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The BBC Investigates Booth Babes At International CES [VIDEO]

Last year, the BBC delved into the great Booth Babe debate at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and decided to do a follow-up to see if anything had changed. It hadn’t. While Booth Babes, attractive women hired to promote a product at a convention, are always a hot topic, some consider their inclusion at CES to be especially problematic considering it’s a professional trade convention. What do you think? Should these models be removed from the equation, should men be added to even things out, or do you not see their inclusion as an issue at all?

(via Bonnie Burton)

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  • Kim Pittman

    Have you seen the pictures of the company that used painted women to sell hard drives?

    Not only was it wildly inappropriate, but also the women have the saddest looks on their faces.

    Also this all ties back to the #1ReasonWhy hashtag and all that.

  • Louis Gonzales

    Well, a lot of my male friends do love ‘Booth Babes’, yet I don’t really see why they are needed at a professional trade convention? Maybe they can add some ‘Booth Hunks’ to even things out! :D

  • Samuel Bingham

    If your product can’t sell itself on price and ability, adding booth babes does nothing. The money either needs to be spent on a broader marketing campaign, or a better product, IMO.

  • Chanel Diaz

    I Can’t get the Video to Play. :(

    If All things Were Equal, They’re Not, I don’t think I’d still be as ‘Opposed,’ but I’m still Opposed, either way.

    Yeah, “Sex Sells,” but I don’t think ‘Objectification’ is Necessary Unless your Product is ‘Porn.’

  • Gino Dante Ranieri

    “Media selection request failed.” The link changed?

  • petfish

    Kim and Samuel have excellent points, and I’d like to add another: When I see booth babes the implication to me is that I cannot be the audience or the consumer of their product, because women like me are part of the product. Using booth babes to sell a product or idea is exclusionary.

  • Amanda Cain

    I’m confused as to why they are used at a PROFESSIONAL convention. At comic/fan conventions, and the like, I can see why they are used. But if it is supposed to be a professional atmosphere it is pretty inappropriate.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed; echo all of that.

  • Cathy Burkholder

    Booth babes don’t have a place in a professional convention, unless the convention is for the modelling or pornography industries.

    In another discussion, someone suggested that game and comic etc. cons would be better off if, rather than hiring generic booth babes, they hired and prepped costumed actors/actresses. It would be like visiting Disney World and seeing the princesses walking around, but for adult nerds. I thought that was a great idea. How cool would it be if your first introduction to a new game at a convention was given to you by a character from the game? Or if you were a real fan of a comic, you could have your picture taken with the live versions of them? If they’re the type of company to use booth babes, then they’d probably have scantily clad characters in their products anyway, so they wouldn’t even have to lose the “sex sells” outlook, but at least then it would make sense.

    As a side note, I’d love to see someone do a controlled study testing both whether booth babes actually gather more foot traffic than other booth-people strategies (such as, I don’t know, carnival barkers or actors representing the target audience personas or chanting monks creating an oasis of calm in the chaotic con floor). And even more importantly, does the booth-babe strategy result in more business? The reasoning seems to be that attention at CES is a scarce resource and sex sells, so booth babes will help a vendor attract the necessary attention that will result in greater business, but that we should not use them on moral/equality/etc grounds. But it’s not clear that that’s even actually the case. Are booth babes the most effective way to get attention? Is that attention translating into more business? If the answer to these is “no”, then sharing the results of the study will fix the issue a lot faster than public outcry. If the answer is “yes”, then we’re looking at the wrong end of the problem.

  • Duke Fleed

    “At comic/fan conventions, and the like, I can see why they are used”

    Huh, why is it ok in one context for women to be used on their appearance alone as an unrelated selling point, and not in another? Is it normal, or expected, at geek conventions, yet somehow the professionals would be ‘above’ that?

  • Curtis Owings

    The problem is far larger than booth babes. We have used sexy women to promote products for decades. We have talked about “selling sex” forever and it hasn’t gone away. The problem is just too complex to be solved with something like “we shouldn’t have booth babes.” This is a big cultural shift which needs to be broken down in to incremental advances–small steps that will ultimately see the draw of this kind advertising diminish. Simply banning “booth babes” (even if you could) wouldn’t affect the underlying causes of why they are desired.

  • Anonymous

    I like that idea a lot: it adds a sense of legitimacy as to why these people are in costumes, and gives them a reason to be there beyond window dressing.

  • Anonymous

    Not to answer for Amanda, but fan conventions are generally social gatherings, while professional conventions are business. That seems a reasonable distinction.

  • cweb

    yeah the video doesn’t play for me too

  • Duke Fleed

    The very essence of ‘booth babes’ is to use women as a way to bring attention to a product that’s not even related to that in the first place. Period. It’s not some girl showing off her costumes at a Con, trying to look like a heroine she happens to like (and if she happens to look sexy while doing so is only because that’s how the character would look). It’s women being used, for their body, by a private entity, to sell something completely unrelated. Whether it’s at a Con or a Pro event is not the problem. That people feel the need to have booth babes at all is the problem.

  • Marina Rice

    Looking over both videos, I feel like there needs to be some sort of compromise. In the first video from 2012, one of the focuses is a woman in an elaborate outfit, holding a camera. To me, that’s a fine use of a ‘booth’ babe. She’s more of an art piece, showcasing the product and catching your attention. She’s like part of the show.

    But then you have girls manning booths in skimpy outfits, for no other reason than to have girls in skimpy outfits. That is where things start to get uncomfortable.

  • K. Cox

    This is actually what happens at game conventions, both fan-targeted and business. At E3 last year, I had to fight my way through a throng of amateur photographers to get to the registration desk at one booth, for my appointment to demo the game, because models dressed as barely-covered elves from the game were posing out front.

    Likewise, at PAX East over the past couple of years, there were “booth babe” incidents with “Catholic schoolgirls” from Duke Nukem Forever and a professional cosplayer dressed as Juliet from Lollipop Chainsaw.

    The general effect is still to create an unwelcoming atmosphere for women professionals. I found E3 particularly uncomfortable, as the sheer number of booths featuring women-as-product sent a very clear signal that I was barely tolerated as woman-as-journalist, and not at all desired as woman-as-consumer.

  • Kate A

    You may be confused about the distinction between people cosplaying for fun and ‘booth babes’. If we’re just talking the latter, there’s very little context for it to be ok.

  • Kate A

    I don’t know if I’m alright with women being ‘an art piece’ to advertise games, though. Would they ever do that to a man? How does it reflect on the women that are there professionally or as consumers? How are they meant to interpret it, or are they simply not regarded at all?

    No matter where the costume falls on the ‘classiness’ scale, it’s still women as objects, and that strikes a sour note.

  • Jason Hunt

    The male brain responds far better to visual stimuli, this is a fact. His emotion and motivation to respond positively to something is tied into this. As this thread shows, the marketing industry (of which I’m part of) understands the male brain far better than anyone in this thread. The thing with a booth babe is, if you pick her for her intelligence first and then her attractive looks you’ll make a tonne of sales. Why? She’ll draw them in with her appearance, then use her knowledge to sell the brand/product to her captive audience. I do admit I’m a tad biased to this kind of occupation as a friend works as one quite often. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly to some, her view is that the most outdated sexist attitudes towards her comes not from men, but from women who assume because she’s attractive she’s somehow a stupid ditz. I wonder if the women complaining about these ladies have actually bothered to speak to any of the “booth girls”. Each to their own I say.

  • Alasdair Murray

    It may or may not be an effective practice – you probably can judge that better than I do, but it does seem from the comments above that ‘booth babes’ may drive away as many potential customers as they attract.

    But the point is, even if it *is* effective, it’s still kinda problematic to use a woman’s ‘attractive looks’ to sell a product, even if she knows a lot about it as well. What does that say about the company doing it, and its attitude to women? Nothing very good, I feel. It suggests they’re more interested in women as eye candy than as consumers.

    (Of course, this is only one aspect of a much broader issue – ‘sex sells’ has long been one of the clichés of advertising – but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about.)

  • delphia2000

    Just a point, the idea that sex sells has a pretty scientific basis…ask any male peacock. We are hardwired to be attracted to what we call ‘pretty’ features. You can’t convince me that the food at Hooters is THAT good or that every guy reads every page of Playboy. Even ads that are aimed at women (feminine hygiene for example) use conventionally pretty women.

    However, I agree it’s worth discussion.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with all that: what I was saying (or trying to) was that a fan gathering seemed a more likely place for booth babes to appear than a professional one, not that it was not inappropriate or justifiable. An observation, not endorsement.

  • Stephen Crispini

    I’m not so sure the peacock analogy is very relevant. The peacock is explicitly seeking sex so of course sexual attractiveness sells sex.

    To then extend the idea and say that the sexual draw of a “booth babe” will result in more purchases of the product is not as assured. (And, as taranaich posted above, a study found sex doesn’t sell when it comes to movies (, for example.)

  • Duke Fleed

    I’m making the distinction between cosplayers and booth babes. Maybe I wasn’t very clear. If so, I’m sorry.

  • Duke Fleed

    I’m not a male peacock. I don’t need some half-dressed girl standing next to a product for it to catch my interest. I feel the use of booth babes diminishes both men and women – as well as the product that’s being sold. Women, obviously, because they are treated as an object, as a faire-valoir, not as a person. Men, because it treats them like primitive animals that only obey their most primal urges. The product, because if it needs a booth babe to be interesting, there’s an obvious problem there.

  • Jason Hunt

    You are correct. The most recent example of how the male and female brain differs is 50 Shades of Grey. Such a way to promote pornography through a story would have extremely limited interest among men. Men don’t want to read about it, they want to see it. Yet despite it being an absolute piece of rubbish literature the book went gangbusters in sales. Why? Because (the majority of) women obviously prefer their porn in a form where the visuals are created through their own imaginations.

  • Heliopteryx

    Higher up in the comments, taranaich posted these links. His/her comment was essentially saying that people paying more attention to that particular booth due to attractive women advertising does not equal increased sales.

  • delphia2000

    Well, I have to politely disagree with a lot of your reply, but that’s part of a discussion. I think some of your POV probably comes from the changing times and I think that it’s likely there are plenty of people who think the same as you do.

    I do think it is more diminishing to these hard working women to refer to them as ‘booth babes’ which everyone here seems to be doing without much thought. They are models or spokespersons and it’s their job. I doubt they were forced into the job. I don’t blame a person for using their physical attractiveness to make a career for themselves. Their choice.

  • delphia2000

    The studies are definitely interesting, but I’d like to know more about how they were done and how many people were in the study, what age groups,etc. And I have to wonder if this is a ‘more current’ study and would that have an effect on the outcome…have our attitudes changed over the last few decades?

  • Anonymous

    So this shift needs to be broken down into incremental advancements as long as those incremental advancements don’t include doing away with booth babes. It sounds to me that you’re fully in support of any measure that would make events like CES more welcoming to women as long as they avoid the most obvious of measures to make CES more welcoming to women.

    I mean..why should the boys lose their toys, am I right?

  • Anonymous

    “outdated sexist attitudes”

    You have a pretty outdated and sexist understanding of this phrase if you think the behavior you’re describing that this friend of yours is hired to encourage is anything but sexist.

    But in the world you live in, exhibiting discomfort at seeing a member of your gender objectified is considered more sexist than actually objectifying her.

  • Anonymous

    “Just a point, the idea that sex sells has a pretty scientific basis…ask any male peacock.”

    Just a point, the idea that sex sells has a pretty scientific basis if you happen to be peacocks. If you happen to be human, that idea is far from scientific.

  • Anonymous

    Delphia, do you know what the term “derailing” means? Because you’re an expert at it.

    The argument isn’t about what to call these women or if they are or are not forced into doing this work. The argument is that by using these women the companies are displaying a certain lack of regard for their female customers. If you could just stick to that particular point and not try to move the discussion into the topic that is no doubt more comfortable for you — telling people who point out sexism in this industry that it is them who are sexists — that’d be great.

  • Anonymous

    That’s quite a lot of academic rigor all of a sudden demanded by a person who earlier seemed convinced that mating rituals of peacocks form a good basis from which to judge human behavior.

    Two studies is hell of a lot more solid proof than exists for the peacock theory. Unless “proof” in your mind goes not further than “confirms my preconceived notions.”

  • Jason Hunt

    Actually it does have scientific basis.

    In the study, 14 male and 14 female participants viewed several types of sexual and social interaction images for 30 minutes. Their brain activity was then compared using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a technology that measures neural firing through changes in blood flow.

    The fMRI scans revealed significantly higher levels of activation in the amygdala, which controls emotion and motivation, in the brains of the male subjects compared to the females, despite the fact that both males and females expressed similar subjective assessments of their levels of arousal after viewing the images.

    So there is actually a scientific basis from which one can hypothesis that visual stimuli to the male brain can trigger motivation in men to associate a product to sex. Naturally it will work better with some products than others. Using pretty women in a male fragrance ad will work better than if the same girl is used in ad for computer hard drives.

  • Duke Fleed

    I don’t care that they are doing it willfully. I’m not the one who has invented the term “booth babe”. The entertainment and new tech industries refer to them as such now. That’s ‘what’ they are. If that isn’t a bad enough sign of what is going on, then just please, stay focused on your points. By all means, go ahead. We’re saying that the use of them, at all, is a diminishing point for the industry. I couldn’t care less what effect it has on some people as a selling point. To me it’s insulting and diminishing.

    The wide-spread and accepted use of booth babes sends several BAD messages:
    1 – it’s OK to use the female body to sell things whether or not it’s even related at all
    2 – men are stupid and you can get their attention with a simple promise of boobies
    3 – the target demographic for new technology is MEN
    4 – WOMEN are not considered into the equation

    points number 3 and 4 are problematic because you see their effect everywhere with the ‘fake geek girl’ arguments. Why? Because through behavior like the use of Booth Babes, the industry reinforces the idea that NEW TECHNOLOGY IS A MAN THING, THEREFORE WOMEN SHOWING AN INTEREST IN TECHNOLOGY HAVE TO FAKE IT!

  • Anonymous

    There’s a big car salon going on in Belgium atm, and there’s a bit of a controversy regarding the booth babes. Because last year our Minister of Equal Chances asked for the booth babes to change into something more, well, “decent” (her words). This following an incident with a man being found masturbating at the salon. And now people are complaining the girls look too plain. There’s more coverage about the girls’ coverage than about the actual fair in the papers.

  • Joanna

    I THINK it’s the general idea that both sexes find women more aesthetically pleasing and therefore used in art a lot more. I see it on DeviantART a lot.

  • Joanna

    “Buy our product! We’ve got boobs!”

  • Anonymous

    How will that help if the female characters are usually costumed like booth babes? The problem is deep within the industry.

  • Ashe P. Samuels

    That’s an impressive marketing strategy, killing two birds with one stone.

    Sexist AND heteronormative!

  • Thalia Sutton

    The discussion here leads me to recall an encounter I had at NY Comic Con two years ago. A start-up, indie manga magazine had a booth, and they had Japanese models as Booth Babes.

    The Babes had nothing to do with the product; they were simply there, at best, to show Japaneseness. They were a poster saying, “We have something here that exemplifies these (stereotypical but highly desired) aspects of Japanese pop culture”–lolis and fluttering Japanese women with high voices. Which really sells their product short, to be honest, since they were trying to sell indie comics, which, by their nature as “hardcore real” literature, were trying to show real life, not the consumerized fake version of it put forth at this booth.

    So–why couldn’t they just have had a big poster? It would have illustrated the product, its background, AND been more open to all ages and sexs/genders of consumer. Plus, there were so many models. I didn’t want to get trapped there; I wanted to get info, and get out. It’s a trade convention. That’s what it’s for. Have fun after-hours. If you just wanted your booth to be populated, then talk people!

    Now, being a woman, I was just about to write them off completely seeing the lolitas. Because:
    1. It was obvious they were not marketing towards women.
    2. I immediately had the thought, “Wow, do you have no self-respect? Can your women not sell your product in everyday, or business formal, dress?”
    3. Attaching to point 2, there were no American women at the booth; the company is run exclusively by men. As a start-up, that makes sense–it’s two guy friends working together. But this marketing gimmick–which it is, a gimmick–sells their product short, and they don’t realize it. So no, “boys will be boys” should not be acceptable in business because of “lol, oversight.”
    4. The women couldn’t speak enough English to promote the product. They just showed people a book, and ushered them into the one seller who could speak English.

    Like with literature, I think it’s really your motivation that counts here. Are you writing a sex scene because it’s important to the characters’ development, or are you writing a trashy one just to get sex-starved people to get hooked?


    As some other people have commented here, one issue with booth babes is that there are not Booth Dudes. But even if there were, I wouldn’t go for it. “Is your product not good enough to speak for itself? On its own merits?” And anyway, showing that “a perfectly good job for men is to sell their bodies” is not an acceptable way, to me, to counteract the issue of “It’s a perfectly good job for women to sell their bodies.”

    Let’s have some class here, people. Cons are mating games quite often, yes, lands of excitement and hook-ups. But that doesn’t mean we should be saying hello with pick-up lines.

  • Thalia Sutton

    Here’s another thought: Are booth babes the reason so many guys at cons think that female cosplayers are there just to be sex symbols?

  • Anonymous

    14 males and 14 females? Well this is definitive. But I have come to expect no better from the pseudoscience that is evo psych.

  • Anonymous

    Have to fake it or are just trolling for attention from men.

  • Curtis Owings

    No, I actually think booth babes should go. I’m saying the act of removing them doesn’t solve the underlying problem. I want to see “women as sex marketing” removed completely from products that have nothing to do with sexuality. But I see this as a large cultural change not a singular effort to remove booth babes from commercial conferences.

  • Joanna

    Care to prove that? Cos personally I prefer porn to be portrayed visually than in some piss poor excuse for literature.

  • K. Cox

    Teaches attendees to devalue all women present and their expertise, in fact.

  • Chaka ♥

    Wouldn’t surprise me.