Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Babes in B2B Land

Last month, a colleague of mine returned from an industrial show in the Midwest and reported seeing ample evidence that the “booth babe” concept is alive and well. For at least one exhibitor at this show, the acronym "B2B" clearly meant bikini-to-business.

Alas, this circa 1962 approach to marketing isn’t just a phenomenon of trade shows. Some B2B print advertisers still find the lure of hot babeage impossible to resist. Consider the following ads, all plucked from recent issues of trade publications.

Do ads like these work? A few of the ads shown here have been running for a while. So my guess is, they must do a fair job of generating leads, or the advertisers would pull them and do something else. The middle ad featuring the Heather Locklear-lookalike scored highest in the latest readership survey for one book in which it ran.

But if you owned one of these companies, or worked there, would you be proud to show these ads to someone you know? I know I wouldn’t.

More important, I have a hard time imagining a top executive or engineer seeing one of these ads and thinking, “now THAT’s the kind of company I want to work for!” With recruitment and retention of top people quickly becoming priority 1 for growing businesses, the last thing you need is for prospective employees to get the wrong message about your company.

The good news is, this dinosaur may finally be nearing extinction. Before posting this, I thumbed through dozens of B2B print publications in a variety of industries and found only a handful of similar bimbo eruptions. And that includes publications in industries that would probably be considered the usual suspects for the hot babes in print approach: trucking, construction, maintenance, etc.

And therein lies the quandary: stopping power is fundamental to effective print advertising. So the relative absence of hot babes in a B2B book admittedly creates an opening for an advertiser to use Baywatchesque imagery to get the reader’s attention—more so, say, than would be the case in Maxim or GQ or some other vehicle where titillating ads are SOP.

But does stopping power always trump other business concerns? If you’re National Lampoon and it’s 1973, stopping power has you laughing all the way to the bank.

If you’re a B2B company in 2007, my hope is, you'll choose a more dignified path to print advertising ROI.

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