Last year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, one company humiliated itself by using topless models covered in body paint and booth babes with the company logo tattooed above their breasts to draw attention to its exhibit.
It drew a flood of complaints, and CES organisers and attendees were forced to acknowledge how weird and sexist it is that the most important tech trade conference on the planet uses young, half-naked women to decorate their products.
This year, “booth babes” were in short supply. They’re nearly extinct, in fact.
While we did see a few traditional booth babes in risque outfits (like the image above right, featuring representatives of the Sports Armour iPhone case brand), most booths were staffed by women who were modestly attired.
In fact, at the few booths that went the traditional way, it was uncomfortable to be confronted by a woman dressed like a stripper trying to describe computer accessories to you. That’s what happened at the Xtreme booth (right), which perhaps had the most traditional on-staff eye-candy of any exhibitor at CES this year.
In their place was a new, evolved version of the booth babe, retaining the original platform — young woman, hired for her looks, lots of makeup — but covered in a new uniform. Generally, the new dress-code consists of knee-high boots, leggings and a T-shirt.
It’s an ingenious solution, because it solves the overt symptom of booth-babeism (the girls are semi-dressed) but keeps the underlying sexism (the outfit only works if they’re young, hot and female, and there is no equivalent for men).
And, yes, we’re aware that we’re having our patriarchal cake and eating it with this photo essay. But “marketing consultants” are still a huge part of CES, and you’re deluding yourself if you think you can spend any time at the show without encountering this army of 20-something-year-old females who were recruited based on their appearance.
Samsung generally set a progressive tone with its staff, from both genders, dressed alike in “retail casual” (below).
But even Samsung couldn’t help itself when it came to its main new product, ultra-high def curved TVs:
Traditional booth babes tended to be confined to the automotive exhibits this year. Tech companies pride themselves on being forward-thinking and progressive, so it’s more difficult to justify someone in a bikini. In Detroit, however, cars and sex appeal remain strongly linked, and many brands are sticking with that tried-and-tired formula. Sigma, the camera brand, “borrowed” that justification and stocked its booth with a car. The staff then posed for pictures around it:
Audio brand DTS had go-go dancers and a DJ in its booth. The justification seemed to be that the product produces music, and people dance to music, so therefore … dancers!
But none of the dancers was a man.
The worst offender this year was probably Fuji. Its booth featured a model dressed as a 1950s Bobby-soxer. Attendees were encouraged to photograph her (because it’s a camera brand), and she posed for everyone who walked by. It’s not that she was the most naked of the booth babes at CES. Rather, it’s that she was literally kept inside a pen, and her only purpose was to be mechanically objectified by guys with cameras.
Even the most sexualized of booth babes are usually armed with product specs and a pitch speech. This poor girl was kept mute for four straight days.