By on April 18, 2010

You know those booth babes at the auto show you may or may not sexually harass? That’s me. Let’s get a few things out of the way: No, I don’t come with the car. No, I won’t date you. Or marry you. Or let you take a picture of my butt. Or let you sit in this concept car even if you promise me the cover of 944.

What I will do, however, is what this lovely blog so graciously requested of me, which is to provide a wrap-up of the 2010 auto show season.  While there are still a few more small regional shows left, the New York show marks the unofficial end of the season with the last big reveals and press days. (It also pretty much marks the end of my sanity, so thank god there isn’t another major show until November.)

Rather than talk about the cars – because I do that all day, and you and I both know all about them, and yes I really am trained by the engineers and have confidential info, yes really – let’s talk about the more mysterious part of auto shows: the marketing decisions. There’s a clearly defined reason behind each and every little thing you see at the auto show, from the shoes we wear to the color of the display, and months of research and millions of dollars go into each decision with one end goal: keeping you in that display for as long as possible. The longer you stay, the stronger the brand impression becomes in your mind. The stronger the brand impression, the more likely you are to buy a vehicle from them.

The 2010 auto show season came close to not happening. Several manufacturers barely participated at all, some didn’t show up until the end of the season when they started getting pushback from dealers and potential customers, and nearly all spent last spring and summer doing a cost/benefit analysis to see how much they would gain or lose by not having a presence in what is arguably the single most valuable marketing tool in their arsenal.

So while this is a lighthearted knocking of some odd choices made by the marketing departments of these manufacturers, it should be stated that I’m glad they showed up at all because doing so kept a lot of people employed.

That being said… What the hell, Kia? I understand that this “one-eyed monster” is a character from some kids’ show, but to your child-free customers this key marketing character looks like an infected phallus with a nasty case of genital warts. If that’s what you get with a new Kia Sorrento, I’ll pass.

The lovely ladies of Fiat/Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep. They looked fabulous. They garnered a lot of attention on press days. But when the spinners are only there to be pretty and don’t know anything about the product, it defeats the purpose and makes the public lose confidence in the rest of us. And PS – those girls are wearing $900 shoes and $1500 Herve Leger bandage dresses. Remember that time when Chrysler accepted more than $7 billion in bailout funds and never repaid it? (Who am I kidding – I’m just suffering from extreme shoe envy.)

The Jeep stoner. I’m pretty sure this guy started the fire at Cobo Hall when he was smoking a doob.

The Toyota entertainment team. Toyota had all kinds of tricks up their sleeves to keep you in their booth: multiple singing groups, flash mobs, a game show, a Stomp take-off, film your own commercial, and more. A lot of it was mocked in the press, but the public ate it up. Say what you want, but it captured people’s attention and kept them in the display during a time when the company was in desperate need of consumer confidence.

The Chevy Volt dancers. Thankfully this only lasted for one or two shows. It was trashed so badly in the press and ridiculed by show guests so hard that Chevy pulled it pretty fast. In fact, the person in charge of this fiasco was moved to another department shortly thereafter.

Ford has pulled together a tremendous auto show presence the last couple of years, and their sales have benefited from it. They know how to get and keep people in their vast display for a long time. But sweet Jesus, this thing scares the crap out of me:

In case you haven’t seen it, it is a robot that moves and interacts with the public from its perch. There is a girl in a little room somewhere wearing a motion sensor suit and supplying the voice, like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. The thing looks like the Terminator, it makes fun of other manufacturers and I freaked out when it started talking to me one day. Maybe next year Ford will bring in clowns and really finish me off. More than a few booth babes I talked to say they are petrified of the thing, so I can only assume a chunk of the general public is too.

So what will next year hold? Will the Fiat twins don whipped cream bikinis? Will Toyota host a circus as a tongue-in-cheek nod to their recent media scrutiny, complete with fire eaters, elephant tricks and a flying trapeze? Will Ford finally bring in Mike Rowe for public appearances? (A girl can dream. I’ve got a dirty job for him.)

What are your 2010 auto show picks and pans?

The Booth Babe is an anonymous auto show model who dishes about what really goes on behind the scenes. Read her blog at http://doyoucomewiththecar.blogspot.com. And if you treat her nicely, read her each Sunday at Thetruthaboutcars.com

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46 Comments on “The Booth Babe Chronicles: Highlights Of The 2010 Auto Show Season...”


  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    At last some female content on this site.

    A welcome addition of how 52% of the world thinks.

    BTW the shoes are the second thing I look at.

  • avatar
    Juniper

    Great article, keep them coming. Glad TTAC got rid of it’s anti car show bias.

  • avatar
    pariah

    That Chevy Volt song/dance is an atrocity. I felt so bad for the poor souls who had to perform it that I couldn’t finish watching it. Whoever constructed that act ought to get out of marketing and start writing for Barney or Sesame Street.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Don’t feel too sorry for the dancers – it’s a paying gig. (If you need explanation, start reading the lyrics to the songs in ‘A Chorus Line’.)

      Besides, when you’ve rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed a presentation, you lose sight that the final product just may be atrocious.

      And above all – it’s a paying gig. Which most dancers (singers, actors, presenters, etc.) will kill to get.

  • avatar
    twotone

    Welcome to TTAC! Great article, keep them coming. Please post shoe shots.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    srclontz

    I find this interesting because I have a tough time understanding how “Booth Babes” make any sense as part of a modern marketing strategy for a major company. Sure, being trained by engineers is good, but why not, instead, have those engineers doing the presentations? You know, the people who spent months stressing over tiny details in the car? Sure, as a healthy male, I understand the appeal of attractive women next to beautiful cars, but it just seems like such a throwback to an age before I was even born. I could imagine that a calendar composed of pictures of models posing in front of cars at the auto shows, and placed in an office at a major automakers corporate headquarters would lead to a charge of creating a hostile work environment. Not to mention that it seems counterproductive when women seem to be involved in many buying decisions. Regardless, I appreciate the insight into this world, even if I don’t really understand how it could possibly exist in 2010.

    • 0 avatar

      There are many reasons for that. One, the full auto show season runs September through May, and any given show lasts from three days to two full weeks. The engineers kind of have a job, uh, “engineering.” They also tend to be rather introverted science-types, and to do this job a person has to be extremely extroverted. In addition, there is a vast amount of scientific research proving that people will pay more attention to and spend more time with someone they find attractive over someone they consider average or unattractive. By attractive that can mean anything from “girl or guy next door” to “wildly exotic” to “soccer MILF/DILF” or “beauty queen” and when you attend a show you will see examples of all of those types working booths. It has been proven that human nature dictates you will gravitate towards physically pleasing people, whether you realize you are doing it or not, and the basis of marketing is understanding human psychology. Believe it or not there would be far fewer sales of the Mercury line if they had an ugly troll in their ads instead of that brunette cutie.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      …why not, instead, have those engineers doing the presentations…

      I have some current and former colleagues whose presentation skills supply all sorts of reasons.

      If you think of these people as public relations staff it makes sense. Good PR people, even at the front-lines these people operate at, are worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      When I was still a practicing chemist, we joked about putting on courses re social skills for engineers, covering such topics as use of the knife and fork, etc, etc… It was mostly in a joking vein, but at least in part based on the knowledge that engineering (yes, and scientific) fields don’t always attract the most extroverted people. It would truly be a waste of most engineers’ time to put them at shows to talk to show attendees.

    • 0 avatar
      tbp0701

      While I understand the point, I can see why many engineers would not be at auto shows. A few reasons that pop into mind include that an engineer will likely discuss things on an entirely different level than the general public, so someone trained to interpret the engineering for an auto show crowd would be helpful. Engineers are also probably much better at engineering than PR, especially since I’m guessing that the manufacturer reps at the displays field a lot of really stupid questions. It takes a special person to be exposed to that and not become an utter smart-a**. Mostly, though, is that their engineering skills are best suited for engineering.

      Finally, whether we like it or not, cars and image have been inseparable from the outset. How many people buy cars because they want them to reflect an image of who they want to be, rather than who they are?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Finally, whether we like it or not, cars and image have been inseparable from the outset. How many people buy cars because they want them to reflect an image of who they want to be, rather than who they are?

      People who are very good at public relations understand, process and work with that idea at a level very far above what other, more “technical” professions manage. That people in technical professions aren’t able to appreciate this is not surprising: we don’t appreciate it, or really recognize the subtleties of it, and thusly we don’t value it.

      But believe you me, if you want to succeed (personally and as part of a team) at certain levels, you need people who can do this kind of thing.

      I got a whole new appreciation for this when I worked for six months as a sales engineer in the company of a sales rep who was absolutely masterful at image and people management. It was really impressive, watching her “handle” rooms full of people (myself included) with subtle but very capable social manipulation. Last I heard she was making an order of magnitude more than I am.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatetrees

      @ Booth Babe:
      The engineers kind of have a job, uh, “engineering.” They also tend to be rather introverted science-types, and to do this job a person has to be extremely extroverted.

      Well put.
      I’m a geek split between manufacturing, IT and engineering. An ex-girlfriend once told me I had the social skills of an East-German Border Guard.

  • avatar
    tbp0701

    Cool article. I almost went to an auto show this year, for the first time since I was a kid. I get to deal with auto companies quite a bit and some of their marketing decisions stray a little far to the creative dark side.

    I didn’t know about the Volt dancers and, after watching that, I’m a little embarrassed for GM, but mostly sorry for the dancers who worked on that to have it quickly pulled. I always wonder if, especially in everything-committee GM, why no one was able to say, “You know something? That’s bad. As in embarrassingly bad. As in we’ll want to remove any record that this was ever done.”

    It’s interesting the Ford robot made fun of other manufacturers. Am I the only one really put off by that? I hope it was a little more good natured than, say, GM’s using Howie Long in commercials trying to belittle people who bought something else?

    “Hey, Ford has a little step in their truck. How much would it cost if we did that? ”
    “Well, probably about as much as a media blitz making fun of them for it; let’s do that instead.”
    “Cool. Hey, what do you think about these dance moves for the Volt display?”
    “Awesome. Just add more pirouettes!”

  • avatar
    50merc

    More of these posts, please! Boothbabe, you write very well.

    Oh, and don’t bother with the $900 four-inch heels. They’ll ruin your feet. Sneakers are fine; I go to the auto show to see cars. Have the sponsors spend that money on battery chargers so attendees can adjust the seats to see how a car fits one’s own frame. It’s always irritating to find the seat was moved way forward or back before the battery was disconnected.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I’m also frustrated to see auto show cars all displayed in dead battery mode where power seats and everything else electrical doesn’t work. Was told that the batteries had to be disconnected for fire safety reasons. However, how hard would it be to substitute a power supply with current limiting set low? Enough power for interior lighting and power seats so potential customers get a better chance to feel how the car greets you when you first step into it.

  • avatar
    NulloModo

    The Kia dildo monster confuses me too, although I love the Sock Monkey.

    The Volt dance isn’t that bad, and I can sort of see how they were hoping to get some underground hipster good press with it. On the surface it doesn’t seem to be that different from the Gap “I love my comfy sweater” commercial or the Apple iPod ad with Feist, both of which were hugely successful. Maybe the difference was in execution, a live performance vs something shot and re-shot until only the flawless remains, or just the target demographics of the products.

    Finally, I learned something today. I’ve never been to a major autoshow, but I just assumed the booth babes were there to look pretty next to the cars, I would have never guessed they actually knew anything about the product, color my impressed.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Yeah that robot is fairly creepy.
    ___________________

    It didn’t happen this year, but my favorite auto show moment was in 2003 when my sister and I were looking at an Infiniti M45.

    There was a small congregation of guys in fancy suits nearby talking with each other. An Asian man from the group left his colleagues, walked over to us, gave us a big smile, and said in very broken English “This car is the rocket ship.”

    I don’t know if he worked for Infiniti, a dealer, or was just a general auto show employee, but for some reason, we both thought that was a very cool moment.

    Fast forward to 2009, my sister bought a new Infiniti M45. We both call it the rocket ship.

    Who says that auto shows can’t sell cars?

  • avatar
    tedward

    A friend of mine works these shows for a company representing one brand in particular…and in their case the models are there for window dressing and a bunch of nerdy guys tag along to answer questions. It is not a good situation in my opinion, you have to choose between vacant stares or ugly faces (realively speaking that is).

    I like your way better, there is no reason why “booth babes” can’t be smart AND cute, be they male or female. On the other hand, those nerdy guys are lifelong brand enthusiasts to the man, and I’ve seen them answer some really esoteric questions waaaay out of their engineer briefs. It’s a tough call as to what the ideal set-up would be.

    I love the writing style and the fresh perspective by the way. Especially the raunchy jokes, there aren’t nearly enough of them around here, although BS’s (apparently quite extensive) bondage pic collection does come close.

  • avatar
    the duke

    “But when the spinners are only there to be pretty and don’t know anything about the product, it defeats the purpose and makes the public lose confidence in the rest of us.”

    I remember that “booth babe” shown next to the Dodge ram at the Detroit show. She actually said, “And it’s a Dodge, so, it’s, like, the best!”. Her lack of product knowledge, let alone the ability to intelligently articulate, forced me to leave what was otherwise an interesting display – I was pained every time she opened her mouth. So you’re right – they have to be attractive and know what they are talking about (and be able to talk without sounding like a valley girl).

    Nice post, look forward to more.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      So you’re right – they have to be attractive and know what they are talking about (and be able to talk without sounding like a valley girl).

      I think it would be more accurate to say that they know when to not sound like a valley girl (or a good ol’boy, or what-have-you). Because there are times, believe me, when being able to sound like that works.

      As above, I watched a former colleague of mine turn that persona on and off as needed. I opined that it was degrading; her take was that it got us sales and, truly, if it worked it was more a comment on the person it worked on than the person doing it.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Hopefully political correctness will propel the female model’s wage to parity with the wages received by what are likely highly-educated and well-trained engineers who are typically predominantly males.

    Such disparities are unallowable in our “brave new world.”

  • avatar
    YZS

    Boothbabe, the article is awesome, and your blog is awesome. You get to see and write about stuff nobody else on TTAC has access to. So, please stay and write more awesome articles, oh and love the pictures too. But I DO wish you came with the car…one can dream, no?

  • avatar
    VLAD

    Try to show the shoes in the next article pictures.

  • avatar

    This certainly is a fascinating perspective on auto shows. (I haven’t been to one in at least five years, although I go to classic car shows at least a couple of times a year.) I may have to go again though after reading this.

    My only major partial disagreement: I think the problem with the Volt dancers is more the lyrics than the dancing. Some of the break dancing was quite good (I wish I could break-dance like that) and the rest of the dancing was at least pretty good. The lyrics, though, might well work as an emetic, and the tune was the sort of annoying gets-stuck-in-your-head stuff that unfortunately probably works on a lot of people.

    The comment about “Kia” busted the laughmeter!

    It is nice to have at least one woman writing here. (from the name, seems to me Cammy Corrigan could be either gender.)

  • avatar

    I personally think women who work as “booth babes” should not have to stand around all day in heels, and if they do, they should be paid a premium for hardship work. IMO, heels are a mild form of Chinese footbinding.

  • avatar

    Meh.

    I guess it’s good for TTAC’s publicity. -But I read a few posts earlier at the BB’s blog and it just comes off as semi-vapid narcissist insecure bitching. (I guess she’s definitely a woman, then. :P ) -Ragging on people who aren’t in her profession for making observations about peoples’ looks, by criticizing theirs.
    Typical model/hired-gun BS.

    Maybe there really Is some more value to be realized in her writing on experience, but she’s Really got to graduate freshman year and stop writing like a bratty 16-year-old. I’ll read her stuff when she’s a first-semester senior, maybe.

    Otherwise, if she hates her job so much, don’t take the deal. Go work somewhere else. Get a therapist in the meantime.

    Bo-oring.
    (but maybe I’ll be proven pleasantly wrong in future…)

    *Anyway: More Jonny Lieberman, Jack Baruth, Katie & Cammy, please. Maybe even some Alex Roy.

    PS:You know who is Simply AWESOME; [but I’m not sure she can write about cars]?
    -Addy Dugdale who used to work at Gizmodo.

    If you could get her to write about cars, DEFINITELY do it!
    Ex:
    The Greatest Hangover Machine-Gizmodo,
    Addy Tagged articles @ Gizmodo,
    Addy@ Twitter,
    Farewell post to Addy @ Gizmodo

    • 0 avatar

      Be nice to the lady if you want to be proven pleasantly wrong in future…. We want her to write again.

      Also, and this goes for everybody, please review TTAC’s commenting policy as set forth at http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/faqs/#commentpolicy and stick to it.

      Or simply, as hard as it may be, try to be a gentleman. There is an editing and delete function. Please use it.

    • 0 avatar
      Daanii2

      She’s a good writer. Pictures are pretty good too. But is there enough here to sustain more than this one column? I visited her blog too, and got enough after reading one or two posts.

      She should certainly write again if she wants to. Perhaps I too will be proven pleasantly wrong in the future, and find new columns as interesting and well-done as this one.

    • 0 avatar
      porschespeed

      +100 Willman,

      ‘Boothbabes’ are models. That’s all. If they get paid scale, they are paid *very* well for what they do. (I don’t dislike those in the skintrade, it’s where several of my ex-fiancees are employed…)

      Spare me the BS. I’ve done my share of Hooters’ girls, and it’s two levels above booth chicks. I’m not all that, yet I’ve never slept alone during NOPI or PRI. Neither has anybody with game. BFD.

      ‘Booth babes’ are the chicks who are as attractive as the ones you could find at any mall, with the added bonus that they can present.

      Sorta like a B-Team stripper. Save that ‘booth babes’ work cheaper. Way cheaper.

  • avatar

    Love your stuff! As a former ‘Product Specialist’ for Honda, I really appreciate your insight! Looking forward to reading more – bravo!

  • avatar
    George B

    Booth Babe, do the spokesmodels generally work for a manufacturer, working multiple shows for the same company or are they freelance talent hired for a local show? Does the manufacturer pay for all of the booth and it’s staff or is there a mix of manufacturer and dealer involvement?

    • 0 avatar

      We are generally contracted to a specific manufacturer through a talent agency for an entire auto show season and split the travel from show to show (there are around 80 shows). However, during press days at major shows additional local talent is sometimes hired to glam it up, often fashion models who basically fulfill the same role as the Fiat twins. Who pays for what depends on what show you’re talking about. I’m not clear on the exact breakdown, but my understanding is that some shows are completely paid for by the manufacturer and at others the costs are shared with the dealers. I think this year certain manufacturers made the dealers take on a greater share of those costs.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Oh c’mon!… you said that you received training from engineers, but I find this really hard to believe. I have seen waaayyy too many booth babes that clearly didn’t understand the product they’re supposed to be representing. They memorized a script. That’s it. For commercials, that’s fine, but at an auto show, it comes off as a bit contemptuous by the manufacturer to throw us attendees what they believe to be red meat and expect us to take their products seriously. Especially Chrysler, as their products suck so badly on their own that the booth babe ignorance just makes the problem worse.

    I enjoyed your article, as it does present a view of the industry most of us don’t get, but “trained by engineers” seems as believable as “born from jets”.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll be sure to share your thoughts with the engineers when I see them at training in a couple of months.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t find it hard to believe there are both spokesmodels educated about their products, and models that are basically eye candy standing next to products. Go to any trade show and you’ll usually see both. TBB never said she was an engineering consultant, but I find her description of the varying levels of model knowledge completely credible.

  • avatar
    JSF22

    I guess I will express a slightly different perspective.

    First, I do think The Booth Babe is a very engaging writer. I enjoy reading anyone who writes so well.

    But I think auto show models add nothing to any auto show except eye candy; I think that is the one and only reason they are there, despite any marketing executive’s post-rationalization; and I think someone taking a job, all the drawbacks of which are self-evident before setting foot on the floor, and then complaining about it, and making fun of the people by whom and/or for whom she is hired, is a hypocritical bore.

  • avatar

    TTAC thanks Booth Babe for her great article. It was a smash hit: Most read TTAC post on Sunday.

  • avatar
    shaker

    If manufacturers are going so subject our sensitive peepers to something like the Juke, I think the antidote should be as beautiful as possible. And if she has product knowledge, that’s icing on the cake.

    Cool article; looking forward to next auto show season.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I don’t know how many times I told Gumby to wear a condom.


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