When I clicked on Business Insider’s example of illustrious, hard-hitting journalism that is an advertisement-ridden slideshow, “Meet the Booth Babes of CES 2013,” I"m not quite sure what happened. Something inside me snapped a little. I rage-pitched an article on booth babes though it's obviously not a new mode of marketing. And reactions to this mode of marketing aren't new either.
But I suppose I believe that we should keep talking about it, that those who are disappointed in its continued use should continue to write about it. Despite the protestations of booth babes don’t represent some cheeky, irreverent tradition, but instead reflect a culture where men’s cavalier attitudes toward women’s objectification remain systemic.
I am not anti-sex or anti-sexualization of all people in all situations; that would be ludicrous. Using sex to sell a product is not new. I am aware of that. Pushing the envelope to provoke outraged journalists to cover your product isn’t new either, and some of the more absurd uses of booth babes at this year’s CES, which wrapped up last night in Las Vegas, were probably plays for that type of PR.
Sure, booth babes are a gimicky grab for attention. But the gimick only works if the audience is male. And the presence of such a gendered gimick only serves to reinforce the idea that the tech world is largely by men and for men.
Let’s not discuss whether sexualized marketing works, but rather what its existence indicates about the values and gender composition of the industries that use it. Carl's Jr. was saying two things with its dumb ad featuring Paris Hilton eating a giant burger on top of a car. First, in a grab for attention, they were saying, look at us! But they were also melding different elements of masculinity into one outrageous scenario. The bikini, the boobs, the car, they let us know, not, this burger is delicious, but, this burger is manly.