Spencer Chen is for the moment one of my fav marketers. Not because he’s exceedingly sympathetic or amazing, but because he actually did an experiment where he tested the draw of booth babes.

Guess why he’s my fav? Because he’s proven – to some extent – that booth babes don’t work.

I like it for the simple reason that I don’t like the exploitation of women as sales objects in trade shows. And now, someone has shown that this might not be the best way to draw business either. Money talks, isn’t that what people say when they want to defend sexism in the games and other industries? Well then. Allow money to talk.

(This, by the way, is not limited to trade shows. Have you seen the numbers from the box office that Vocativ put together? The movies that pass the Bechdel test actually did better than the ones that didn’t. Money talks.)

This also connects to Tom Abernathy’s talk at Gotland Game Conference 2013, in which he quite clearly states that diversity is attractive to the playing and paying audience. I’ve included the talk here, but I also want to point out the core statements of his lecture.

There are three good reasons why diversity is good for games:
1. Moral – it’s the right thing to do. Everybody has the same right to see characters who look like them. It doesn’t occur to the white male that they’ve always had dudes to identify with. In a business context the moral argument is the least convincing.
2. Creative – It opens up possibilities for complexity, depth and selling more games. There are abundant examples of this. Tom uses Homeland, Game of Thrones and Luthor as well as Deception to point out that there are strong women. Skyfall is also used as an example – homosexual villain who interacts with Bond. He’s okay with bicurious. Multiracial Moneypenney, M, is female (Dench). Cretive and box office success of these examples is not a coincidence. Diversity sells.
3. Business – there is hard data to support that when you add more gender and ethnic diversity to games they sell more.

This of course ties into the booth babe and money discussion, because booth babes do not only discourage women from going up to a booth, but also as it would seem, men. Maybe the connection between diversity in games and booth babes isn’t clear, but there is a connection. In both these instances women are used as sexualised objects to sell a product. Anyway, that’s not really what this post is about, even though it is. But only peripherally. Aaaanyway…

So, what were the reasons that putting attractive women in the booths failed? I’ll quote Chen himself (from article on Techcrunch).

1. Booth babes are intimidating. Instead of drawing people in, booth babes actually give guys who attend tech conferences some anxiety and pause for engaging in conversation. Even booth babes themselves have said this. I think it’s just human nature for guys to be a little nervous around hot girls. The ones that had no trouble engaging our booth babes were always the overconfident weirdos.

2. Booth babes are lazy. These are the same gals that get hired to do restaurant shows, car shows, or events at the local hot spot. They are used to not doing much except showing up to make their fee for the day. At tech shows it’s quite a bit different where the audience is looking to learn and educate themselves on new offerings.

I mean, you don’t go to an SAP event to “turn up.” On more than one occasion I had to remind my booth babes to get out of the booth and bring people for us to talk to. I had no such trouble with my other team. They were more than happy to engage in small talk outside the booth, establish rapport, and make great local restaurant recommendations to our prospects before introducing them to one of our reps.

3. Business and product execs don’t talk to booth babes. If you’re a legit executive at a trade show, you already have an agenda to get some shit done. Afterall, that’s why we spend the money that we do to exhibit at these events…everyone that we would love to talk to is there. If you’re an exec, you’re looking for your peer at the booth and are not bothering with the booth babes.

Many times I observed that while my team was busy in demos with other prospects, the booth babes were unable to hold the interest of these execs for the extra five minutes that I needed to get a person from our team to engage. I had no such trouble with the other ladies since I had requested that specific soft skill.

4. Low-quality leads. Back to point No. 1, the ones that the booth babes had no trouble attracting were often low-level, overconfident IT nubs — the guys that were already always first at the hosted bars and whose highlight for the quarter was being authorized to travel for the event. They had neither the authority nor the budget that made them ideal prospects for our sales teams. All these guys do is lower your conversion from lead to opp and lower your ROI on the show.

So. Money talks eh? If it did, we’d see a change happening. Personally, I think sexism talks. Because it is convenient. Because it is a “truth”. Because it is more comfortable and easier. Because wow – power is exhilarating, even if it is the power over other human beings.

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