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