Does Party Plan Marketing Work?

I remember hearing the concept of a “party plan” as a kid and can still feel my face scrunching up in confusion and incomprehension. It must have been in the context of a Tupperware party as that company enjoys an instant connection with the concept. The idea is largely credited to Brownie Wise for devising the actual party plan system of marketing in the 1950’s for Tupperware.

Wise was a former sales representative for Stanley Home Products who then joined Tupperware, and that is where credit for party plan marketing is slightly contested. Stanley Home Products claims on their website that the innovative selling tupperwaremethod is theirs … “this concept was the brainchild of a Stanley dealer, who began giving product demonstrations to clubs and organizations to increase sales volume.”

Regardless of birthright, the concept was a hit because it was premised on the idea that everyone should win. The Stanley approach is described as, “Homemakers would invite small groups of friends to their homes for a product demonstration and light refreshments, and the hostess in turn would receive a gift of choice from the Stanley dealer, who took orders from attendees.”

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McLuhan’s Mad Message

Professor Marshall McLuhan is an interesting chap. His notable ideas: “the medium is the message” and “the global village” continue to inform (and to prompt debate). Some argue that McLuhan predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. His ideas also covered metamedia, media ecology, figure and ground media, tetrad of media effects, and hot and cool media.

Born in Edmonton, educated in my hometown Winnipeg, and notable while a Professor at the University of Toronto, McLuhan passed away in 1980. He was a celebrity intellectual and as the Globe and Mail points out, “For most of the 1960s and part of the 1970s, McLuhan seemed to be everywhere – on radio, in print, in film (most notably with a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) and especially on television. The latter, ironically, was a medium he considered pernicious, a certain harbinger of the eventual demise of print culture. He distilled his genius, including phrases that became and remain part of the daily lexicon, such as ‘the medium is the message,’ into sometimes puzzling aphorisms, an early form of the sound byte.” Read more

The Origins of “Marketing”

“To Market, To Market”, so goes the nursery rhyme first referenced in 1598. It was passed from generation to generation for two hundred years until printed in Songs for the Nursery in 1805. As a result, it spread and it is thought that families changed the words producing relevant variations. My favorite stanza from the documented version is:

“To market, to market, to buy a plum cake; Home again, home again, market is late. To market, to market, to buy a plum bun; Home again, home again, market is done.”

 Light and fanciful, it ironically communicates shopping frustration: the market does not open on time and then is unexpectedly closed. Yet beckons the consumer as an early advertisement for a range of goods including plum cakes and buns along with hogs and pigs. Read more

Choice & Clutter

The average American supermarket now carries 48,750 items, according to the Food Marketing Institute, more than five times the number in 1975. Britain’s Tesco stocks 91 different shampoos, 93 varieties of toothpaste and 115 of household cleaner.

In addition to the range of choice in even the most basic brand categories, consumers receive over 5,000 media messages a day containing over 100,564 words. So in my opinion, the most important metric in the next ten years will be how many messages consumers choose NOT to see on a daily basis.

We are creating consumers with such thick skins and blinders that messages bounce off them – we are training them to ignore and disengage which is exactly the opposite of our objective.

In response to choice, many brand owners are now taking steps to rationalize their brand portfolios to simplify and reduce cannibalization. According to Sheena Iyengar in The Art of Choosing, Procter & Gamble once thinned its range of Head & Shoulders shampoos from 26 to 15, and sales increased by 10%. Then they slowly began building up the sub-brands again in a non-sensical cycle or ‘more is more’.

Regarding communications clutter, Canadian media maven Marshall McLuhan presciently stated in the 1960’s, “One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”

In the next ten years, we will see cycles of brand proliferation and rationalization with corresponding communication cycles. So the brands that simplify people’s lives and speak honestly will stand a better chance of success than those who do not credit the growing power of the consumer, the stresses they are encountering, and how that will impact their choices.

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