Many years ago back when Novell's NetWorld expo was the hottest ticket in enterprise IT shows there was one vendor with a huge booth that for inexplicable reasons was apparently intentionally mostly empty.
It resembled a dance floor more than anything else and was staffed by a flock of ridiculously hot booth babes dressed in the skimpiest of French maid outfits tottering around on high heels trying to lure passersby in so they could get sold on whatever it was the vendor was selling.
Now, prudish I am not but there was something I found remarkably daunting about the whole set up. I remember that I was actually interested in the product but somehow walking across the wastes of the booth to be greeted by a young lady in an minimalist outfit more suited to a strip club was not something I really wanted to do. I did it anyway but I noticed that I was one of the brave, the few, who were willing to run the gauntlet.
While the vendor undoubtedly got less foot traffic (and leads) from the show than they would have liked, the whole setup was outrageous enough (or should that be "uncomfortable enough") that their press coverage more than made up for it (if anyone remembers who that vendor was ... it must have been around 1986 or '87 ... please comment).
Much to my amusement a blog post on TechCrunch, titled Booth Babes Don't Work by Spencer Chen addresses the issue of the effectiveness of booth babes using science; A/B testing to be specific.
Chen's story is that a company he previously worked at had booked a booth at a trade show and predictably equipped it with booth babes. When the show organizers offered Chen's company another booth for free, he wound up staffing it with a couple of older women (one was literally a grandmother) and what he found was very interesting:
... the results were indisputable. If you have invested in a trade show to generate new business, using booth babes is a lead conversion boat anchor ... The booth that was staffed with the booth babes generated a third of the foot traffic (as measured by conversations or demos with our reps) and less than half the leads (as measured by a badge swipe or a completed contact form) while the other team had a consistently packed booth that ultimately generated over 550 leads, over triple from the previous year.
In his post Chen enumerates why booth babes don't really work and his arguments are in line with what I've always thought.
Was it a scientific test? Sort of. It wasn't definitive but I'll bet that if your company has a booth at a trade show and you skip the booth babes, you'll find similar results. And if you're attending a show and the booth babes are absent then as much as you might miss the "eye candy" you'll find it a lot more comfortable to walk up to someone you can relate to who has a clue rather than a scantily clad booth babe who doesn't.
NB. The top photo is of Microsoft's army of booth babes at a show in 2007. Credit: Wikimedia
Thanks to Jerry Dixon.