some” results,,,and even with the discussion in our community this still works (based on anecdotal observation where I have seen slavering guys line up to meet the porn star-esque women at the booths).

    I think we’re getting better as an industry at recognizing this and responding to it. Still a way to go, tho…

  5. As a practical matter, no one will be allowed to provide you with a credible answer solely because there is no good way to track it. You have to look at this through the lens of workflow. A boothbabe scans a badge at a conference which gets uploaded into some CRM application for followup. If the conference badge scanner can’t record context nor can the CRM system accept it, then how can anyone ever hope to put numbers to your question?

    In my days as an employee of The Hartford, I can factually share a few observations that your thought process is accurate but this needs to be looked at through another lens. There was one vendor who had a sales executive that looked like Aracely from Telemundo. Did us guys find ways to NOT miss certain vendor presentations? Absolutely. If a vendor had to present one time to an enterprise audience vs multiple, then the return may not be a bigger sale but could be attributable to productivity.

    The inverse of this is also true. There would be times where there would be multiple meetings and in order to close the deal, a ho hum guy would need to take over and get down to business. Is this good or bad? Really depends on perspective.

    In terms of your suggestion regarding covering boothbabes with client logos, that is a rathole and could make the problem even worse. I will leave this to the imagination as to why.

    I am glad that you mentioned that this was a WAF vendor. Instead of attacking them on boothbabes, could have resorted to simple embarrassment in terms of asking the babe about the OWASP Top Ten and let her make herself look foolish. There are multiple ways to get a point across.

    • diami03 said

      The covering person in logo comment, I was referring to a person wearing a polo shirt with slacks with the logos. And the use of WAF was a conversation example not that I was specifically calling out a WAF vendor.

      This is a great convo to have in person. Hope we can do that in the near future. Thanks again for your comments.

  6. I dont have time to read everyone elses responses so maybe this will be redundant but I find it insulting on all sides a) that highly technical individuals gathering to share knowledge and learn even need this or are helpless to it like bonor-zombies marching away from intelligent discussions to look at boobies and b) that people like me who also go to learn and make true connections would be positioned just to show mine!!

  7. LonerVamp said

    Thank you for posting about this and the links above; I’ve admittedly missed some of those, and Amber’s post is excellent!

    I don’t have a huge problem with booth babes, per se. I think if someone has a problem, they should go up to the booth and specifically say you’re interested in their product, but would like THEIR contact information (the vendor that is, not the babes) so you can contact them. And specifically say that you won’t give your contact info entirely because of the gender issue their booth is a part of. Avoiding the booth and staying silent doesn’t give them the actual feedback they need to send up the ranks of marketing planners.

    That said, as a guy, my eyes *do* notice said decor on the booths, which is the whole point of marketing, alas. But I do judge vendors who clearly are putting booth babes ahead of their actual message that matters to me as a technical professional.

    Personally, I take a bit more of a wary stance with the after parties put on by vendors that specifically include strippers and the like. As Amber basically mentioned, it’s all about the environment and what it does for the dynamic of gender roles and how comfortable attendees are. If a vendor has male strippers alongside female strippers, would we be pissed off? Would that be more equal?

    It’s hard to take much stance in topics like this, since there’s so much judgement, but it’d be nice if people/vendors/attendees just acted decently and had fun. A little bit of sexual charging at later-night Defcon events is usually fine, ya know?

    Anyway, for me, booth babes aren’t a big deal, just like attractive news personalities or sexy ads aren’t much of a big deal (though this is coming from a guy, but I am empathetic to the role generalizations things like the above perpetuate…). It’s other situations that irk me more; inappropriate strippers, inappropriate jokes, etc. And it’s not because I’m a stick in the mud; I’m just as racy, raunchy, and full of dark innuendo as any defcon attendee would be, and do enjoy such environments in their proper places.

  8. […] is not to pick on Black Hat in specific – this is apparently endemic among security shows. And what annoyed some EWF members was not just the attire of the booth babes at these shows, but […]

  9. MF said

    A girl with a blog named “topheavysecurity” complaining about booth babes – can you say hypocrite?

    • diami03 said

      I can see why you’d say that but I’m not representing the entire information security community. What I choose to wear or name my blog is a representation of myself and myself only. A vendor that chooses represent an industry, in my opinion, is a different matter. I feel they are making a statement when they choose to use women as lures for the purpose of generating sales leads. Thank you for your comment.

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