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Retail

'Booth babes' damage foot traffic, leads at events, study finds

'Booth babes' damage foot traffic, leads at events, study finds

Mon 20 Jan 2014 9:49am GMT / 4:49am EST / 1:49am PST
RetailEvents

"There still exists the 'stripper and steaks' mentality in sales" says Spencer Chen

The industry debate over the employment of so-called 'booth babes' has been gradually pivoting towards a more enlightened consensus for some years now, as an industry tethered by inertia, gender imbalance and the perceived desires of an established demographic slowly adopts a decreasingly chauvinistic position.

That debate has, largely, been an ethical or morally fuelled one - arguments are generally made about gender perception, creating welcoming, non-threatening environments for women and the exploitation of the workers themselves, but the ardent defenders of the practice have always fallen back to a pragmatic high-ground when suffering the slings and arrows of those pesky social reformists. Booth babes, it's often decried when other justifications run dry, "work". The (usually) men who employ them find them attractive, welcoming and alluring, so why wouldn't everyone else? They break the ice, pull in passers by, ensure your booth's branding is in the background of a thousand creepy souvenir photographs.

"The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic and less than half the leads"

Spencer Chen, Frontback

The message has always been: if your audience is, or always has been, comprised largely of males, it's a pretty safe bet to play the lowest common denominator and go for lycra and cleavage over knowledge or product engagement. Men will flock to a stall staffed by attractive young women, whether they're able to tell them anything about the product when they get there or not. That's a very simplified perspective, and one that ignores all sorts of the potentially damaging aspects of the practice, but it's a bottom line which has long been trotted out to justify the use of women as window dressing - despite it being detrimental to everyone involved on any number of levels.

The thing is, according to Spencer Chen of Frontback, even that desperate last straw is a rapidly vanishing myth. Staffing a stand with booth babes rather than people who can talk knowledgeably about the product and industry drives away customers and reduces engagement.

In a passionate piece for TechChrunch, Chen gives the benefit of his experience with a nigh-on unique opportunity to A/B test the debate of the effectiveness of emplying young models to front your expensive show stall. After years of running market development for companies like Mixpanel, Appcelerator and Huddle, Chen was offered an opportunity to staff two separate stalls at the same event. Otherwise identical, Chen's only stipulation was that one would employ attractive, young, female 'marketing events consultants', whilst the other was staffed by proven, experienced staff with a knowledge of the product and a track record of doing the job well. The results proved a position which Chen had long known was true.

"The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic (as measured by conversations or demos with our reps)," writes Chen, "and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form) while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year."

Chen reproduced these results consistently over the following months, and yet the practice persists. He has a few thoughts on why.

"Most of the marketing teams that I have worked with are predominantly women, but it's frankly not the battle that they choose to fight when they are constantly simply fighting for more annual budget"

"So, why do most technology companies still use booth babes? For a few reasons. First off, marketing departments in big companies are under-budgeted, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. Most of the marketing teams that I have worked with are predominantly women, but it's frankly not the battle that they choose to fight when they are constantly simply fighting for more annual budget.

"Secondly, related to marketing departments being under-budgeted, a marketing exec often would have to go to the sales exec for additional budget for these events. Once you do that, the marketing heads have to let the sales teams have a say in how these trade shows are run, and the sales guys love the booth babes (to be fair, the sales guys are the ones that have to stand in a booth for eight hours straight).

"Lastly, there still exists the 'stripper and steaks' mentality in sales, where it's less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the 'close.' Booth babes have long been a part of this dog-and-pony show in this old approach to sales. The new startup enterprise players are obviously changing much of this mindset where the product is the only thing that matters and sales people now facilitate the deal, not close it."

Whilst many shows, publishers and tech companies have dialled back or downright prohibited the practice in recent months and years, the ubiquity of 'show girls' at events like CES and TGS still marks a stubbornly backward attitude. Whether or not that can carry on in the face of damage to the bottom line, so often the last bastion of socially unacceptable marketing practices, remains to be seen.

30 Comments

Darren Adams
Managing Director

188 332 1.8
I am 50/50 on the whole booth babe topic.

Firstly I agree that booth babes serve no purpose to the events other than as some would call 'eye candy' for males (and possibly some females, who knows?) and of course this will make some females and males uncomfortable. But then on the other side I do respect that the girls who do it see it as a job and have no problem doing it.

It isn't black and white by any means. If booth babes were banned tomorrow I guess you would probably find more females turning up to these events, or you may not, I don't know.

But as a matter of 'do we need them at events?' then I would say outside of giving someone employment, probably not.

Posted:3 months ago

#1

Adam Jordan
Community Management/Moderation

94 47 0.5
Also 50/50 on this.

Everyone loves a bit of eye candy, I don't care who you are, it's true. It's human nature and women would drool if there was a half naked Nathan Drake standing at a booth. HOWEVER that shouldn't be the reason that both booth babes/lads AND knowledgeable employees couldn't co-exist.

I highly agree with the sentiments that marketing departments are under-rated and under-appreciated, however if it was me, I would NEVER send a sales exec or marketing to a convention. I would send the Community Team (If one exists for the game) and it's the CTs that are even more under-rated and under-appreciated than anyone within the games industry.

Going back to booth babes, they should still be there but not over-sexualized. Sadly that can't be helped if the game itself sexualizes the female characters. I mean, would anyone have any issues if there was a fem Shep dressed in full N7 Armour promoting a Mass Effect game? Probably not.

After experiencing a convention myself, the booth babes and those in costume, break up the immense waiting times of getting into booths. Gamescom '11 is a perfect example. Massive queue for BF3, myself and friends spent most of the day walking around checking out many booths, some with queues and some without. I took quite a few pictures and so did they...granted some of them were booth babes.

Overall, I have no issues with them being there, if anything, possibly an interview with someone like Jessica Nigri might be a good way of opening up the debate. I only bring her up because she is known for cos-playing the more "risqué" type costumes and has also been made the official Juliet Starling for Lollipop Chainsaw and has done some work for Killer is Dead.

Unfortunately however, she posted a friend's cosplay of Jinx (League of Legends) and some of her fanbase has insulted the cosplayer to no end because basically she is flat chested. Sadly the mentality of today's society is still stuck on boobs.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Jordan on 20th January 2014 3:03pm

Posted:3 months ago

#2

Eyal Teler
Programmer

56 57 1.0
There are a lot of interesting comments on that article, including from a booth babe. I could add my own opinion, but I think those opinions are better. :)

Posted:3 months ago

#3

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
Oddly enough, Nintendo had a solution to this "problem" years back: use a mix of normal people and more attractive (non scantly dressed) ladies and guys trained in demoing the games. This way, no one is offended AND everyone is surprised that they can walk up to a person, ask about a game and unless the question it remarkably stupid, get a decent answer.

Anyway, it's a sticky wicket. I bypass booth babes male and female on the beeline to a controller, but may say a "thank you!" to the gals or guys who do their jobs at luring people of both sexes in.

Posted:3 months ago

#4

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

953 804 0.8
Popular Comment
Eye candy, as if that was what a gaming convention required. How about offering LiveStreamers a way to broadcast from the booth? How about setting up feeds for more than the press conference. How about not relying on people seeing a press demo and then writing about it? How about using stuff like Gaikai and increase the amount of people served when they pay attention collectively once a year? How about more companies copy that from one another, instead of chest count.

But hey, if you think half naked women are the way to go because the press and visitors cannot be bothered to go to the strip club, then sure, roll 'em in.

Posted:3 months ago

#5

Craig Page
Programmer

381 216 0.6
Popular Comment
I think that every booth should have a babe, no matter how big or how small or what the booth is selling. Everyone wins with booth babes, even if they don't want to admit it.

- Writers always have booth babe stories to fall back on during slow news cycles.
- Feminists have something to point to and complain about.
- Sales people have an extra hook, in case their booth product isn't enough.
- We the reader also win, because you have to admit this story is at least forty times more entertaining than some earnings report that disappoints the shareholders, and the writer can't even get some funny quotes to put in from Michael Pachter.

Posted:3 months ago

#6
It's not about whether the girls doing it mind it or not. It's a job after all. Do you "mind" doing your job?

IF companies are going to insist on scantily clad women in an attempt to drum up interest (I don't condone this, but let's face it, it is fairly likely to be the case), then those women should be the kind on walkabout, NOT stood in the booth. They can still be in costume, they can still be there for photo ops, they can still direct people to the booth and do all those things required of people who are intended merely to be seen.... but the people in the booth itself should be the people who actually know the product. And have all their clothes on.

Posted:3 months ago

#7

Nicholas Pantazis
Senior Editor

968 1,161 1.2
Popular Comment
Personally, and this is of course just my own anecdote, if I have free time at a conference to wander a show floor, I find myself intentionally avoiding booths with booth babes. I find them creepy, even as a heterosexual male, for the same reason I find strip clubs depressing and far from sexy. Obviously some people are more comfortable around women who are paid to pretend they aren't disgusted with you. But I'm much more likely to go up to a booth with PR reps who actually spend their time learning about the games, and having real conversations.

Posted:3 months ago

#8

Shawn Clapper
Programmer

26 42 1.6
I'm really curious of any other differences between these two booths and whether the non "booth babe" booth still employed a female staff.

The main reason is, I just find it highly unlikely the booth without women drew in more people without any other outside factors. When it comes to making money and advertising there is no shortage of experiments done. Marketing companies and psychologists alike have done exhaustive work trying different strategies for advertising in different forms. Time and again it has been shown that using women vs men in ads draws in more customers (BOTH male and female). Using men brings in less customers.

That said I still agree that companies should think about being respectful to people and not using the scantily clad booth babes even if they work. There are many ways to bring in more revenue but thinking about the moral implications should be including in your advertising strategies.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shawn Clapper on 21st January 2014 3:44am

Posted:2 months ago

#9

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
(Warning: Insert tongue into cheek and read on):

Heh. I just had a thought. Has anyone here been to luxury trade shows? Boat show, car show, tech show? Guess what. Booth babes. ALL over the place. Strolling about, posing for pics, hawking wares and giving out samples. No one complains, I've never seen any hit on as badly as they are at video game events (although it DOES happen from what I've read) AND the crowds there are made up of (mostly older) women and men who often walk in sober and leave pretty darn boozed up thanks to free spirits galore.

Now, I'm not downplaying any actual issues with the idea of falling back on sexy to sell stuff (although not wanting someone to have a temporary job that's to some models, a small step-stone in life and not their ENTIRE career is a bit... wrong). But it seems that people deal with this thing in different ways in different industries and perhaps the games industry needs to pick a pattern and stick with it.

That said, does this means any females in game art needs to suddenly start being painted as wearing hoop skirts or habits just so no one is offended by anything but a stockinged ankle? SHOCKING! Maybe less navel gazing in this industry (yep, that's intentional) and more making of and enjoying good games is one step to phasing the booth babe into memory. Except when you want to see a new car, boat or stupidly large, stupidly expensive TV...

Posted:2 months ago

#10

Morgan King
Animator

47 90 1.9
Using lowest-common-denominator sex appeal to sell products is condescending to all of us. Parading underboob around in the hopes that I'll transfer some sort of animal desire from the model to their product just shows how stupid they must think we all are, and completely alienates me from their products. If we're to believe a good product can stand on its own merit, one that hides behind obviously manipulative tactics is probably not a very good one. The world of gaming has ample opportunity to display sexuality that doesn't reduce it to 'Love titties? Buy our stuff!'

Posted:2 months ago

#11

Neil Young
Programmer

232 186 0.8
@shawn: will try to find a link to the original article. The "greeters" on the other booth were female, I think, but the request to the agency was for people skills, and detailed knowledge of local amenities.

Posted:2 months ago

#12

Falko Böcker
Licensing Manager

6 1 0.2
"study finds", more of an anecdote really. With only two booths its really hard to tell if it was because of the quality of the products on display etc.

Posted:2 months ago

#13

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,118 888 0.8
Personally, and I've said this before, I often feel offended that companies assume I'll be more interesting in (or buy) their products because they use sex as a marketing device. Booth babes or otherwise, its a rather weak, one dimensional attempt at trying to sell a product to me.

Like Nicholas, I try and avoid booth babes at conferences and gravitate towards those who seem to be more closely connected to the product itself if I'm actually interested in finding out more. Even if I wasn't initially interested in a game or product, a passionate spokes person or developer that is about more than just image can make me more interested.

I must say, I have no problem with models used approproately for marketing.

Posted:2 months ago

#14

Sandy Lobban
Founder and Creative Director

317 174 0.5
Personally I would rather be standing talking to one of the development team (man or woman) than some lass who is getting paid to flirt, look averagely hot and has no clue about the product at all.

Never mind what everyone may think about your product looking a bit "needy" on the show floor, as a manager who decides on taking this approach you should simply ask yourself, what does this say about you to your team and how does it reflect on you as a leader when you arent putting them forward to represent the company and employ a booth babe instead. In both cases I would say badly.

Posted:2 months ago

#15
Booth babes may not increase footfall traffic to your stall. I have to say I actually avoid them too but I would be VERY surprised if they didn't increase the exposure your stall and therefore your product gets on magazines and websites.

Posted:2 months ago

#16

Andrew Ihegbu
Studying Bsc Commercial Music

416 111 0.3
The few times I've met with booth babes, I couldn't care less what they were selling. If my interest is in them, that's where it is. If it's in the booth offerings, that's where it is.

I think the industry sometimes forgets that the average age of it's employees is often 10 years higher than the average age of it's consumers. I like booth babes. If I'm interested in the booth stuff I'll treat them like a customer service clerk at ASDA and get my directions and leave politely, if I'm not and I'm just waiting for one of the scheduled shows, I'll have the pleasure of a chat with a young lady who is fairly confident in her skin and does not allow herself to be controlled by old uptight individuals and bibles.

For people like me who come to these events alone, it's something to do while you wait for the fluff to finish, and a nice social part of the experience, adding a little more of a 'Uni life' feel to things and stopping it from becoming too formal an affair.

All that dancing on stage stuff is silly and pointless though. Booth babes should be an attractive and very outgoing customer service assistant, not formalized 'entertainment' per se. If I can't talk to her because she's cartwheeling on stage them why is she here?

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Ihegbu on 21st January 2014 4:41pm

Posted:2 months ago

#17
Game featured Cosplay could be a middle ground remedy

Posted:2 months ago

#18

Morville O'Driscoll
Games Blogger & Journalist

1,374 1,021 0.7
Game featured Cosplay could be a middle ground remedy
Indeed... And publishers could actually go one step further - ask professional cosplayers and dedicated fans to take part, and either pay them as fully-waged staff (like they would for booth babes), or give them early-access/free copies of the game, plus cover their travel and room costs. It'll drum-up grass-roots support for the game, and neatly side-step the whole "booth babes don't know anything about the product" argument.

Posted:2 months ago

#19

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

155 428 2.8
I think the industry sometimes forgets that the average age of it's employees is often 10 years higher than the average age of it's consumers.
Can you point to a source for the average age of industry employees being 40? Because that sounds very high.

Unless you think the average age of games consumers is around 20 or something, but you'd be wrong there.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10159917/Average-video-game-fan-is-35-years-old.html
http://www.middleeasy.com/gaming/item/11605-the-average-age-of-a-gamer-is-30-and-other-interesting-gaming-facts-that-were-just-discovered
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/pop_ups/05/entertainment_gaming_in_the_uk/html/3.stm

Posted:2 months ago

#20

Greg Wilcox
Creator, Destroy All Fanboys!

1,993 902 0.5
@Morville: Well, that's been tried already: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jessica_Nigri to different results depending on the game being promoted...

Posted:2 months ago

#21

Jeff Kleist
Writer, Marketing, Licensing

209 85 0.4
The first thing yiu have at your booth is people who know your product inside and out. Not some shrubs from a local temp agency. As someone who has attended and run big shoes, I can't emphasize how important hpthat is

Posted:2 months ago

#22

Gareth Eckley
Commercial Analyst

96 69 0.7
Most geeks are intimidated by extremely attractive women in real life. Not a big revelation.

Perhaps I spent too much time playing games and running wargames societies, but you can prove this point quite easily by sending an attractive girlfriend into your FLGS to buy something.

Posted:2 months ago

#23

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,203 816 0.7
For crying outloud... Booth babes are cool. And its not like they are forcibly theire. Go to any cosplay event. Girls like dressing up.

And booth babes are nothing essential to a booth, like you can have the whole displays, demos, and staff guiding people through the game and hardware demo's. Booth babes are just a nice little extra for those people that like it. And if you dont like it, then thats your problem. Im all for booth babes. Just one more reason to visit a booth.

I dont think they add or take away much from a booth at a convention or event. So I dont know why people are whining so much about them. Just let them be.

Booth babes wont solve the problem of If you have a crappy booth, inefficient way to promote your games or are displaying a crappy game. Booth babes get a lot of slack. But if your game is crappy, booth babes will probably provide the last reason anyone will ever go to your booth to see your product in the first place. And for what its worth, they may be the one thing that actually will motivate anybody to ever go to your booth. Having that booth babe their may be the differance between being noticed or not.

You dont have to have booth babes, there may be more creative ways to display a product or encourage people to visit your booth. However booth babes are a way to make people go to your booth. You choose to use them or not. Simple as that.

And even if certain people dont like it. Having a hot sexy girl will probably get more visits or more units of your product sold. Than if you didnt.

I mean... have a booth babe, like Ivy Doom Kitty or Jessica Nigri dressed up in front of your booth, lets see how much more visits it will get than if you didnt have them.

Posted:2 months ago

#24

Morgan King
Animator

47 90 1.9
" Having a hot sexy girl will probably get more visits or more units of your product sold. Than if you didnt"

Except that's exactly what this study was showing is not an accurate assumption to make:

"The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic (as measured by conversations or demos with our reps)," writes Chen, "and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form) while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year." Chen reproduced these results consistently over the following months, and yet the practice persists."

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morgan King on 22nd January 2014 10:03pm

Posted:2 months ago

#25

Andreia Quinta
Creative & People Photographer

193 424 2.2
Personally I would rather be standing talking to one of the development team (man or woman) than some lass who is getting paid to flirt, look averagely hot and has no clue about the product at all.
I try and avoid booth babes at conferences and gravitate towards those who seem to be more closely connected to the product itself if I'm actually interested in finding out more.
I'm much more likely to go up to a booth with PR reps who actually spend their time learning about the games, and having real conversations.
Jesus Christ boys, lighten up. Why would this have to be mutually exclusive? We can have both if the marketing team is competent. Have a meaningful conversation with a booth rep, then take a picture with a cute babe on that same booth or the next one. There's no awkward moments but the ones you make up in your heads, no offense intended. I don't mind my guy taking pics with them, heck I take picss with them if they look great in their cos-play.
Obviously some people are more comfortable around women who are paid to pretend they aren't disgusted with you.
Contrary to popular belief, most of us fit or 'sexy' women aren't insensitive b!tches Nick. Cast out that thought.

Posted:2 months ago

#26

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

714 495 0.7
Personally, I never found it appealing in any way, maybe because I (thankfully) was never in a "desperate need" for girls but the fact is: It just felt wrong for me.
Still have good things to say about it in some cases; THQ used to hire very friendly and patient ones, and the ones from Square-enix were very helpful in each stand from that company that I have visited in different events, but we are still talking about a considerable level of sexualization here.

It's not the kind of role I can support, but once again, this is just a personal POV.

Posted:2 months ago

#27

Rick Lopez
Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,203 816 0.7
@Andreia Quinta - You really hit the spot with your comment.
Jesus Christ boys, lighten up. Why would this have to be mutually exclusive? We can have both if the marketing team is competent. Have a meaningful conversation with a booth rep, then take a picture with a cute babe on that same booth or the next one. There's no awkward moments but the ones you make up in your heads, no offense intended. I don't mind my guy taking pics with them, heck I take picss with them if they look great in their cos-play.
--------------------------

Ive been reading the comments and boy are booth babes getting alot of slack. I know there are more creative ways to get a product noticed. Booth babes are simply another means available to get that done. And reality is in most cases they do get it done. I wonder what people have to say about chiks that do cosplay? Andreia's comment hits the nail on the head.

I mean in the article they even go on to compare them to strippers. (I could be wrong in my impression though)
"Lastly, there still exists the 'stripper and steaks' mentality in sales, where it's less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the 'close.' Booth babes have long been a part of this dog-and-pony show in this old approach to sales.
So a booth babe is nothing more than a dog and pony show?... wow.... just wow...

Posted:2 months ago

#28

Gareth Eckley
Commercial Analyst

96 69 0.7
Marketing and generating trade leads are entirely different things.

"Booth babes" are great if your marketing department lack creativity or originality and you are selling to a specific demographic - but that's marketing and thus it's generic, aimed at people with poor or no subject knowledge and indirect - e.g. footage of your stall hosted by gaming content aggregators.

However if your intention is to garner trade leads from games savvy people who will consider your work based on its professional representation rather than positive association with the lowest common denominators of advertising imagery, then it makes much more sense to have someone competent and professional on hand with product knowledge.

This of course assumes you're dealing with people who actually know what they are talking about and are interested in gaming. If you just want to attract marketing and sales personnel, then yes, by all means, your best bet is to provide something pretty to look at. Long words and data will just confuse them after all. However I thought we were talking about business to business networking in a development environment.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Eckley on 23rd January 2014 3:54pm

Posted:2 months ago

#29

Roger Weber
CEO & President

8 1 0.1
I look for expertise, not eye candy when I purchase a product or service from another company. That being said I do sometimes find it a bit sad how people are degraded based on their physical appearance, you can be smart and good-looking, they're not mutually exclusive features. Heck for all you know one of those booth babes could be a post-graduate student, just trying to make a little extra cash.

As a society we are always way too judgmental, and that's just my opinion. If everyone were a lot more open minded, we would have less problems.

Posted:2 months ago

#30

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