On Booth Babes

Tech writer Glenn Fleishman doesn't mind attractive people trying to get him to pay attention to their products. But "companies that rely on models whose various assets are stress-testing spandex or exposed to air are trying so hard that they fail, he writes in an opinion piece at TidBITS today.

"Not all attention is good, since it highlights to women attending the show that these products are not for them, as well as driving off men who find being so blatantly manipulated distasteful.

Photo: Models pose with Nikon digital cameras during the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (REUTERS)


  1. Hear, hear. Unless your product is Vegas showgirl costumes, kindly restrict the attractive female presence within your booth to the hot geek women who actually developed the product. You might be surprised how many show attendees like their women smart, dressed in snappy business attire, and with corrective lenses.

    1. Remember the Good article about the woman on the cover of Wired who they accused of being…I think too attractive, and proved it by showing a picture of her from her Web site? In actuality, they had done a nice makeup job on her, and presented her as a maker goddess, who was completely in control of her identity and her work.

        1. Yes. I used to be an adamant feminist, but have moved into post-feminism (I think), which is more realistic. Feminism was a rejection of and separation of women from patriarchal implicit and sometimes legally enforced behavior. Post-feminist, at least to this bleeding heart male, is the ability of women to define themselves entirely on their own terms, outside of defining themselves in opposition to men or men’s ideas or to ideals set by other women, even if a woman’s idea of what she is puts her at odds with classical feminist thinking.

          1. Umm….No. Feminism is the desire to see some kind of equality between the sexes, and if that means separating or dismantling some patriarchy, so be it. It isn’t possible to define oneself strictly on one’s own terms, for anyone. You would do well to speak to some of the women you believe have done so, and pay close attention to their accounts of the repercussions they navigate daily to do it. 

          2. No. 

            Feminism is the idea that women should not be treated as second-class citizens. If you don’t get this, don’t try to rationalise any other viewpoint as ‘post-feminist’.

          3. @John_Wilmot:disqus
            “Umm….No. Feminism is the desire…”

            Some terms are pretty overloaded. I think the important thing is that people carefully define the terms they’re using, and not some kind of defintional conformity. That’s what discussion is.

            Honestly, I don’t see why you have an issue with this. If you’d listen to what he’s saying, as opposed to reacting to how he uses words differently than you, I think you’d see that you’re really trying to make the same point, and the discussion will move in more productive directions.

            Same comment to @Simon_Bradshaw

          4. “Post-feminist, at least to this bleeding heart male, is the ability of women to define themselves entirely on their own terms, outside of defining themselves in opposition to men or men’s ideas or to ideals set by other women, even if a woman’s idea of what she is puts her at odds with classical feminist thinking.”

            Or, Feminism.

          5. ‘Post-Feminism’ has been used a lot by anti-choice movement groups, it’s a loaded word too. Feminism needs a new name to modernize it, because the movement really does work hard for equality in all genders and sexes.

          6. @Simon:twitter 

             “Feminism is the idea that women should not be treated as second-class citizens. If you don’t get this, don’t try to rationalise any other viewpoint as ‘post-feminist’.”

            I’m amused by him getting so angry at male influence in Feminism that he has to redefine Feminism to “help” women. The Patriarchy has got to save Feminism from itself, yaknow?

    2. Yes! And while they’re at it, they should have a few winsome fellows hanging about wearing only tool belts over their speedos, ready to tell all of the passing crowd about how they invented/developed their respective technologies. Fair’s fair. 

      1. @John_Wilmot:disqus  Sold! (heterosexual female checking in here)

        But. Toolbelts are NOT the same as those fluffy showgirl costumes – toolbelts imply a thin veneer of “this man is for non-sexual purposes”, the showgirl costumes don’t pretend at all. Men are perfectly capable of wearing pointless decorative clothing – see glam rockers for some inspiration for the male costumes.

    3. Finally, someone who takes the words out of my mouth (“…men who find being so blatantly manipulated distasteful”).  I dislike the feeling that someone is thinking “You are just a dumb guy who will buy anything sold by a scantily dressed model.”  If you want to use looks to draw attention from guys then I agree with Tarliman.  Some nicely, but business appropriately, dressed geek girls won’t make me feel so manipulated and won’t turn off woman either.

      I disagree about the corrective lenses though, I love those cute eyeglasses.

    4. Some of those show attendees might be women, even. Sometimes women who prefer men. And sometimes women go to a tech conference to see and talk about tech, or present the tech they made, not to look hot or star in anyone’s sexual fantasy.

      Which is to say, I’m glad you like geek women, but saying “We should have hot geek women in suits and glasses instead of swimsuit models in bikinis!” still sounds like you’re saying women should be there primarily to look hot for you.

  2. “as well as driving off men who find being so blatantly manipulated distasteful.”

    Count me as such a guy, and not just with booth models, but in most facets of life from print ads, to Hooters.  Things like that really bug me for two main reasons (outside of the whole objectification issues):

    1.  It insults me.  It’s as if a company is saying, “We think you are incapable of thinking with anything other than your dick.”

    2.  For physical places, (bars, booths, restaurants, etc.) it tends to attract the type of guys who are indeed manipulated by these sorts of things (eg, the ones who are actually incapable of thinking with anything other than their dicks.)  As a general rule, I tend not to enjoy the company of such men, but mostly, I just get embarrassed by my gender with all the ogling and the pathetic attempts to woo and flirt with the ladies.

    1. Add me to the embarrassed for my gender list.  Seeing a bunch of guys hovering around some blatantly manipulative booth babe (or model, product rep, etc) thinking she is interested in them personally is sad.

  3. LoL -i read at first “models whose various asses” and thought “ha” :P
    There is such a great  presence of companies selling/advertising campaigns, even on the sidewalks, huge speakers, hired dancers, even giving away free beer…I wish people, artists, getting together concocting stuff and giving it directly to people, could have the same freedom and presence as the money campaigns. There is no groups of people creating art together, connected by affection & common passion like in the past the surrealists, impressionists, etc.. hopefully (it seems…) things are changing…

  4. This posting didn’t have enough picture of said women for me to make a good evaluation.  Twenty or thirty more babe pics are necessary for me to decide how exploitive such girls are.


  5. Whenever I see a booth with the skimpy clothed women (and sometimes men) I just feel like “Either this company has no confidence in their own product or no respect for my ability, as a consumer, to discern said quality.”

    Of course that’s very simplistic and ignores the very real possibility that while there may be many fine developers out there they have little to no authority on how the product is marketed. Nevertheless I feel resentment first, then sympathy for the potential good work being hidden by marketing assholes.

  6. Jeez, someone should have told all the women in the front row, checking out the models and the product, to look more offended.

    1. People who work in morgues don’t bitch about the smell after a while, this does not indicate an absence of bad aromas but just that they’re used to dealing with that kind of shit and have learned to ignore it.

  7. I don’t usually get excited over professional models.  I am just not into twiggy barbies.  But these models are very pretty.  Perhaps the realer-looking dames are sent to the gigs with the geeky guys and their presumably more refined taste?

    I also agree somewhat with Nylund’s second point, and will add that it is also awkward when the “talent” interacts with you like that type of dude.  On the other hand, I’m not always above putting that all aside and giving myself over to dumb, hedonistic fun.

    All that said, the bird theme to those otherwise cool costumes is a little much, for me anyway.

    1. All that said, the bird theme to those otherwise cool costumes is a little much, for me anyway.

      I would say that that’s the only mitigating factor here. Skimpy feathered costumes are to Las Vegas what lederhosen are to Bavaria.

      1. The main difference being that a good looking individual in Lederhosen can actually look kinda hot on a good day… or maybe thats just the biergarten talking… ( as compared to looking like a badly plucked piece of poultry, but hey whatever you’re into I guess)…

        1. A good set of well muscled legs really helps with Lederhosen. The same legs are also flattered by kilts.  (^_^)

  8. Apparently it works for someone since everybody who can afford it will use models… although the ones on the photo are dressed like 1920’s bathers.

  9. One person’s opinion, and not shared by many, including me, or my wife. She loves the booth babes and likes talking to them about their costumes. Although, chubby middle-aged looking women don’t fit most people’s definition of “booth babes”.

    1. So just go to Hooters, or a strip club/swingers’ club if she wants to look at boobs, and wouldn’t have gone to any convention otherwise. There are a world of options available to you!

    2. “Not shared by many”: would love to see the survey that led to that. I fear you’re confusing “booth babes” (hired models who have no product knowledge and there are to advertise sex) and attractive members of a booth’s staff who are trained professionals in the product or hired to promote it using product knowledge.

      Or you’re reasoning from a sample size of two.

  10. I agree that such marketing ploys are outdated and perpetuate the idea that women, like cameras, are shiny to look at and fun to possess, but why does the author assume that the scantily clad ladies indicate that the product is not being marketed toward women?  If we are going to get offended, lets add hetero-assumptive to the list.

    1. So what you’re saying is that Nikon may be using booth babes to attract the lesbian audience to buy cameras? 

      Honestly I’m not quite sure if you’re being serious. 

    2. I have observed that most straight women enjoy looking at beautiful women. Everybody enjoys seeing beautiful women except people with some kind of issue.

      1. I have observed that most straight men enjoy looking at handsome men. Everybody enjoys seeing handsome men except people with some kind of issue.

          1. The comments there are just desperate to come up with excuses for guys staring at other guys’ crotches.

          1. “Can you try working on some of your own material?”

            Can you try using your brain to figure out why this is at all controversial?

          2. As commenter “blerghs” says:

            “The guys need to be more attractive for this to work.”

            Hire some very attractive male models — (as attractive as the original female models are) — and put them in poses that look sexy to straight women (and to gay men) — and then resubmit.

    3. “why does the author assume that the scantily clad ladies indicate that the product is not being marketed toward women”

      Because any gay interest is incidental, not the intentional demographic being pandered to.

      There’s no need to play dumb.

    1. Why does he have to? His demographic eats up the porn stars and they haven’t cancelled in large numbers.

  11. For a camera company, I can _almost_ see having models available to work with you on giving the camera a trial run on a model shoot… but that’s not what’s being done here, and the showgirl costumes would fight with that if you were interested.

    My definition of “cute” includes highly intelligent, and I consider it much higher praise than “beautiful”. While I grant that most really successful models are *not* airheads — can’t survive long in that profession without the ability to look after yourself — they still aren’t particularly interesting to me. I can admire the attractive animal, but … well, as a gal I know said about a certain class of guys, “You can dress them up, you can take them out, and then you sorta want to leave them there.”

  12. Unfortunately these women and men that don’t like to be manipulated are the minority. If we’ve learnt anything it’s that only the majority matters.

    1. In PAX’s case, the majority voted to de-emphasize “booth babes” at their conventions.

      Granted, their demographic seems a bit older than your average gaming site participants.

  13. C’mon people. They’re obviously being ironic here.

    No? No takers? Won’t fly?

    (Well – I tried, Mr Nikon. Leave the money by the side exit.)

  14. I can see the argument for attractive people (of both sexes!) in creative and beautiful costumes in order to bring attention to the product, but too many times it’s usually just some over-tanned chicks in crop-tops, hotpants and really ugly go-go boots.  
    As someone with a major interest in fashion I’d love to be able to design some futuristic outfits for someone marketing the latest shiny thing. I think it’s a wasted opportunity for creativity, and perhaps some forward-thinking marketing people will hold a competition for design students to create a look for the promotional staff. ;)

    1. The first company to hire some muscular booth boys and put them in skimpy Borgesque fetish gear may not get the most booth traffic, but they’ll certainly get a lot of media attention.

    1. I saw that when it came out and almost submitted it. The editor has done a prize-winning job of juxtaposing pretentious statements from the apologists with the blunt stripperishness of the visuals.

      1.  Not to mention the comment from the actual “booth babes” at the end.  Where they basically point out they aren’t geeky and don’t know any woman who is.  Kind of just points out that there are different strokes for different folks.  (Not that I think using sexy women to sell a product is a good thing, but I can see how getting models (male/female) dressed in nice business attire to interact with you audience is.  I am by nature introverted and while I can put on a smile and converse with a crowd I’m sure someone who is more extroverted comes across much more friendly than I could.  Or I would assume a model would at least be better at that I could be.)

  15. The fact that there are modeling jobs out there for men and women speaks volumes about the current global mindset. I mean, lets get real; these vague sexual intercourse suggestions are the saddest way of attracting people to something that’s worth seeing. And I do know I sound like a broken record as that is 80% of mainstream adult-aimed marketing.

    It would have been so much nicer if the ladies above were dressed with knowledge of the intricate detail of the product, and kept their dresses for a social event where they would want to use their sex apeal for what it’s meant to ;)

  16. I worked as a “booth babe” at E3 one year. The company had hired both men and women from a modeling agency, but they had us wear company t-shirts and khakis. I thought this was a pretty smart strategy – put attractive yet approachable people out there holding your gadgets. Nobody asked to take their picture with me, but plenty of people wanted to look at the handheld game dealie I was demoing.

    1. Not to pick too fine a hair here, but if you read my article, you’ll note that I’m not talking about hired booth professionals, models or otherwise, who are trained in demonstrating a product and may be attractive. At Macworld (and to judge by photos, at CES), the booth babes in question weren’t wearing T-shirts and khakis. They were wearing extremely tight or abbreviated outfits, and were not demonstrating products. They were generating leads. Some booths had costumed or hired staff, some of them quite lovely men and women, who were demonstrating products and had knowledge of them.

  17. Is it just me, or do those costumes seem designed to make the wearer look fat?  Here those poor girls go to all the trouble of remaining skinny only to be sabotaged by some female-hating fashion designer – what’s up with that?

    1.  You’re probably right, but these aren’t exactly stick-thin models, either. Their thighs give this away. In fact, they almost look like… normal people :)

  18. I have never been to an event like this and am wondering, do these women generally engage with the people around them, answering questions about the cameras or whatever or do they just stand there and look all feathery?

  19. Another reason I love PAX — “booth babes” are prohibited.  Sure, the policy was that in years past one’s PR contractors had to be dressed like characters from one’s game (assuming one had them dressed to impress).  After Duke Nukem Forever came out, though — now the only way that one’s PR contractors can be dressed is in the same fashion as your player characters can be designed.  Smart and keeps the emphasis on the product, not on the glitz.

    1. I love the responses on Kotaku and similar gaming sites when this is discussed. ARE YOU GAY, YOU MUST BE SOME KINDA FAG.

      No, I just don’t like the sort of hover-hand mouthbreathers that booth babes attract and the environment it fosters. I’d also miss the other gamers that they push away.

    1. Just last week, Macworld/iWorld in San Francisco had a bunch of booth babes. I ignored those booths and would never give any of those companies the time of day. If there are even more booth babes at next year’s convention, I’ll skip the Expo altogether and just attend the sessions that I’m interested in.

      (Just to make it clear: I don’t hold it against the models who are doing their jobs. But the companies who hire them are full of fail.)

  20. Any man who would be driven off because he felt he was being blatantly manipulated probably would have the sense to not buy a crummy product which assets are limited to the woman on display. This is less about selling the product to the discriminating (which you admit they are not in a position to do) then attracting the weak from the herd, getting a little attention and is likely not causing any lost sales. 

    1. “likely not causing any lost sales.”

      No, but it may continue keep women from being taken seriously in tech.

  21. Having booth babes communicates two things.

    1. This is a place intended for straight men.
    2. Women’s primary role in this place is to be sexually attractive to men.

    A conference where young, well-built men in skimpy glitzy costumes were posing at every booth would make most straight male attendees feel uncomfortable. They’d assume this was probably a conference meant for gay men*, and they’d worry that the other attendees were checking them out sexually. It would even make some of the gay male attendees feel uncomfortable, because it would still bring sex into it when they weren’t primarily there to get laid. Whether straight or gay, young men attending the conference would feel especially uncomfortable — they’d wonder whether everyone they talked to was just thinking about having sex with them, or comparing their sexual attractiveness to the booth guys.

    It works the same way for women.

    (*Because of the way our culture works, men aren’t often on display for the enjoyment of straight women. If men are on sexual display, it’s almost always for the enjoyment of gay men. A conference mostly aimed at straight women would simply not involve sexual display in our culture. So if you swap the gender of the booth babes, the gender of the people attracted to them doesn’t change — only their sexual orientation. It’s a long story why this is, but it’s not some kind of inborn hard-wired thing.)

  22. Here is a simple rule: If you want a group of people to buy, or perhaps work on your product, you’d best not offend them.

    Note: One easy way to offend people is to put them in sexual situations that they are not comfortable with.

    “Is that really offensive?” “Shouldn’t they just ignore it?” Why don’t you ask your female coworkers these questions? I mean, if you HAVE any female coworkers, of course.

    I did. They told me this: “If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, I’d retire. Seriously, I know better than to complain about this stuff, because it happens EVERY SINGLE DAY.”

    Ever wonder WHY you don’t have female coworkers? Is it because “Math is hard?” Really? I doubt it.

    Let’s try an experiment.

    Let me replace the above women in costumes with men like these: http://www.bearotic.com/img/2009/11/jaco-lourens-leather-jacket-shirtless.jpg

    That’s right — if you want to take a sample picture with the Snapi-Flex 9000™, just take a nice picture of this very very hairy man in leather chaps.

    Offended? No, of course you aren’t. You’re so secure. 

  23. Not to mention that these are, to me, about the most unattractively costumed women I have seen.  These are the Anti-babes.

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