Tradeshows and Exhibitions. Should we still be using sex to sell?

Following the accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, women across Hollywood are coming forward to share their stories. But inappropriate behaviour and sexual assault aren’t confined to the movie business. And, as it becomes glaringly evident that there are few, if any industries that are free from harassment, it is important that those of us who work in tradeshows and exhibitions look at what we need to do to prevent this from happening.

Of course, we’ve been told that “sex sells”. And, over the years, we’ve all seen deliberately underdressed women employed to drum up footfall. But if we are serious about preventing harassment, do we need to do more to address a culture that sexualises women unnecessarily?

Only a few months ago UK Construction Week faced complaints that scantily-clad female showgirls were inappropriately used.

Although the event issued an apology, with a promise that a “rigorous monitoring system” would be put in place for the future, it also defended the move, stating that the performers were part of a larger Las Vegas-themed exhibit.

So how appropriate is using half-naked bodies at tradeshows (both male and female)? Does context mean that, in certain situations, it can be justified? Or, should using deliberately underdressed females – especially in exhibitions where the majority of visitors are still likely to be male – be confined to the history books?

Of course, there are many thriving and perfectly respectable agencies that provide hosts and hostesses for stands. And hiring people to give out literature and talk to customers is still a great way to boost your exhibition presence. I’m sure we can all agree on that. But at Apex, we’re keen to start a discussion to see what needs to be done – if anything – to build a more respectful industry.

Leaving aside the “should” question, we’d also like your opinion on the “why”. Does sex still sell or does using half-naked bodies have the potential to hurt your bottom line?  Is this approach likely to turn people off and could it damage your brand? Are there better – and more creative – ways to attract qualified prospects to your exhibition stand and ensure that they leave with an understanding of who you are and what you do?

We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we’re challenging ourselves, and our peers, to be brave enough to openly discuss what we need to do to create a more inclusive sector for all.

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

To add your opinion to this debate, Tweet us and let us know what you think.

“This practice needs to stop. How likely it is that passionate, talented women will want to work with you or for you if that’s the vision they see you portray?” Jane, Event Manager.