Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why booth babes at CES is a dumb marketing decision

Yes sex sells, but only if the type of sex you are using to promote your product attracts your target buyer. Otherwise it's just a turn off.

Which is why having booth babes at CES today is such a dumb marketing decision.

Some fun facts about women today: they make 80-85% of the consumer purchase decisions and control more than 60% of all personal wealth in the US and as Bounce Ideas says:

"There are 2 sexes in the human race. And one of them does most of the buying.... As a marketer, you’ll have a huge advantage if you know how to speak her language, earn her business, and, ultimately, her referrals."

So why-oh-why would you think young women in limited clothing draping themselves around your booth is going to position your products well for your primary buyer? Or make it comfortable for the many female journalists to cover your products?

BBs are not a new phenomenon, the Atlantic tracks them back to the inaugural show in 1967 in A Brief History of CES Booth Babes. Thankfully the B2B trade shows I frequent have a lot less skin in view than B2C shows like CES - and yet the buyers are more likely to be men in the B2B world so you'd think a bit of cleavage might be acceptable. But probably good taste and fears of sexual harressment make saner heads prevail for B2B shows.

There was a backlash discussion against booth babes at CES 2012 and the BBC stirred up the discussion with their Booth Babes controversy video last year. Never ones to miss a chance to keep a story alive the Beeb put together the update "Booth babe debate returns" this year - and again documented the tasteless phenomenon. It's good to keep the discussion current.

Sadly, sexually objectifying women in CES advertising gets worse than booth babes.

Why would you think tying your product to oral sex the way Voco Nation did last week with the tag line "because oral is better" is going to help you with 80% of your potential buyers? Miss Representation and Jolie O'Dell did a great job of getting the word out about how bad this ad was - with the end result that Voco Nation had to take down their facebook page, delete all the many negative comments, and then put it back not accepting comments.  Way to go crisis management guys. But they could not stop the thrashing @VocoNation received on Twitter as consumers voiced that they were #NotBuyingIt.

The offending ad

It's time. There is absolutely no need to objectify women to sell millions of dollars worth of consumer products. It's just dumb now. Women make the majority of the buying decisions today. They'll out earn men by 2028. The advertising industry needs to get into the present and stop living in the 1960s.


  1. I'll admit to being slightly disappointed that this article does not include a picture of a booth babe.

  2. I came here as I was collecting information about FirstRain and you as i am giving an interview in firstrain India tomorrow.. and ended up spending all the time in reading your posts... in short they are very interesting

  3. Unfortunately, a lot of this sexual objectification of women is coming from women themselves. You'd think that with all the progress women have made, they would dress and act in a less overtly sexual way, but alas, the opposite seems to be the prevailing cultural norm. What's wrong with this picture?

  4. Dear Anonymous - but which is the chicken and which is the egg? That is the point of the film Miss Representation. In a world dominated by media, and a media industry run by men, and women highly sexualized in media, young girls are repeatedly told they need to be and dress as sexual objects for men. We can break the cycle when we change the portrayal of women in our media.

  5. Nice post Penny. Trade show booth babes are not the end all and be all and for many businesses are really not necessary. Some businesses booth babes work great for, but you have given a lot of good information on why every booth does not need a booth babe. Thanks for the post!

  6. As a female buyer of corporate analytics products attending a trade show this month, I literally removed a potential vendor from my list (after rejecting an invitation into their booth with a contained look of disgust) based upon their ill informed choice to use scantily clad "booth babes". Laughable we are still seeing this in 2015, though it has significantly tapered off over the course of my career.