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Sex Sells…Or Does It?
By Susan Friedmann

Which of the following do you expect to see on the trade show floor:

A) A high-tech video display, showcasing exciting new products
B) Signs directing you to a mini-seminar taught by industry experts
C) A scantily-clad blonde bombshell, handing out brochures

A and B won’t surprise anyone, but increasingly, we’re seeing more and more of C.

After all, sex sells. It’s one of those marketing ‘facts’ that everybody knows. Certainly the media reinforces this idea, bombarding us with dozens of scantily-clad women in every possible commercial outlet, hawking everything from light beer to garden tractors. All these high-priced ad executives must believe using gorgeous models to promote their products works.

On the trade show, too often this translates into go-go dancers and supermodels lounging in the aisle. They get attention, certainly – I’ve seen throngs of men gather around these booths – but does this attention translate into sales? Does erotic enticement equal exhibiting success?

It might – but only if you recognize that using sexually appealing spokespeople to attract attention to your exhibit is one component in a cohesive, coherent marketing strategy. Booth babes, as they’re known, are more than just ‘eye candy’. They should have a clear, defined role in your marketing plan.

Additionally, it is imperative that companies use this particular strategy very, very carefully. It’s not right for everyone. There are a number of factors to consider, including what type of product or service you’re promoting, your corporate image, and current or future branding plans. You also must take into account where you are exhibiting. What might get you thrown into jail in Paducah would be par for the course in Tokyo.

The Japanese have completely incorporated booth babes into their marketing culture. It is taken for granted that the automobile and hi-tech industry, for example, will use attractive women to draw the crowds. It’s considered the first step to developing a relationship with a new customer, both by attracting his attention and showing a willingness to deliver what he wants and expects.

However, business in America and Europe is not as heavily male-dominated as it is in Japan. More and more women are assuming higher levels of power and prominence within the corporate world, and they may be ‘turned off’ of your company by the sight of a marketing ploy that blatantly objectifies women. This can be true even if your products and services are bought and used primarily by men. You might be surprised by the female influence in the most testerone-laden industries. Using booth babes is definitely a risk.

Is it a risk without rewards?

Again, it depends on your goals. If you are using your time at the trade show to introduce a new product, for example, and simply want to attract lots of people and press informational literature into their hands, a booth babe might work. Of course, you’re running the danger of attendees remembering the buxom brunette and forgetting your company’s name…but you’ll have handed out a lot of brochures.

You may be able to retain booth babe talent skilled at ‘pre-screening’ attendees and gracefully directing qualified visitors to speak with your sales staff. However, talent like this is hard to find. If your goal for the trade show includes engaging attendees in meaningful conversation in order to determine their wants and needs, thereby beginning a business relationship, using less than superlative booth babes may actually impair your booth staff’s performance. They are distracting, and will attract far too many people who have no interest in your products or services.

Every company has an image. This image might be high-tech and edgy, or old school conservative. It speaks volumes about the company, and is a valuable intangible asset. You’ll want to be careful before playing ‘Beauty and the Brand’.

What does hiring booth babes do to a company’s image? In some cases, it enhances it. Could you imagine Playboy Enterprises on the trade show floor without the trademark Bunnies? St. Pauli’s Brewery has made the curvaceous blond St. Pauli Girl a central part of their marketing plan. In each instance, having appropriate representation at a trade show would be completely appropriate and reinforce the brand’s image.

On the other hand, Merrill Lynch doesn’t need booth babes. There’s nothing inherently sexy about investment banking – and more importantly, would you want the financial services of a company represented by string bikini wearing party girls? The disconnect is immediately apparent.

Many companies fail to think this through. Before you decide to hire booth babes, ask yourself, “How does this strategy reflect the image I want people to have of my company?” Remember, many people view booth babes as an extension of a cheap and tawdry marketing plan. If this clearly and positively mirrors the image you want to project, by all means, have booth babes. However, the other 95% of the marketplace may want to rethink their decision.

There are many, many other creative, appropriate ways to attract attendees to your exhibit. People have come to the trade show looking for new products and ideas, and more importantly, solutions to their problems and challenges. Concentrate on giving them that, and you’ll have more satisfied customers than any booth babe can deliver!

Written by Susan A. Friedmann,CSP, The Tradeshow Coach, Lake Placid, NY, author: “Meeting & Event Planning for Dummies,” working with companies to improve their meeting and event success through coaching, consulting and training. For a free copy of ExhibitSmart Tips of the Week, e-mail:; website:

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