Sexy Sells – Booth Babes, Not So Much at NRA Annual Meeting

Leave it to me to dig into the ongoing controversy over booth babes at gun convention and shows. John Richardson provided a little photographic evidence that some booths got the “babe” concept very wrong. Too much make-up, over-the-top jewelry, absurdly out of place clothing, and enough skin to offend the family crowds that walked through the exhibit floor. Don’t even get me started on the look that qualifies more as a sneer than a smile.

She wasn’t the only one hired by exhibitors that was a complete miss on the concept of using attractive women to get more people to the booth. I saw one woman on Sunday who was wearing underwear over the top of her skin-tight leggings that she took a razor blade to so that they didn’t hide much. Yes, underwear as outerwear. Mix that with some very bad highlights, and that’s not what too many people call sexy. Certainly, none of the guys I was talking to in the area were looking at it with anything complimentary to say.

As a fairly feminist woman, I actually have very little objection to idea that sex sells – especially sexy women. But sexy is doesn’t mean trashy. The funny thing is that I don’t think there’s even a thin line between the two – it’s usually pretty damn clear. Night club and strip club wear isn’t exactly a fit for the NRA crowd. There were other booth babes in clothes that snuggly hugged the curves and even dipped to show quite a bit of cleavage who didn’t cross the line into trashy. They tied their look to the look of the booth and the gear they were trying to sell.

I would also say that even though NRA’s Annual Meeting is more family-focused than something like SHOT, women aren’t inherently turned off by the idea of selling sex. This week, the NYT Bestseller list for fiction has erotica with a BDSM focus written for women at the numbers 1, 2, and 4 spots. (On a side note, did John Grisham ever expect to come in behind a novel with a plot created for no other purpose than putting the characters in a position to have sex again?) Women are fine with it and even appear to be spending big money on it. It doesn’t offend the vast majority of us. But trashy? Yeah, not the same as sexy. It is a turn-off, and it will make women (and some men) walk in the other direction.

One of the best uses of sexy to sell was a booth I passed far too quickly to notice the brand, but their ads used pinup-style models. A well-done pinup look for an ad or a booth babe is pretty much a way to win the sex sells game at a venue like the NRA exhibit hall. It’s sexy, it harkens back to a time of patriotism, and it doesn’t have to push the boundaries of anyone in attendance in order to get attention.

I don’t know what it was about the exhibit hall this year, but the times I did notice booth babes, it tended to be the wrong reasons. Usually, it’s not that much of a problem at this event. I don’t quite know what happened if the company standards went down temporarily, if the selection of ladies to hire in St. Louis isn’t quite the same as other convention cities, or if generally this is the path some companies want to take in the future. I sincerely hope it isn’t the latter option.

13 thoughts on “Sexy Sells – Booth Babes, Not So Much at NRA Annual Meeting”

  1. Hello Bitter-

    I think your name says it all it seems you are bitter. I was at the NRA show myself and as a woman I did not find it at all offensive. Maybe a couple of booths went a bit overboard, but overall the convention was great. You need to be comfortable in who you are so that you are not intimidated by the models. I thought the booths at the NRA show displayed great girls and GUYS. Did you get a chance to see the guys?

    1. I’m not intimidated by models. I’m noting that when the guys they are intended to attract are sneered at and commenting on how they look more like $5 hookers than “models,” then they clearly missed the mark on the concept of booth babes. I don’t mind using attractive women to sell things. I don’t mind using the lure of sex to pull people into booths. However, I also know how to read an audience. The women I’m mentioning were not reading the audience at all. I believe Sebastian’s description of one I didn’t see was “crack whore.”

    2. Comment to “Not Bitter”: I’m guessing that you’ve never met “Bitter” in person. She’s not “bitter” at all; she’s kind of cute, and she’s distinctly feminist.

      Her comments regarding the inappropriateness of those women who looked more like “ladies of the night” than anything else were spot on. A female could be dressed “sexy” without looking like a streetwalker. Skintight jeans? Sure. A top showing some cleavage? Sure. But the streetwalker look is inappropriate, and the booth managers who made that choice goofed.

      The men who are at the convention aren’t there to pickup women, and — if they do want to pick up that kind of women — they’ll go out to the streets or the local bars to pick them up.

      On the convention floor, it’s always packed to the max with a wide cross-section of ages of both sexes. Just how will the booth manager deal with the grandmotherly pro-gunner who walks up to the woman dressed like a whore and says, “Honey, could would please put a scarf around your neck while my grandchildren are here? And here’s something to hold over your lap to cover your whore stockings.”

      The ones who crossed the line just looked like cheap floozies. Bitter is right: The dividing line is pretty clear.

  2. As a middle-aged guy with sleeping trouble, I’ll have to agree with the commenter who voted for more free coffee as a booth draw. Not to many guys turn away from a free cup of coffee, even a “cheap” one.
    ; )

  3. Coffee is a great idea, and M&M’s work really well too at all the booths/shows where I’ve worked as booth-candy.
    Wasn’t there so I can’t comment, but if you ever get an invite to go to The Cable Show… Just. Wow. That’s where the really half-sexy cougar-bimbos from the Adult channels parade. They use some kind of plasticized body-makeup that doesn’t rub-off or transfer and get on a guy’s suit and get him in trouble at home, but he better hide the Polaroids because they’ll wrap around you like a python.

    1. That’s the big difference in knowing your audience. Those guys just have to worry about being caught when the get home. At NRA, it’s likely their wives are with them.

      1. Well, maybe not with them, but usually close by. There is some truth to the argument that men and women tend to like different guns. They will separate and wander and reconnect. Some of the guns I like, my husband rolls his eyes at. Some that he likes bore me. … Now, imagine a man who knows his wife is there, but a few aisles over. You think the whore-babes are going to attract him, when he knows at any minute his wife may ’round the corner and rejoin him? … Here’s hoping the whore-bimbos are not there next year in Houston.

  4. Not attractive by a woman’s standards has virtually no objective meaning. I trust that you can spot gross obesity, oozing lesions, and age. Beyond that, no trust.

  5. There’s a show in VA that has Hooter’s gals crawling the floor in full regalia – but there is a Hooter’s sharing the center where the show is held. My experience has been guys take note of the gals when they walk in but them ignore them from there on out. And generally the Hoooter’s people work the door but the wander the floor on their own.

    SHOT had its share of booth-babes, but the women getting the most attention were the ones who could talk the differences in knife blades or barrel lengths. I was at one booth trying to get an answer to a question when one of the “babes” approached. I had dismissed her because of the way she looked. I asked my question and had the initial stereotype confirmed – she was a sweet stringer from LA hired in to “draw” people to the booth but knew not one thing about the products. She was bored because nobody wanted to talk to her.

    At least she wasn’t trashy. I agree with Bitter here – we all know it when we see it.

  6. I’m more or less with Bitter. I was with my girlfriend at the show and I’m settling down from my hound dog days back in my 20s and 30s.

    I seem to remember that there were fewer booth babes this year than past years. It’s always nice to see attractive women in the booths, especially if they know something about what they are representing. I mean, who can forget that 6′ supermodel ATF agent from a couple of years ago? She was drop dead gorgeous and it was obvious why she was doing this gig.

    But some of the booths that “rent” strippers or escorts do miss the mark.

    I like an attractive woman dressed well, or even a little provocatively. But when the first thought that goes through my mind is “wonder how much she charges by the hour?”, that usually means the product or company being “promoted” doesn’t have product that can be sold on its merits.

  7. Sex sells. That’s human nature and not a bit offensive.

    But the way a marketer uses sex to sell really changes when the target audience is mixed vs. when the audience is entirely male.

    The presence of the “trashy” type of booth babe means that all too many gun companies still don’t believe that women are buying guns. It means the marketers are still targeting the guys alone, and ignoring the women. As a consumer, THAT offends me.

    1. I’ve said that even though I hate the color pink, I don’t mind when gun companies make products with it. I’m all about the free market, and more colors are a great thing. But, I really hate the way most companies that start making the pink gear market it to women. You can tell it’s written by a guy. It’s written by a guy who thinks the pink is pretty funny and the little ladies will just eat it up. Um, no. That attitude is what I find offensive.

      I have a thing about when you can tell a guy is trying to market to women and he just really doesn’t get women. There’s a gun-related Pinterest account that recently launched, and I told someone affiliated with it that while they had some concepts down, they were still kinda missing the mark on how to get noticed on other boards even when, culturally speaking, Pinterest should be pretty gun friendly. (It’s 80% female users, but it’s the first social networking site where users primarily come from the Midwest. Because of the dominant age spans, these are women who are likely setting the alarms for their family to hit up the duck blinds or making sure that their daughters get to the range on time for junior shooting practice.) I commented that I could tell which content was done by a man thinking he was reaching women. Fortunately, there was nothing demeaning on it or anything, but it just wasn’t stuff that was quite right to appeal to the demographic.

      I’ll also add that as bad as some of these women looked, I’m pretty sure the marketers weren’t even effectively targeting guys. :)

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