Danger of Sex Selling: Anti-Booth Babe Movement

July 22, 2010

ComicCon 2010 is being followed from the booth babe controversy created last year.  In 2009, EA Sports held a contest to encourage men to “commit acts of lust.”  That raised issues of the contest increase the abuse of booth babes.  Booth babes is a name given to women who work at convention booths.  At ComicCon they wear scanty outfits to help attract visitors to the booth.  Gizmodo filmed a documentary that documents how perverse attendees mistreat the booth babes.  As one booth babe noted,  “It can get a bit overwhelming and there’s always that underlying fear that someone will cross the line. I have been very fortunate, however, and have not dealt with any overzealous fans thus far. I feel comfortable in all of my costumes. Wearing revealing clothing doesn’t bother me.” http://news.yahoo.com/s/newsarama/comicconwrestleswithboothbabecontroversy

Game developer Agetec has launched and anti-booth babe movement with a web site, http://www.antiboothbabes.com/.  Their point is the focus should be on the games not on the women.  The campaign began at the E3 convention http://ds.kombo.com/article.php?artid=1951. Another issue is whether or not the revealing costumes are appropriate for the younger attendees.  ComicCon banned the erotic models from the Suicide Girls.  Suicide Girls is a web site that posts softcore pictures of goth, punk, and indie-style women. 

The counter view is that the women are part of marketing and it is all harmless fun.  The problem is not with the booth babes but with overzealous fans.  As one booth observed, “It’s just a great social experience to do this sort of work.  Most of these events are pretty easy to do so long as you’re personable, and many are handing out free samples, which tends to put a smile on people’s faces… You might have to be willing to stand out in the hot sun, or put on a costume, but if you can handle that, then it’s the best gig around for someone who likes to be social and bubbly. And you never know who’s going to show up.”

Still purest wonder what is happening to what should draw people to the booths-merchandise.  “My biggest issue with booth babes is that all the parties involved end up feeling dirty,” Ian Cooper, a tech blogger for CodeBetter.com, “Male customers feel cheapened because the sellers assume they purchase based off some illusory promise of sex. And the ‘booth babes’ end up dirty from using sex to sell in the first place. Appeal to me through the quality of your product, that’s what I am buying – not your booth babe.” http://news.yahoo.com/s/newsarama/comicconwrestleswithboothbabecontroversy

Questions to Consider

  1. Do you consider booth babes a reputational threat to ComicCon?  Explain your answer.
  2. What are the ethical implications of a company using booth babes?
  3. What recommendations would you make to ComicCon about developing guidelines for booth babe costuming and attendee conduct?
  4. What does Agetec have to gain from creating the anti-booth babe movement?
  5. What are the risks and rewards of using booth babes?  Consider that over 40% of ComicCon attendees are women.
  6. What role might PR play in the booth babe issue?

Booth Babe Abuse and PR Implications

July 28, 2009

Comic-Con is a major entertainment event for interacting with consumers (fans).  It is more than comic books as it attracts film, television, and video game companies.  In addition to fan feedback, Comic-Con provides the publicity opportunity provided by any recognized convention.  The attractive women who frequently wear provocative outfits at Comic-Con and other conventions are called “Booth Babes.”  These women are a form of public relations as their job is to attract attention and traffic to a booth.  Companies pay large fees for booth and want floor traffic.  Booth Babes work long hours and have to deal with sometimes “aggressive” constituents.  It is not an easy and glamorous job but does have PR ties.

At the 2009 Comic-Con, EA (a major video game company) tried a questionable promotion related to Booth Babes.  EA was trying to build interest in the release of game Dante’s Inferno.  The PG rated version of the marketing idea is presented below.  Basically the idea uses social media and “sex” to attract attention. 


Convention attendees were asked to “commit acts of lust” with booth Babes, photograph the acts, and post those to social media such as Facebook and Twitter.  Here is a link so a sample reaction http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2009/07/ea-puts-sexual-bounty-on-the-heads-of-its-own-booth-babes.ars

The winner would get a date with two women and prizes.  Surprise, the reaction online and in person was negative.  The contest was viewed as encouraging sexual harassment of women just trying to do their often difficult jobs.   The Bad Pitch Blog reviews the purposeful action angle http://badpitch.blogspot.com/.  The marketing action created negative publicity for EA.  Some think it was a publicity stunt not a marketing effort.  The belief is that EA was subscribing to the belief that any PR is good PR even when the content is negative. 

EA did need to address this action that could damage their reputation.  This is an incident rather than a crisis but still has reputation ramifications.  So PR was used to redress the situation.  EA offered the following response:

“We apologize for any confusion and offense that resulted from our choice of wording, and want to assure you that we take your concerns and sentiments seriously. We’ll continue to follow your comments and please let us know if you have any other thoughts or concerns. Keep watching as the event unfolds and we hope you’ll agree that it was all done in the spirit of the good natured fun of Comic-Con.” http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/93429-EA-Apologize-for-Sin-to-Win-Wordinghttp://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/93429-EA-Apologize-for-Sin-to-Win-Wording

*To see the racier version of the marketing message try http://www.gamingangels.com/2009/07/sexism-and-the-eadantes-inferno-sin-to-win-contest/

*To learn about booth babes you can visit the link below to information by the G4 Network.  they did a special about what the job is really like.  Has links to more information and pictures: http://g4tv.com/thefeed/blog/post/697364/New-G4-Special-Looks-Deep-Into-Booth-Babes.html?utm_source=g4tv&utm_medium=rssfeeds&utm_campaign=TheFeed

Questions to Consider

  1.  Why would this be an incident rather than a crisis?
  2. Do you agree or disagree that any publicity is good publicity?  What lead you to your conclusion?
  3. How does this case illustrate the unique demands that come with public communication?
  4. What ethical issues do you see emerging from this case?
  5. How would you evaluate EA’s response in the case?  What informs your evaluation?
  6. If you were at a meeting where the idea and sample message were proposed, what would you have said and why?
  7. Why would people at EA have thought this was a good idea?
  8. In addition to promoting harassment, what other negatives do you seeing being created by this action?

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