CES: Why booth babes are bad marketing

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I spent last week in Las Vegas, which is always a bit strange for women, surrounded as you are by very pretty ladies, in very little — and often very sparkly — “clothes”. I’m speaking, of course, not of the casinos or bars, but of CES and its numerous “booth babes”.

The BBC did an excellent piece on the subject — if you haven’t seen it yet, the video is here, and it’s well worth watching — interviewing female tech journalists, marketing staff, booth babes and CES head honcho Gary Shapiro.

There’s one line in the video that stuck with me. One of the so-called babes suggested that female journalists wouldn’t be dissuaded from visiting a company’s booth because scantily clad models were present. That’s patently wrong; I avoided stands because of such marketing tactics.

On what felt like day 497 of CES, I was looking at robots. One stand had some rather silly looking robots, one of which danced and the other drew pictures with a pen and paper.

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Why or how that was, I don’t know, as the only obvious staff on hand were hired models. I actually attempted — optimistically, I know — to ask one of the pretty ladies a bit about the robot she was smilingly demonstrating, and she merely shrugged, probably ruining the dozen photos snapped of her and her stupid robot that second.

To me, the use of such women to run a stand smacks of desperation. If I walk up to a booth manned by models, I know I won’t be able to find out anything worthwhile about the product. I’ll have to dodge the bikini-clad, stomach-baring ladies, push past their ardent admirers, and then attempt to have an actual conversation with whoever is actually in charge of the stand, which is inevitably marketing a product so bad that it needs cleavage and naked legs to gain attention.  This is a massive waste of my time.

Do I also find it uncomfortable? Of course. To me, it’s gross and it’s insulting. The constant reminder of the objectification of women isn’t ideal when I’m already hideously grumpy from trekking through the crowded, massive halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center, either. It’s also rather confusing: why would anyone choose to do this as work? Do men not find this insulting to their intelligence? And how the heck does she stand in those shoes all day?

I’m no prude (ask my co-workers if you don’t believe me) and at a certain level, booth babes are inevitable: some stands require a few pairs of hired hands to help show off kit.

If you insist they dress in bikinis, low-cut shirts, or short skirts, you will certainly get more eyeballs on your stand — but such punters aren’t looking at your laptop, gadget or headphones. And if that’s the only way you can sell your device, it sure as heck doesn’t entice this journalist into taking a second look at the products you have on display — the tech, I mean, not the women.

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