2 min read

Mind the booth, babe

Flat panels may be eye candy but that doesn't mean the event staff has to be as well

There won’t be any strippers at my upcoming bachelor party, unless my best man (and assistant editor) has some surprises in store for me. I’m just not that kind of guy, and if watching scantily clad women parade around was really that important to me, I’d just go to E3.

The so-called booth babe ban that was imposed (and, according to reports, largely ignored) by this year’s conference organizers in Los Angeles should be adopted as an industry standard on the level of XML and SOAP. Because E3 is not the only place booth babes bring their high heels and micro-minis. Comdex, before it foundered, was littered with booth babes. Vendor events featuring exhibits from partner companies have been known to use them too. For an industry that claims to be moving forward on so many fronts, this is one of the most backwards practices we have.

Some might argue that it all depends on how you define a booth babe, and last month’s E3 shows some attempts to tone things down. “Material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the show floor,” the rules state. Does that include a particularly low-cut top? What about heavy makeup and big hair? Having witnessed grown men drooling over female executives who favour thigh-high leather boots, I know for a fact that “sexually provocative” is a relative term.

I developed a more sophisticated understanding of what a booth babe is after an experience several years ago at a Canadian technology show where my organization was hosting live interviews. Behind our stage was an area set up where temporary staff were trying to drum up new subscribers. On the last day of the show, I was due to lead a panel discussion on security, and given that it was to start at three o’clock I didn’t expect much attendance. That’s when the (slightly older) woman who was managing the subscription team asked her (all female) staff to fan out around the exhibition hall and urge attendees to join us.

Woman in charge
A good many of them did, and afterwards I thanked the woman in charge. “Oh, it’s no problem,” she said. “I just sent out my best girls.” I realized that while all of them were dressed professionally in white blouses and black slacks, they were all reasonably tall, thin and consistently pretty. Suddenly I wondered: was I a booth babe beneficiary?

If you’re using attractive women who have no expertise in the product being marketed to draw a crowd, you’re using booth babes. There are degrees, but we should be paying more attention to how we use sex to sell to corporate users.

Booth babes are really a form of vapourware: they seem to promise everything but they really deliver nothing. They are an insult, in that they communicate a message from the vendors who use them that their customer prospects will easily be taken in by spectacle rather than substance. The products at an IT show may never be as attractive as the booth babes, but at least you stand a better chance of taking one home with you.