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Hey Auto Vendors! Your Booth Babes Aren't Helping

describe the imageActivEngage’s good friend Jeff Kershner wrote a DealerRefresh post way back in 2008 called The ROI of an NADA Booth Model. Hilarious and creative, the blog is half mathematical formula for determining your “booth model conversion ratio” and half love note to a vAuto model named Andrea. We love Jeff’s style.

But with NADA right around the corner, it might be time for a fresh perspective. Split-testing data from recent trade shows has led me to take a position that I know you won’t all agree with: booth babes are losing you money.

I see fiery debate over this subject flare up now and again on the forums (especially when someone mentions the word Cardoll). It starts when someone launches into an impassioned argument against the exploitation of the female body to sell a product. Then others retaliate with a defense of the practice as an old-school enterprise that keeps the vendor offerings entertaining and effective.

I’m not coming from either of these angles. I’m talking purely about dollars and cents. Last week Spencer Chen, head of marketing and growth at camera app Frontback, published the results of an experiment he conducted back when he was on the product marketing team for a major public software company. The results insist that trade show models don’t convert.

Chen had a hunch that these booth babes were actually a drag on lead-gen, and here's how he tested his hypothesis: At several trade shows over a one-year period, Chen’s group reserved two booths on opposite sides of the showroom floor. The company staffed one of the booths with hot girls in skimpy outfits, and the other with older women (50+) recruited for people skills and dressed in business attire.

Astonishingly, the “grandmas” generated  3 times the amount of sales leads and conversions as the “babes.” What’s more, the “babes” attracted the kind of attendees that were far less valuable: cocky sales guys, nervous IT youngsters, guys who just wanted to get their pictures taken with a scantily-clad girl. I would attribute this huge performance gap to three possible causes:

1. Booth babes are intimidating.

A model at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show described conventioneers as “scared. They won’t even approach me.” True, she was probably talking about the desperate nerds on the Vegas floor, but it’s human nature to be a little anxious about approaching an attractive model. This inaccessibility can have the opposite intended effect at trade shows.

2. Booth babes don’t know your product.

When you staff your display booth with girls hired from a modeling agency, you aren’t hiring fully-equipped salespeople. Booth models don’t know how to demo your product or how look into the needs of prospective clients. Attendees on the expo floor know this; they’ll assume that you’re compensating for a bad product that couldn’t lure them in on merit alone.

3. Decision-makers don’t come to see the booth babes.

Dealer executives at NADA are there to improve their business, not to gawk at pretty ladies. They have an agenda to get things done. They know that their time there is a valuable opportunity for networking and education, and they aren't wasting it ogling. If you want to get a dealer’s interest, show him value, not cleavage.


Honestly, there could be a multitude of different reasons why Chen’s study turned out the way it did. Maybe it was the booth placement, or the type of trade show, or the time of day. But if you’re curious, this is the first quantifiable evidence that booth babes just don’t convert. For full coverage of NADA 2014, follow @activEngage on Twitter!

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Tags: NADA, activengage, babes, booth, models, show, trade


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Comment by Stephen Jackson on February 5, 2014 at 6:20pm


This hilarious photo of me was taken at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, at a downtown Orlando bar. Those girls could have sold me anything - but unfortunately for my own wares, they weren't buyers. I hope that this picture illustrates that I know exactly what Brian means.

I do think that we should all take the data we're given with several grains of salt. The results of the study you see in the blog post above were by no means scientifically conclusive. Chen's test was limited to electronics shows - a demographic of technology nerds and the awkwardly wealthy. Putting booth babes into a room of natural-born car salesmen may well be a different story.

And I may be young, but life so far is pretty awesome. I work for ActivEngage, a live chat company that has earned national recognition as both one of the best places to work in Florida and the 54th fastest growing tech firm in America. Wow! There are lots of chat companies out there, but we're the only ones that love what we do. We're in the office right now - 9:15 PM EST - having conversations with dealership customers on websites around the country. And who wouldn't be smiling? It's the only place in the U.S. that's 81 degrees in the depths of winter. We have fun with our jobs, and that's probably what makes our chats (and our conversion ratios) so good.

And now I think it's time for me to go make some of those fun experiences Brian mentioned.

From the happiest place on earth,


Comment by Ralph Ebersole on February 5, 2014 at 3:36pm

I think you should go back and look at some of the data "young Stephen" linked to.

From Jeff Kershner: "I'm honored - way to resurrect the "The ROI of an NADA Booth Babe", while offering some updated and actual supporting data."

From Ralph Paglia:  "This is a great article because it is supported by the research done where different types of spokespersons (models) were deployed at same trade shows and the results compared."

From Brain Bennington:  "Your post was fun, but my age and experience working countless shows with "booth babes" allows me to "pull rank" on you, Cathy and Zach, and say none of you had a compelling enough point of view to counter what I said.  As I mentioned twice before, a well-planned event strategy is the key!  "

The information and data he showed trumps both Brians and my age and experience. No one can argue the point "a well planned strategy is the key."  But having the old school (and we must admit, this is old school) approach to having the so-called booth babes may not be the best way to present a product or device at a show.

Having experience as both an exhibitor and attendee, I can say that personally I find them a nuisance at best.  I have worked shows with them in our booth and can say that the results would have been better without them--based on feedback from my customers.

So vendors, if you want, go ahead and staff the booth babes.  Just understand that your are cutting out a prime group of prospects who will not approach your booth.

Oh, and the personal attacks of "young Stephen" are not appreciated (grossed out).   


Comment by Stephen Jackson on February 5, 2014 at 7:31am

Hey Brian,

I am equal parts honored and grossed out by your comments. :)

Have I met a girl who could get me to buy almost anything? I still can't believe how much I've spent on things like purses in previous relationships. Anything to stay "happy at home," right?

I've enjoyed your thoughts.

Comment by Stephen Jackson on February 4, 2014 at 11:53pm

Hey guys,

Thanks a lot for commenting and adding some thoughtful discourse to an issue that has turned from a standard business practice to something of a controversy. Personally, I feel that most savvy business owners are able to separate their business needs from their more personal desires. I've met a lot of really smart guys at shows like Digital Dealer, GM's eSummit, etc. and I don't think many of them are buying products they don't want just because the hot blonde tells them to.

I think that many of you are correct in making the point that training and product knowledge make a great rep - not the length of her skirt. The problem is that many of the solutions offered at trade shows today have become increasingly complicated, and it takes quite a bit of familiarity with both dealership operations AND the solution itself to speak intelligently about it. This isn't something you can get from a talent agency a few days before the show. (Like Cathy said - Maybe the better strategy is to find beauty and brains, and hire her full-time.)

Jeff made the point early in the comment section that Chen's study in the article was conducted at consumer electronics shows, and that car dealers are not as likely to be intimidated by a beautiful girl. Now that I think about it, he might be on to something. At the events I've attended, car guys tend to be outgoing, confident, and preoccupied with thoughts from their other head.

And by the way Jeff, I'd love to write a piece for the DealerRefresh blog sometime. Let's make that happen.

Comment by Todd Vowell on January 28, 2014 at 9:43am

I begged a couple of my car dealer customers to come on and comment but they won't! I told them its all just in light fun, please please please say it on here! They won't...

With that said, Brian, I have only worked 26 NADA's (about 15 with "booth babes") so you have a few years on me. You make good points. The truth is a car dealer has no problem telling a beautiful "Prince William type" man to pound sand. He won't however say it to a "booth babe". He will fold up like a lawn chair. Then, we take over the conversation. Its simple really and fun for everyone. Sadly, I agree with you Zach, they will go away like everything else that "OFFENDS" 10% of the population. Its the world we now live in... Know it, Live it, LOVE IT...  I hope everyone enjoyed NADA this year - Good stuff coming up!

Comment by Cathy Nesbit on January 27, 2014 at 10:50am

Great blog Steve. I agree with you. I believe it to be counterproductive to hire someone who doesn't know about your product or your company. I mean KNOW it, live it, know it, not 5 min about it. Why would a company want to pay someone who doesn't know anything about them to represent them, when they could pay completely competent and well trained people to represent them. I'm not saying a pretty girl can't know about the company no one pull that with me. (Nice,Smart and attractive-that's a killer combo :) )If you want to hire attractive people, go for it, and then train them and have them represent the company professionally. Don't give them a miniskirt & a 5 min briefing on your products.  In my opinion, it's reflective. The company that would hire this person to represent them is probably going to be the company that doesn't get the opportunity to earn my business. It's not that attractiveness is intimidating, it's totally a "who hires people and doesn't train them?!" thing. IMHO :) 

Comment by Zach Billings on January 27, 2014 at 7:11am

Nice post Steve. I see a good bit of "it's the car business" in the comments. While I agree for now, I'm a Gen Y'er and sooner or later the people running the car business will be predominantly Gen Y. I think as time goes on and that torch is passed, the booth babe approach will become less effective for all the reasons you state.

Comment by William Phillips on January 25, 2014 at 6:23am

If you have a product that you have to lie to the dealer and tell him it will cause him to sell more cars, when it won't, you might as well use his sex drive to allow you to tell him.  Bottom feeding desperate vendors.  Not the clients you want if they start their buying process with your booth babes.  There is always a better looking chick 

Comment by Ralph Paglia on January 24, 2014 at 4:26pm

This is a great article because it is supported by the research done where different types of spokespersons (models) were deployed at same trade shows and the results compared... I know one thing for sure, my grandmother was one of the best salespeople I ever met and I know se would have kicked a booth babe's butt on the trade-show floor selling... Heck, she convinced me and my sisters that God spoke French so that we had to say our prayers in French.

Comment by Todd Vowell on January 23, 2014 at 3:59pm

"Decision makers don't come to see the booth babes"? Oh my young millennial friend, you are just a wee bit wrong... Might as well take their booze, cigars, golf, and massage therapist while you are at it... Its the car business!

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