“Booth Babes” Bad for Business & Animal Rights

Two teenagers in mini-dresses pose on a PETA Youth booth offering "Free hugs"

The animal rights movement loves using young women to sell veganism, but whether or not this tactic is effective has come under serious scrutiny.

New research on the effectiveness of “booth babes” at techie conferences suggests that the use of provocatively dressed young women to sell items at trade shows doesn’t work. The comparison group, which consisted professionally dressed older local women, performed significantly better:

The results? They were great. 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.

Why don’t booth babes make good salespersons?  Marketing executive Spencer Chen suggests that they are intimidating to men.  That is, rather than attracting men, they repel men.  Chen also suggests that women who are hired specifically for these events have little incentive to work for the company. As he explains, “They are used to not doing much except showing up to make their fee for the day.”  Customers are looking to learn more, something models are not often invested in.  This point may or may not apply to vegan booths, as PETA and other organizations that objectify women rely on volunteers as well as paid models.

Chen also reports, “Business and product execs don’t talk to booth babes.”  While vegan “booth babes” are not targeting important business persons, the effect is similar.  Animal justice is a serious matter, as is changing one’s diet, and “booth babes” simply do not convey seriousness:

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.

Who they do tend to attract, however, are young men who are interested more in photo ops than business.

Young man poses next to the "Ice Queen" while another young man takes their picture. The woman is very thin, white, and painted in blue. She wears a tiara and high heels. Sign reads: "Beat the heat with nondairy treats."
So why use booth babes at all? Chen suggests that it’s simply cheaper than relying on qualified individuals and experts.  It’s not only easier on the budget, but it’s indicative of cheap advertising standards that dominate the marketplace:

[…] there still exists the “stripper and steaks” mentality in sales, where it’s less about the product and more about relationships and the art of the “close.” Booth babes have long been a part of this dog-and-pony show in this old approach to sales.

This study comes on the heels of the Australian study published in December of 2013 that demonstrated PETA’s “sex sells” approach is actually counter-productive.  Male participants recognized that the women were dehumanized and were subsequently less likely to support the animal rights cause.

Courtney Stodden poses with a veggie dog in a revealing lettuce bikini. Men in the background stare at her.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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