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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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