By on April 25, 2010

Thank you so much for the warm welcome last week! I appreciate all your comments and encouragement and look forward to sharing more about auto show life with you.

A comment on my last column caught my eye. The gist of it was why bother with “booth babes” or professional presenters at all? Why not just have sales people or the actual engineers at the shows? It is a question that has been asked of me multiple times in different forums, so I’d like to address it in greater detail here.

The answer is multi-faceted and has to do with the psychology of marketing, practicality and the proper delivery of a message.

Contrary to the loud insistence of many car dudes on other websites, the product specialists you see at consumer auto shows are not there to be window dressing. We are marketing professionals hired to fulfill a key role that goes far beyond looking good. Experiential automotive marketing can have a very high return on investment, and we are there to see that it is done right. We know how to stay on message, to deliver technical specs to the knowledge level of our audience, and to address what is important to them in an engaging way.

I’ll give you an example. Ask an engineer, a sales person and a product specialist the difference between torque and horsepower. The engineer will give you a very extensive and detailed explanation involving long division and possibly multi-colored graphs on a Cartesian plane. The sales person will gloss over the question by reciting torque and horsepower numbers of the vehicle in front of which you’re standing, and will keep talking in circles until you forgot that you even asked him something in the first place. (I’ve seen this many times and it’s quite amazing.) A product specialist will give you the simplest explanation: torque gets you moving and horsepower keeps you moving.

Overly simplified? Yes. But the average consumer at an auto show is not a gear head and isn’t asking for an automotive masters class. We keep it simple, and if they ask for more we’ll delve deeper. Info-dumping and talking over someone’s head is off-putting and will quickly turn off a potential customer. We know how to give an accurate and satisfying answer while stimulating a conversation that leads to a deeper positive brand impression and hopefully an eventual sale.

I’ve also had more than a few sales people look to me to answer detailed or even basic technical questions they themselves couldn’t answer, particularly those about why certain design or engineering decisions were made. We know the answers to such questions because we ask them ourselves during our extensive training sessions. We are asked questions over and over at an auto show that a sales person could go his entire career without answering.

It’s no secret that we’re mostly a bunch of models and actors and thus are of what some would consider above-average physical attractiveness. If we’re there to talk about the cars instead of just being window dressing, does how we look really matter?

Time and time again science has proven that yes, it does. Human nature dictates that we, male or female, would rather deal with an attractive person than an average or unattractive one. We will spend more time talking with them, we will believe more of what they say and we will walk away with a more positive impression of the interaction than if we had the same one with someone we found less physically attractive. This crosses gender lines and is not an issue of sexual preference.

By the same token, a mom of three in the market for a new minivan does not want to be confronted by a bikini model draped across the hood of the vehicle. (Sex toys don’t seem to be an issue, though.) That’s why for the most part at a consumer auto show we are dressed in business suits or stylish yet somewhat conservative clothing. (Even the Fiat twins were sporting high necklines and a knee-length hem.)

Each brand also has a “type”: Porsche has a lot of fashion-model-looking types, Toyota and Nissan have the girl/guy next door, Scion is young and hip. The Ford team looks like they wouldn’t mind if their hair got messed up when you dropped the top on your Mustang convertible. The presenters for higher-end brands like Acura, Infiniti, Cadillac, Lincoln and Lexus tend to have a more refined, classic look. Our looks and wardrobe are all aspirational brand messages and tell consumers, albeit subconsciously, what that brand is all about.

You might not think any of this makes a difference, but it does. It makes a huge difference. Billions of dollars have been poured into researching the psychology of marketing, much of which is subconscious. Every single part of an auto show display, from the shoes the product specialists are wearing to the colors of the vehicles, has been carefully calculated to project a specific brand image and attract a target demographic.

Could an engineer accomplish all of these goals? I’ll quote myself in a response to a comment from last week’s column: “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.”

And that, my friends, is why we’re there.

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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34 Comments on “The Booth Babe Chronicles: Psychology Of Auto Show Marketing, With Special Emphasis On Gender-Related Issues...”


  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    “torque gets you moving and horsepower keeps you moving.”

    Actually I’ve always explained it as “torque is what makes you quick, horsepower is what makes you fast.”

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Sorry, I don’t buy this. I have been to a couple car shows. The women hired to stand near the cars lack knowledge. As do dealer level salespeople who also attend. Maybe they can remember some pamphlet stuff. Maybe not;

    Car engineers I know are in it cause they love cars. They are not nerds. No way.

    I think the reason for the women standing near the cars, often in inappropriate clothing, is because sex sells.

    The booth babe may be the exception to the rule. There are some good dealer level staff as well.

    • 0 avatar
      TG57

      I wouldn’t make a generalization like that. Clearly the “booth babe” here has quite an extensive knowledge of automobiles, so I’m sure there are some other ones out there that do too. Though I’d guess there are an equal number of them who are indeed bimbos and nothing more.

      Me, I don’t talk to salesmen or representatives when I want to know something about a car. I find that more accurate and detailed information can be found from simply reading through brochures, sales literature, and (most of all) car shopping and reviewing sites on the Internet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve be shopping for a car only to find out that I know more about the product than the guy selling it. Of course, even if I tell him that the EX model comes with a standard moonroof – as I’ve already memorized from reading it online in three different places – he always has to double check himself and tell me again, because he is the knowledgeable salesman and I am the naive little customer. But I’m getting off topic…

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    This editorial gets to the heart of the matter. If the ‘booth babe” can speak knowledgeably about the vehicle, then she’s a great asset in marketing it. If not, then the car show attendees realize she’s just veneer, and assume the car is too.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      +1 SherbornSean – that’s the best summation yet about “booth babes”. If he/she knows their subject matter and can converse on a level appropriate to the customer asking the questions, that goes a long way to making a favourable impression of the vehicle and/or company.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      That is exactly correct. I went to the NY Auto show and I liked looking at the “babes” and some, in fact did know their stuff. I’m a bit of an anomaly in that I am an engineer but I don’t even remotely fit the “reserved, quiet” profile. It does get tiring to hear how engineering is for nerds, and it is annoying to me to hear how we all all just geeks. Probably just as annoying as it is for the “boothbabe” to be dismissed as empty window dressing. And we wonder why American kids reject science related careers and question why we are losing our global competitiveness…OK rant over!

      At the show, my wife certainly noticed me looking at the women, in spite of my best effort to be discreet. She understood the cars and women thing and didn’t care but she posed the question: Why no hot(ish) guys on the turntable, or at least on the floor? She related to the guy hawking the Caddy CTS-V who made her think of Carl Edwards but wanted to know why such a dearth of cute guys. Considering that women usually weigh in on car purchases when married and often have veto power, why no guys for the female shoppers?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      why a preponderance of women on the stands?

      perhaps it relates back to the old bit of advice to women “don’t read glamour magazines, they will only make you feel fat”…

      a big part of automotive marketing is to make people dissatisfied with what they have, so the OEM can fill that need …

      this is psychology on the deepest level … average joe doesn’t get hot babe, but gets car that hot babe advertised and this brings him closer … average jane supports avg joe’s choice because she sees hereself in the place of the hot babe… they both get to fulfill an illusionary need created and resolved courtesy of an OEM…

      btw, i was not impressed by Booth Babe’s arguments … her comments seemed more like those of someone trying to justify their function, or position… there would be plenty of engineers (also female) that could do a fine job of promoting cars…

    • 0 avatar
      SilverCoupe

      Funny, golden2husky, the only person I really spoke with at the Philly Auto show was also a guy hawking the CTS-V (actually the CTS Coupe, as they did not have a CTS-V Coupe at the show.) I also spoke to a male at the Audi booth (Where’s the TT? Uh, we didn’t bring one) and a male general auto show personnel (Where’s Infiniti? Uh, they were a no-show). So much for comparison shopping at the Auto show.
      But my point is, it never actually occurred to me to chat with the “booth babes,” as I did not expect to get much useful information from them. I figured that they are there mostly for attracting the customers to the booths in the first place.

      As for bringing one’s wife along to the show, I told my wife that I would go to the Flower show with her if she came to the Auto show with me. When put in those terms, it allowed each of us to go to our respective shows unencumbered by a non-interested party.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      “…As for bringing one’s wife along to the show, I told my wife that I would go to the Flower show with her if she came to the Auto show with me. When put in those terms, it allowed each of us to go to our respective shows unencumbered by a non-interested party…”

      I guess I should have added that my wife really likes cars and knows about them, too. She picked out the mild misfire in her car a week before the ECM set the check engine light for misfire. I’m lucky in that regard…she will “let me buy” whatever car we can afford…as long as she can drive it occasionally. Sounds like a deal to me. No nagging wife pushing a copy of Consumers under my nose with pre-selected choices circled…

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    What I mentioned in my comment referred not to product specialists (with whom I’m well acquainted given that I’ve done a bunch of motion systems for Ford’s booths) but the nothing-but-eye-candy models who ONLY stand next to / lean on the cars, and never speak at all.

    That and grid girls who hold flags, models in car posters, etc.

    Product specialists can be impressive to watch – especially when they work for 5 different auto makers, but still say ‘we’ when referring to the company like they’re part of the team. :)

  • avatar
    mcs

    Could an engineer accomplish all of these goals? I’ll quote myself in a response to a comment from last week’s column: “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.

    Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of extroverted engineers. I’m an engineer (with media and sales training) and I’ve spent a lot of time working in booths at trade shows. I’ve worked both within and outside of my industry. Never at an auto show.

    Within my industry, I was handed the same script for product demos as everyone else in the booth and followed it. When a question from an attendee went beyond the typical questions, I was the point person to give them the answer they were looking for. Usually these were shows with large numbers of engineers in attendance.

    I had fun working at the trade shows and started working events outside of my industry where my engineering skills weren’t really needed – just an ability to learn the product. Sometimes I’ll work as a male counterpart to the women in the booth. Lots of stories. When alcohol is being served at a show, watch out. In those situations, women can be just as bad with the remarks as men – maybe worse.

    So to answer the question “could an engineer accomplish all of these goals?” The answer is yes and it happens all the time. The down side is that those of us that can do it usually command a significant pay premium.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      What’s the downside of a pay premium if you help move the product? It’s all part of a value equation; more expensive presenters need to be seen (actual measurement is another question) as helping to move more product.

  • avatar
    cardeveloper

    At the Detroit Auto show, Ford had sales, marketing, and engineering personnel in the booth. As an engineer, I asked a tough question and was sent to a specific person, who was obviously an engineer.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    A question: Anybody know what kind of booth personnel, if any, are on hand at SEMA?

    I was never there, but from what I understand of it, the attendees would be glad to have some gas in the blood, grease under the nails, engineers to answer their questions…

  • avatar
    john.fritz

    “Bertel, you should’ve loaded a clip from “Pot Psychology” on the top of the story.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I have attended and worked at dozens of car shows over the years. I’ve also spent time with many product specialists after hours swapping stories. For the most part, they have been not only attractive but also very intelligent. It takes a LOT of skill to put in hours at crowded car shows answering the same stupid questions and hearing the same snide wise-cracks over and over and still act friendly and attentive.

    I’ve also helped train product specialists for an OEM and they took the job very seriously.

    What I’ve never really seen, however, is a true ROI calculation on these shows. I find it hard to believe that the millions of dollars spent on a show like Detroit where they are preaching to the choir ever actually pays off in terms of sales or certainly incremental sales.

    The smaller regional shows (the Knoxvilles and Sacramentos of the world) seem to be lower cost and higher return in terms of real shoppers. That said, tracking mechanisms are really poor so it may be impossible to know if someone who bought a car a month later was influenced by the auto show or now.

    There is a huge industry built around these shows… from shipping cars and equipment, modeling agencies, show producers, brochures, bags, tchotches, etc. so perhaps there are too many vested interests to ever do an accurate calculation.

    • 0 avatar

      The ROI part is very true. I have been in that business for a while, and I could find nobody who could give an honest cost/benefit analysis -not that people usually try. There are shows where top brass wants to go – Geneva for instance is an excuse to get together with your cronies. And there are cities that get canceled when money is tight. As for the cost – you don’t want to know. If I would have the money VW spends on just one show, I would be able to live very comfortably for the rest of my life and leave a sizable inheritance behind.

    • 0 avatar

      Bertel,

      How does VW decide to which shows they bring the injection molding machine that makes penholders out of recycled plastic in the shape of VW vehicles? Some shows get the real machine and freshly molded freebies. Other shows get an ersatz machine with and endless conveyor belt with models glued to it.

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of manufacturers have been doing lead generation for a while, for this very reason. They can track what leads came from what shows, attach them to a dealership and see what kind of traffic is being generated. This is, like you said, of the utmost importance at regional shows where the dealers themselves shoulder much of the cost.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    Thanks Booth Babe. Please keep these weekly posts coming. Just don’t do them under Bertel’s byline.

  • avatar

    “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.”

    Car guys, regardless of gender, can usually talk with other car guys. I know that one reason I work the media previews is for the opportunity to talk with the engineers, executives and designers. Yes the product specialists are usually well trained and helpful, but as pretty as the Fiat twins were (particularly the set of identical twins from Detroit) I think that the B&B might be more interested in the opinions of Sergio Marchionne. Of course since most of the B&B are males, they’d personally all rather talk with the Fiat twins than Sergio. Frankly, so would I. The sacrifices we contributors make for the B&B.

    Automobile marketing isn’t the only profession that attracts attractive people. Marketing folks in general tend, in my opinion, to be better looking than average. That’s one reason why pretty ladies like Booth Babe are fairly commonplace at the auto show previews. Besides the models and product specialists, there are lots of attractive marketing people there. The same is true for pharmaceutical sales. If you see an attractive woman taking a sample case out of her trunk at a doctor’s office, you can bet she’s a pharma rep.

    • 0 avatar

      The Fiat twins are not product specialists. That’s my whole problem with the Fiat/Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep presence this year. Engineer have a job designing and building and can not spend 100 days a year standing around at an auto show.

    • 0 avatar

      My perspective on car shows is from the media previews of major shows when there indeed are designers and engineers available for questions and interviews.

      My impression is that a lot of the product specialists use the media preview to learn their scripts and FAQs. I also think that the eye candy models to product specialists ratio is higher during the media preview, when a lot of the car companies are vying for photographers’ attention.

  • avatar
    srclontz

    This explains why I’ve felt like Charlie Brown all week. Admittedly, I have a bias that comes from a technical background, having worked as a software developer and now as an IT project manager. Because I work directly with my customers to understand their needs, and generally enjoyed working with people, the stereotype of the software engineer never really fit me. Probably because of this, I’ve always been skeptical of, and at the same time, mystified by, successful people who aren’t directly involved with the development of the products they represent. At the same time, I understand that my fascination, and the importance I place on the boring, technical details of everything is a but unusual. Most people do need things stated simply, but accurately, in a way that they can understand. In the example above, I’d probably be the only person interested in the multiple charts produced by the engineers including many of the boring details, and would want to learn about the things I didn’t understand. In any case, I think you’ve made an excellent case for the value of a product specialist, at least one knowledgeable about the product they represent. Thanks Booth Babe, I’ll look forward to future articles.

  • avatar
    undrgnd40

    maybe it’s not so complicated. men look at women to assess certain features. women look at women to assess certain features. if attractive women stand next to cars you’re likely to notice the car to some extent. call it subliminal advertising.

  • avatar
    niky

    Aside from the sex appeal / envy, there’s approachability. Both men and women feel comfortable interacting with female marketers… which is why most most booth babes are female. An attractive male model might attract some women, and guys can usually relate to guys, but some women will feel uncomfortable approaching a strange man.

    *Torque gets you to the redline, Horsepower gets you to the finish line. Torque matters the most for accelerating the engine, but since the drivetrain multiplies torque through gearing, you’re always at higher wheel torque in a lower gear (thanks to torque multiplication factors). Which is why proper gearing matters so much in performance driving.

    • 0 avatar

      Correct, Niky. A lot of female consumers are more comfortable approaching another woman to ask questions, because they trust we won’t talk down to them or give them the whole “Hey little lady” line of BS they’ll get from a dude at a car dealership. My estimate is that the male/female ratio for product specialists is somewhere around 30/70 overall. Some teams have a more even split while some are pretty much all female.

  • avatar
    Tricky Dicky

    I sit in the middle – ‘big picture’ and ‘technical’ work. If you listen to the engineers in our place, they believe that marketing is utter nonsense and that all that is required to shift metal is to set up a cash till at the end of the factory gates. Similarly, a lot of people believe that vehicle purchasing is entirely a logical matter, engaging the rational side of our brains.

    But you just have to look at the kind of posts that are made here by self-avowed gear heads and read through the emotional comments and statements. People who have expert skill in subtley manipulating our emotions, to the extent that it is imperceptible to us, do a fine job of selling cars. But they don’t shift metal, they sell an idea, which we are convinced is our own. “I decided to buy this car”. Sure you did honey. Thanks BB.

  • avatar
    kkt

    Yes, the reps at the car shows need to be outgoing, reasonably good looking, and don’t need to be engineers. But they don’t need to be in short shorts, miniskirts, or showing lots of cleavage. Compare with real estate, another field where the customer needs to put down a good chunk of money. There are lots of women realtors, probably a majority. Yet they don’t feel that they have to insult their customers with dress more appropriate to a beach or a nightclub, and realtors look good in a professional way rather than a beauty contestant way.

    I bet as many woman potential customers are turned off by all the women reps being dressed like eye candy as they are turned off by the men reps talking down to them.

  • avatar
    labelled7

    Up here in Canada, the teams of people working on the show floor have drastically different levels of automotive knowledge. As an actor and engineer, nothing frustrates me more than people reciting scripts without an understanding of what they’re talking about. Conversely, my favorite moments on the floor come from educating people since much misinformation exists out there. It’s greatly satisfying when people return and ask you questions because something they were told just didn’t sound right.

    And the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) philosophy should always be in mind. Unfortunately a few engineers (and others!) forget this sometimes.

  • avatar
    Accazdatch

    Ive been to shows in Phila and NY. Its not the world.. but then I come on here.. and get pics of Geneva, Detroit, L.A, China.. and I see the same message.

    Regardless if the woman is standing next to the 918 hybrid concept from Porsche or the Aston Martin Rapide… the dress is the same.

    Heck, the Chrysler girls who stood next to the imposters with FIAT badges.. had been draped in these.. mirror like dresses that I totally don’t understand.

    I simply dont get the message or the point for the outfits the women wear and according to which COMPANY!

    A BRAND.. doesnt mean anything. ITS THE COMPANY!!

    Ive walked around the Phila an NY shows enough to know.. the same person buying a RX is looking at the MB or the X5 or the SRX. And the same type of female in the same outfit.. is standing next to the vehicles.

    Even the SUBARU types are getting generic.

    Point Im trying to make is..
    There is such a “marketing message” TRYING to be MADE through the COMPANY to represent the VEHICLE… or WHAT the COMPANY THINKS it means.. it gets totally muddled in the SAME message from everyone else!

    If I go to a car show..
    Its to see something I haven’t seen yet or get hand on hand info on the vehicle. Open the hood.. up and shut the door a coupla dozen times. I want to live and touch the car.

    Im not interested in the women. Id be more interested in thick and heavy discussions with Lutz or Iacocca or Sergio… than the model in front of the Porsche.

    My wife has gone with me a few times.. and I don’t mind.. but its a little pointless.. since she isn’t into cars.

    And umm…
    Torque is supplied by a TORQUE converter.. which builds up energy to be transferred to the drive wheels.

    And I dont need numbers.. and they don’t tell you.. anything. They dont tell you the difference between one DUAL VVTI system with EGR vs another. It doesn’t tell me the difference in why one vehicle has an 8 spd tranny.. and why one has a 7. The info I WANT.. cant be found in some script. It matters when ya open up the damn hood.. and point in detail.. as if its been burned in your brain for the past 20yrs. It doesn’t tell me the difference between what Vtec does and what MiVec does.. or stands for. If I walked up.. and asked what technology is in the motor of the newest Hyundai Sonata that makes it give better fuel economy.. I expect to hear, its has a Direct injection motor, with a dual VVTI system it (might have an EGR system also) getting better fuel economy than a Accord, with a lower drag Coefficient. .

    I dont live for Consumer Reports.
    I also DESPISE the word CONSUMER.
    Im a DRIVER.


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