Loose Cannon: Babes in R.O.I.land

By Oct 24, 2005

A direct marketer was recently asked his impression of this year’s DMA annual conference. His response was succinct and earthy. “The booth babe is back!” he crowed.

Boy, I’d love to read his travel-and-entertainment expense forms.

But he may have a point. The booth babe has been back for a year at List Fusion, which has been shipping its ’50s-style luncheonette counter, complete with several pink-rayon-clad waitresses, from show to show.

The booth’s ’50s motif hearkens back to a time when service was impeccable, according to one booth worker. She added that her company strives for the same level of customer attention as prevailed fifty years ago. (Only the lowest cad would point out that at many of those old-time luncheonette counters, one-tenth of the population wasn’t getting served at all.) No matter: List Fusion waitresses Whitney and Chelsee were happily serving up slices of pie to all comers.

Likewise, at MindFire Inc.’s setup, an exotic-looking booth worker in tropical grab was handing out elaborate Mardi Gras-style beads. Had she been there last year? No, explained associate Chris Costanzo. She had only been with the company for seven months, and her presence represented a new turn for MindFire’s booth.

Now, there’s a difference between company employees dressing up in costumes and hiring an outside professional to pull in exhibit hall wanderers. The former is a sort of extended Halloween: To me, only the latter is the real thing — allure for allure’s sake.

True booth babery was in evidence at the Unica Corp. booth, where Leslie Poole, a genuine “crowd gatherer” commissioned specifically for the show, was tricked out in what little there was of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader outfit. Unica was touting its “Monday Night Marketing” promotion, complete with a male sportscaster in the John Madden/Chris Berman mold, who was attracting no attention whatsoever. (Perhaps people found his headset off-putting.)

Unica tends to balance its crowd gatherers — booth beef, as well as booth babes. Years past have featured actors playing James Bond and a Bond girl, as well as The Donald and associate Carolyn Kepcher. Separately, Yankelovich Inc.’s booth featured three days of employees — male and female — in ’60s and ’70s costumes, ranging from John Travolta and the actress from “Saturday Night Fever” whose name nobody except soap opera buffs can remember (Donna Pescow) to go-go dancers and medallion-clad swingers.

But Yankelovich only took the beef concept so far: On the third day, Craig Wood, president of the Monitor division and occasional Direct contributor, skipped the tie-dye and bellbottom jeans in favor of a suit. “I had a presentation today,” he explained. Right. Because the last place one would want to wear a psychedelic t-shirt with one’s company name across the chest is in front of 150 potential prospects.

(Fair’s fair: Wood and Yankelovich president Mike Hail donned the polyester disco shirts for two days running, along with the tinted granny glasses and fright wigs. Have to respect anyone who wears clothing that can be cleaned by wiping it down with a damp rag.)

It may just be that men can’t do costumed booth beef as well as women. The men in long white coats at the Supercam booth certainly didn’t. One expected them to go leaping around with butterfly nets, dragging prospects back to their padded cell. Or at least offer to diagnose medical conditions based on the shortness of breath their products caused. Not at all, explained the only sane-looking booth worker (female, incidentally): They were scientists.


So is the booth babe back? Shades of her certainly seemed to be more in evidence during this conference than in years past, although the exhibit hall is hardly overrun with her type.

More pressing, is there a crying need for a corresponding amount of booth beef? I say yes. Which is why, come the 2006 DMA annual conference, the male members of the Direct editorial staff, clad only in red Speedos, will be taking on all comers in our Jell-O wrestling booth.

See you there.

To respond to the opinions in this column, please contact e-mail: rlevey@primediabusiness.com