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Why can't CES quit booth babes?

At this year’s CES, women in tight skirts are back on the floor — but the booth bro and booth bot are catching up

It’s pretty common to see scantily clad women at trade shows for industries dominated by men, and CES, the electronics trade show that lures around 150,000 people every January, is typically no different.

But last year, for whatever reason — maybe it was the economy; perhaps it was the political climate — they didn’t show up. Despite the high-profile body-paint incident, I only saw one pair of booth babes during the whole week. Perhaps society had moved on.


Maybe it’s the economy; maybe it’s the political climate. Maybe it’s the 40 percent increase in the number of exhibitors from China, as one attendee suggested to The Verge. Just as suddenly as she left, the CES booth babe is back. DTS, 808, and Canon had dancers, GoDirectInc had girls in fuzzy lion outfits with bare midriffs, and the convention center was riddled with girls in tight dresses.

    — Must be female
    — Upbeat, friendly demeanor
    — Able and willing to stand up for long periods of time

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The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) doesn’t track the gender ratio at its annual trade show, but in 2014 it still draws an overwhelmingly male crowd. The number of female attendees is increasing, but CES is still a boys’ club. There’s the Japanese businessman; the bald, white American IT guy; and the nerdy college student, all yearning for a pretty girl to talk to them about technology.

Janelle Taylor was wearing a tiny silver skirt, neon pink heels, and a tiny string bikini top when I met her at the booth for Xtreme, an accessories company. She has an MBA and was attending trade shows for her marketing company when she decided to make a slight career change. "I saw girls being booth babes and I thought wow, I would be amazing at that," she says. "I get to work with amazing companies and travel and basically be their billboard."

Good booth babes know the product, and they know how to entertain. Taylor has to look good, pose for pictures, and lure people into the booth, while diplomatically deflecting their amorous advances. She believes discipline is the most important quality in a booth babe. "There’s a lot of girls that are flaky, and I think that sets a bad name for booth babes," she says. "It takes a lot. Usually we’re on our feet for about 10 hours."

I talked to about a dozen booth models at CES 2014 and observed them making small talk with attendees about where they go to school and how often they do things "like this." The booth models for CES and other Vegas conventions come from all over: some are professional models, some are students, some are locals picking up extra cash, others are actors from LA. They all complained about the same two things: having to stand all day, and getting hit on.

The perfect blonde at the TCL booth in Central Hall didn’t have to worry about the former, however — her job came with a stool. She was not a booth babe, she insisted, although "I know exactly what you’re talking about." Her agency had gotten her the gig and all she had to do was walk visitors into meetings with executives.

The models at Sonic Emotion, who had been recruited through Facebook, agencies, and friends, had it much harder. This year’s CES has a significant contingent of booth bros — shoutout to the studs at the Samsung booth dressed as galactic soccer players — and Sonic had employed equal numbers of male and female models for a traveling skit: groups of soldiers crawled around the show floor until they were rescued by a group of nurses handing out prescriptions for "soundicide."

Looking for male models for a VIP CES Event. You'd be handling check in along with several other models. Call time is 7:30PM. End time is 1am. $40/HR. Must be reliable, handsome, and well spoken.

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The hardest part was the crawling, the bros say, though by the end of the day they’d replaced that part of the sketch by sort of lying face down in plank position. One soldier was planking like this when a woman sat on him. He didn’t break character and never saw her face. "I saw her scarf," he says.

The nurses were actually dressed rather conservatively for booth babes, their legs covered by stockings. Guys had still been coming on to them all day. "You can’t be nasty to them, obviously," they tell me. "You just laugh it off. ‘Okay, enjoy the rest of your CES!’ Then exit."

The hardest part of being a booth babe is marketing to women, the nurses tell me, especially if they have boyfriends. "They don’t want to talk to you at all. They’ll just walk around you."

I stopped by the booth for Hampoo, where three booth babes in red dresses were dusting off tablets and preparing to go home. I apologized and asked for a photo; they obliged, posing and smiling. I thanked them and turned, only to have a fat man with a high voice leap in front of me. "My turn, my turn!" he said, holding up his point-and-shoot. Suddenly a gaggle of men appeared beside him, gawking at the Hampoo girls. Two pulled out their cameras.

Looking for brand ambassadors who carry great sex appeal to attract potential clients to our booth with the ability to provide them with a brief description of the features and benefits of our brand.

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The CEA actually discouraged the use of booth babes this year after a petition circulated proposing a ban on them. "The International CES’ diverse attendee base should be taken into consideration when choosing your booth talent," the exhibitor guidelines now say. "Recent news articles show that ‘booth babes’ can reflect poorly on your exhibit, so we ask that you give this thoughtful consideration, to avoid alienating or offending various audience segments." The CEA tells us that it has a "new policy in place for handling complaints, and we received no complaints during the show," adding "what we've noticed this year is more innovation, more cool new tech."

The era of the booth babe may be waning anyway as we enter the era of the booth bot. Walking around the convention center, I noticed that robots — whether they were telepresence robots that look like an iPad on top of a vacuum cleaner or gyroscopic robots that ride bikes and unicycles — easily make the best ambassadors, drawing small crowds and genuine interest. Put a robot in the corner of your booth, and you’ll get just as much attention as you would by hiring a pretty woman. The best thing about a robot? It’s impossible to dehumanize.