I guess you could call me a trade show veteran. Been there. Done that. Got the shin splints to prove it. I’ve been attending or working major trade shows since I was just a strapping lad of 15. NAMM show (music), COMDEX show (computers) SIGGRAPH (ditto), and NRA show (guns), they all have had a common leitmotif that runs through every last one of ’em. Women. Attractive women. Provocatively-dressed, attractive women, who usually know next-to-nothing about the products in their booths. They exist for the same reason that flowers exist – to attract bees so they’ll stumble in and grab some pollen (literature) and be on their merry way. But this year, there was a decided dearth of women commonly referred to within the industry as either “Booth Bunnies” or “Booth Bimbos,” depending on your perspective. Now why would that be?
THEORY #1 – “It’s the economy, stupid!”
You’ve heard the one about skirt length, right? Where fashionistas can either predict or reflect the economic health of the country with the length of skirts? Miniskirts = bull markets, below the knee = bears rule. (And Maxi-skirts will be either the 7th sign of the Apocalyps, or news that Jimmy Carter plans to make another run for the White House.) There may be something to this “No booth bimbos = bad economy” thing, though. Booth bimbos are expensive. They charge by the hour, and the better looking they are (and the more cleavage they expose) the higher their rates. It may just be a belt-tightening thing.
THEORY #2 – “It’s the talent (or lack thereof)”
I don’t buy this one, but I’m honor bound to report all possibilities. Pittsburgh used to be known as Steeltown. They are reported down to but one (small) steel mill. However, a number of other businesses have swooped in to pick up the slack, notably Bayer (as in Aspirin). The Steelers ditched their cheerleaders (The Steelerettes) back in the 70s, so there may not be a lot of experienced, local talent to go around. I don’t know what the car show situation is in Pittsburgh, but it may well be that the local girls with talent simply skidaddle for greener pastures when they get old enough to move away. I dunno. I can’t believe, what with so many Colleges and Universities in town they couldn’t find some local talent. But maybe there’s just not a lot of local professional models in Pittsburgh any more.
THEORY #3 – “The Industry is Growing Up.”
As long as we have EEA, Kahr, and Dillon Precision doing their “sex sells” advertising, I don’t think there’s any danger of the industry getting too button-down in their collective mindset. But there is a corollary to the maturity of the industry and their advertising. While it’s kind of strange to refer to the gun industry as “young” or “immature,” from a marketing perspective, it is. Guns didn’t really come into their own from a retail marketing perspective until the last few years. It’s really only been in the last dozen years or so that guns have been marketed in the same ways that other retail products have been. In that respect, guns are today where the computer industry was back in the mid 80s. Ads tend to fall into one of three categories – propellerhead (way too much information, lots and lots of text, and features trump benefits), sexy (sell the girl/sizzle, instead of the steak), and sophisticated (modern advertising techniques, great photography, emotional appeals, benefits over features, and a call-to-action closer). Flip through any gun magazine and see how many of each type of ad you find. See what I mean? There just wasn’t a lot of sex-driven marketing at the NRA show. And in a way, that’s a good thing, as it points to an industry that’s maturing.
THEORY #4 – “Off-Election Year”
Say what you will, the NRA lives, eats, breathes and sleeps politics. If it weren’t for challenges to gun rights, the NRA would be a shadow of itself. But there’s an ebb and flow to everything. Last year, the big news was Heller, McDonald, and the speculation that Obama was about to do any number of things to grab our guns. It never happened, for whatever reason. And while this year did serve as a platform for a couple of GOP challengers to stump for support, last year’s event took place just six months before the midterm elections. It may well be that this year is a kind of calm before the storm of next year’s Presidential race. And as that may be true, it might be that a lot of vendors who would have otherwise gone the Booth Bunny route, opted to keep their powder dry for next year, and save the bimbage for later.
THEORY #5 – “Random Chance”
In truth, it could be all of the above, in various and sundry combinations. No industry moves as a single, coordinated unit. The gun industry is no exception to that rule. So it may just be a combination of factors that conspired to make a perfect, bimbo-free environment at the NRA.
My take? I dunno. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s more budgetary than anything, but what do I know. I’m not a psychologist, mind reader, or board member. And while I’m really not into bimbos, I am a guy. Eye candy is always at least fun to look at.