The Booth Babe Tactic Goes Solar

Consumer technology vendors notoriously use the “booth babe” to grab the attention of nerdy passers-by at conferences. After all, nothing says “Check out my new widget” like a hot, clueless chick dressed as a pirate. (Sarcasm, naturally.) I was saddened to see in a post this week from NYT’s Green Inc. that the same kind of thing is happening in the solar industry. According to the post, 22-year-old Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition supermodel Melissa Baker has been hired to conduct interviews of solar executives at an industry tradeshow for the launch of a new website, www.solarvisionaries.org.

I’m not a raging feminist or anything, but the idea of using a supermodel to conduct these interviews left me puzzled for a number of reasons:

1) What are the merits of using sex to sell something, when you risk ticking off half of your audience? I suppose I should deal with the fact that sex does sell, but the target demographic for solar panels is not teenage boys, beer-guzzling tailgaters, or even gamers. Solar panels are not on the same level as clothing, cologne, alcoholic beverages or other consumer items where the use of a supermodel might make more sense. I don’t see the connection.

2) How does the use of a supermodel to conduct interviews help the new website/organization gain credibility? I understand that many a male brain will respond positively when a beautiful woman approaches him for an interview. But a supermodel-as-concerned-citizen seems like such a copout to get the needed interviews for the site launch. I don’t mean to imply that Melissa isn’t intelligent, but there are plenty of women working within the alternative energy sector that would have been much more qualified for this position.

3) When will we get out of the dark ages and simply think about how to connect with the audiences we’re trying to reach? Let’s take Solarvisionaries’ argument that solar panels still carry with them a nerdy stigma. By their logic, using a supermodel as a spokesperson will make solar sexy. For what it’s worth, even if solar panels were “cool” and “got you the ladies,” there are still the very real barriers to adoption including a) cost and b) ease of installation. A focus on these issues would be more effective in reaching the masses.

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8 Comments

  • Sandro Ore

    We are excited to see that you are willing to engage in this important conversation, and look forward to positive and productive discussion with you, and the folks that value your voice, to spread the word about solar. Once again, thank you for paying attention and engaging in our discussion.

    Stay tuned!

    SolarVisionaries.Org

  • Erica Salamida

    Thank you Joe and Sandro for your comments. I completely understand the tactic of using a celebrity to raise the profile of an organization - as you point out with George Clooney and Darfur. In that particular example, Clooney had a strong tie to Darfur, and had actually done some of his own investigative work in the country prior to becoming a spokesperson for the cause. Now that you explain in more depth what the connection is between Melissa and the solar industry, it's becoming a bit more clear why you chose to use her as a celebrity spokesperson. My blog is more about the public perception that occurs as a result of media and communications - and how those perceptions could potentially be altered. You'll have to understand that this is the natural conclusion I drew after reading the NYT post about sex selling solar. This was the top-line message conveyed in that piece, so I ran with it. Unfortunately "sex selling" is the conclusion that many media immediately associate with models - such is the stigma, right or wrong.

    I'd be interested in following up once the conference is over to see the results of these interviews - I'm keeping an open mind and am eager to see the site launch.

  • Erica Salamida

    Thank you Joe and Sandro for your comments. I completely understand the tactic of using a celebrity to raise the profile of an organization - as you point out with George Clooney and Darfur. In that particular example, Clooney had a strong tie to Darfur, and had actually done some of his own investigative work in the country prior to becoming a spokesperson for the cause. Now that you explain in more depth what the connection is between Melissa and the solar industry, it's becoming a bit more clear why you chose to use her as a celebrity spokesperson. My blog is more about the public perception that occurs as a result of media and communications - and how those perceptions could potentially be altered. You'll have to understand that this is the natural conclusion I drew after reading the NYT post about sex selling solar. This was the top-line message conveyed in that piece, so I ran with it. Unfortunately "sex selling" is the conclusion that many media immediately associate with models - such is the stigma, right or wrong.

    I'd be interested in following up once the conference is over to see the results of these interviews - I'm keeping an open mind and am eager to see the site launch.

  • Sandro Ore

    I’d like to begin by thanking you for posting your opinion in this public forum.

    Now, I’d like to ask you to reconsider your opinion. Rather than being preemptively dismissive about our efforts, Ms. Baker and the general public, I urge you to investigate matters more deeply. Ms. Baker is a young and dynamic professional—yes, professional—who is leveraging her renown to help the solar industry connect with the general population. Contrary to what you might think, Ms. Baker is not being paraded around the conference floor in a bikini or costume. Instead, she is sitting down with industry leaders to have a meaningful dialogue about solar power and its place in American life. I invite you to visit SolarVisionaries.Org in a month or so, when the site goes live so you can see the work we did at SPI’09.

    As you rightly point out, the women and men who are leading the solar revolution are highly qualified professionals who, despite their wealth of talent, have not yet found a way to connect with the general public. This is where SolarVisionaries.Org can help. As you read in The New York Times, the goal of SVO is “to elevate the message and expand the audience for the solar industry,” and we fully intend to deliver on that promise by deploying a multi-dimensional marketing strategy to spark a dialogue with Americans that is meaningful and engaging and that motivates the public to care about renewable energy, and solar specifically.

    Your point about the barriers to entry is important, as those barriers are becoming outdated. The technology driving the solar industry is smarter and more affordable today, than just a few years ago, and that trend will continue. Easy to use, accessible consumer solutions are here already, and will become even more affordable and available in the years to come. As the industry grows, it will, not only, provide affordable clean energy for the country, but it will generate job opportunities right here in America. Dispelling myths is something we take to heart at SVO.

    As we begin our journey at SolarVisionaries.Org, we are excited to have intelligent and proactive minds, like yours, taking a look at what we’re doing. We are excited to have engaged you in our conversation, and we hope that you give us a closer look. We are available for a conversation, if you’re interested, and we look forward to hearing from you.

    Regards,
    SolarVisionaries.Org

  • Sandro Ore

    I’d like to begin by thanking you for posting your opinion in this public forum.

    Now, I’d like to ask you to reconsider your opinion. Rather than being preemptively dismissive about our efforts, Ms. Baker and the general public, I urge you to investigate matters more deeply. Ms. Baker is a young and dynamic professional—yes, professional—who is leveraging her renown to help the solar industry connect with the general population. Contrary to what you might think, Ms. Baker is not being paraded around the conference floor in a bikini or costume. Instead, she is sitting down with industry leaders to have a meaningful dialogue about solar power and its place in American life. I invite you to visit SolarVisionaries.Org in a month or so, when the site goes live so you can see the work we did at SPI’09.

    As you rightly point out, the women and men who are leading the solar revolution are highly qualified professionals who, despite their wealth of talent, have not yet found a way to connect with the general public. This is where SolarVisionaries.Org can help. As you read in The New York Times, the goal of SVO is “to elevate the message and expand the audience for the solar industry,” and we fully intend to deliver on that promise by deploying a multi-dimensional marketing strategy to spark a dialogue with Americans that is meaningful and engaging and that motivates the public to care about renewable energy, and solar specifically.

    Your point about the barriers to entry is important, as those barriers are becoming outdated. The technology driving the solar industry is smarter and more affordable today, than just a few years ago, and that trend will continue. Easy to use, accessible consumer solutions are here already, and will become even more affordable and available in the years to come. As the industry grows, it will, not only, provide affordable clean energy for the country, but it will generate job opportunities right here in America. Dispelling myths is something we take to heart at SVO.

    As we begin our journey at SolarVisionaries.Org, we are excited to have intelligent and proactive minds, like yours, taking a look at what we’re doing. We are excited to have engaged you in our conversation, and we hope that you give us a closer look. We are available for a conversation, if you’re interested, and we look forward to hearing from you.

    Regards,
    SolarVisionaries.Org

  • Erica Salamida

    Thank you Joe and Sandro for your comments. I completely understand the tactic of using a celebrity to raise the profile of an organization - as you point out with George Clooney and Darfur. In that particular example, Clooney had a strong tie to Darfur, and had actually done some of his own investigative work in the country prior to becoming a spokesperson for the cause. Now that you explain in more depth what the connection is between Melissa and the solar industry, it's becoming a bit more clear why you chose to use her as a celebrity spokesperson. My blog is more about the public perception that occurs as a result of media and communications - and how those perceptions could potentially be altered. You'll have to understand that this is the natural conclusion I drew after reading the NYT post about sex selling solar. This was the top-line message conveyed in that piece, so I ran with it. Unfortunately "sex selling" is the conclusion that many media immediately associate with models - such is the stigma, right or wrong.

    I'd be interested in following up once the conference is over to see the results of these interviews - I'm keeping an open mind and am eager to see the site launch.

  • Joe Boyce

    Erica,
    First, thanks for writing about SVO, I definitely appreciate the coverage. Yes, I have an issue with some of your points, but the article is well-done and actually drew very clear attention to one of the most important tasks in developing the solarvisionaries property.
    I just want to offer a bit of the back-story on Melissa. It's my fault that the media doesn't have all the information on these items, but I'm working furiously to get the info out there.
    My friend in NY works with Melissa sometimes and asked me if I could meet with her. The conversation was very interesting, Melissa is a model by trade, but this is no Booth Babe. We talked about the economy in her home town in Ohio, factories are closed and families are losing homes. At her former high-school's career fair this year there were 4 exhibitors - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. Kids are enlisting not from a sense of duty, but for lack of other options. She asked me if technology like solar could really create a significant amount of good jobs, and how it might affect the economy – I explained.
    She also told me about a recent shoot she did on a glacier in Iceland. She had been there a few years prior, and told me that there was over 8 miles of water where the glacier used to be. She told me about the damage being done to tropical beaches, and how afraid the local people are about their homes.
    She's wants to use her global audience and star power push renewable energy into the mainstream. While being realistic about the amount of time and energy people have to spend learning about it with all the responsibilities they have. She drew my attention to what George Clooney did for the Darfur situation, how he took thousands of people from "caring" about the problem and feeling bad about it to taking action by educating them what specifically was happening and what they as individuals could do to help. She wants to do whatever she can, which I support.
    I know this is unusual and maybe even controversial, particularly for this industry. But we’re getting attention from new people and reminding the old one’s why they got in this business in the first place. I hope that ultimately you’ll like the work we’re doing.

  • Sandro Ore

    I’d like to begin by thanking you for posting your opinion in this public forum.

    Now, I’d like to ask you to reconsider your opinion. Rather than being preemptively dismissive about our efforts, Ms. Baker and the general public, I urge you to investigate matters more deeply. Ms. Baker is a young and dynamic professional—yes, professional—who is leveraging her renown to help the solar industry connect with the general population. Contrary to what you might think, Ms. Baker is not being paraded around the conference floor in a bikini or costume. Instead, she is sitting down with industry leaders to have a meaningful dialogue about solar power and its place in American life. I invite you to visit SolarVisionaries.Org in a month or so, when the site goes live so you can see the work we did at SPI’09.

    As you rightly point out, the women and men who are leading the solar revolution are highly qualified professionals who, despite their wealth of talent, have not yet found a way to connect with the general public. This is where SolarVisionaries.Org can help. As you read in The New York Times, the goal of SVO is “to elevate the message and expand the audience for the solar industry,” and we fully intend to deliver on that promise by deploying a multi-dimensional marketing strategy to spark a dialogue with Americans that is meaningful and engaging and that motivates the public to care about renewable energy, and solar specifically.

    Your point about the barriers to entry is important, as those barriers are becoming outdated. The technology driving the solar industry is smarter and more affordable today, than just a few years ago, and that trend will continue. Easy to use, accessible consumer solutions are here already, and will become even more affordable and available in the years to come. As the industry grows, it will, not only, provide affordable clean energy for the country, but it will generate job opportunities right here in America. Dispelling myths is something we take to heart at SVO.

    As we begin our journey at SolarVisionaries.Org, we are excited to have intelligent and proactive minds, like yours, taking a look at what we’re doing. We are excited to have engaged you in our conversation, and we hope that you give us a closer look. We are available for a conversation, if you’re interested, and we look forward to hearing from you.

    Regards,
    SolarVisionaries.Org