Objectifying Women Is A Bad Business Model At Trade Shows

CREDIT: Creative Commons

Alison Carroll, the official Lara Croft model for Tomb Raider: Underworld at Festival du jeu vidéo 2008 (Paris, France).

‘Booth babes’ are something of a legend for those who don’t regularly attend comic conventions or trade shows. Scantily-clad women standing or dancing in front of booths? Advertising products? Flaunting goods, figurative and literal, at the same time? Could that work?

According to one man’s assessment, the short answer is no.

Spencer Chen, who’s currently head of marketing at tech company Frontback, went public this week with his experiment a few years ago — while working at what he describes as “a large public software company” — to see if objectifying women is an effective method for drawing in the (largely male) clientele of trade shows. It was simple: Chen set up two booths at the same show, running a kind of A/B test, with “booth babes” staffing one booth and older professional women staffing the other.

After the show was over, Chen confirmed what he’d suspected: The so-called “spokesbabes” were significantly less effective at making sales.

“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) and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form),” Chen explains, “while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year.”

It shouldn’t take a fiscal argument to quell the practice of objectifying women to make sales. Anti-booth babe advocates have repeatedly pointed out that booth babe culture is an insult to both men’s and women’s intelligence, reducing women to objects while also assuming men aren’t capable of refusing an ample cup size. Booth babes themselves say the pay makes it worth it but have spoken out about “the creepers who like to take photos without asking,” or the companies who want them to be nothing more than “eye candy.”

But at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, booth babes remained a prevalent part of trade show culture. As the Verge characterized it, “the convention center was riddled with girls in tight dresses.”