What are the challenges for Tupperware’s direct selling model in social media?

Written by Soraya Maya

Considering that direct selling is founded on leveraging consultants’ social networks, one might conclude that online social media would be its tipping point to take off sales. However there are rules that companies need to understand in order to harness from social media.  Therefore, this document analyzes the company Tupperware as a case study in order to identify the challenges it faces in the current social media landscape. 

For this purpose our theoretical framework is the analysis and discussion of the concepts and theories related to the concept of postmodern consumer in web 2.0 and a framework developed by Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy and Silvestre (2011) called the honeycomb and its seven functional building blocks that define and analyze social media. 

This document concludes that Tupperware’s main challenge is to understand the current historical social media context, which means to understand the postmodern consumer.  From this challenge other four challenges derive, which are to deliver value through its social media; to identify its new postmodern identity; to leverage from co-creation.  The fourth challenge is speculative, which is to reinforce the ties and engagement of an online community of consultants, where collaboration could be the glue.

What are the challenges for Tupperware’s direct selling channel in social media?

Theoretical Framework

According to Duffy (2005) direct selling is a channel that involves the activity of selling items or services person to person in a non-retail location. Direct selling has evolved with modern forms such as door-to-door, in-home parties, personal demonstrations in different settings, and online sales. In this channel companies sell their products through a network of independent consultants that work for a commission (Duffy, 2005). This is a channel of social networks where “reciprocity, friendship, trust, and overall personal relationship as important drivers to sales person effectiveness” (Merrilees & Miller, 1999, pp. 271).

According to Christodoulides, G. (2009) the Web 2.0 is characterized by a multidirectional communication between brands and consumers.  He stresses that the result of this communication is a myriad of online networks where people are on a constant dialogue, production of meanings, and interactions that have empowered consumers.  As a consequence, he claims that the control of a brand is shared with consumers who have the power to re-shape the meaning of a brand. He concludes that the protagonists of Web 2.0 are people and their needs of exhibition and socialization, which have to be addressed by brands.

Within Web 2.0 there is the postmodern consumer, which according to Simmons (2008) has many identities. Simmons (2008) stresses the conflict between an individualized consumption of brand experiences and a desire of social interactions.  People want to individually customize their brand consumption and share it with like-minded people.  As a result, Simmons (2008) claims that the concept of “prosumption” (Toffler, 1980, cited in Seraj, 2012, pp. 213), which is defined as the simultaneous process of producing and consuming content, is the key for marketers to approach this postmodern consumer. I would add that prosumption is achieved by using what Cova and Pace (2006) define as interactivity, connectivity, and creativity on social media strategies.

According to Kietzmann et al., (2011) social media is a new landscape of online platforms where people interact and individually or communally modify and create new content, which is known as consumer empowerment. Some companies experience what Wipperfürth, 2005 (cited in Cova & Pace, 2006) calls Brand Hijack, which is to take or to transfer the control of the meaning and evolution of a brand from marketers to consumers.  Seraj (2012) suggests that online communities, as components of social media, have to deliver value in terms of customer engagement and satisfaction.

Who’s Tupperware?

Tupperware Brands was born in 1940 with functional and sophisticated plastic containers. In 1950 discovered the concept of Party-Plan. Tupperware “exploited the social and historical context, making the Tupperware Party an iconic symbol of 1950s culture and suburban life” (Bax, 2010, pp.176-177).

The honeycomb framework

According to (Kietzmann et al., 2011), the seven building blocks for understanding social media is a framework to understand the different levels of social media platforms, in order to define an effective social media strategy.  The word effective might refer to the concept of meaning making addressed by Wolfe 1994 (cited in Deighton & Kornfeld, 2009). Wolfe states that information is what machines can make and the meaning is what people need and only they can do.  Thus, social media could also be defined as a vehicle that helps consumers to make meaning of brands and their own identities’ constructs. In this sense, the most effective social media in the postmodern marketing, as a means of interactivity, is one that “facilitate people’s identity projects and contribute to collective making of meaning” (Deighton & Kornfeld, 2009, pp. 9).

The first block of the framework is Identity, which addresses the level of social media where members have to share their identities, such as Facebook or LinkedIn. The author of this framework asserts that companies have to counterbalance privacy and identity sharing when choosing a social media.

The second block is conversation, which refers to platforms that enable conversations as their prime goal such as Twitter, blogs, and forums.

The third block is sharing interests that are called “objects of sociality” (Kietzmann et al., 2011, pp. 245), and it has to be specifically defined in order to unite the community. YouTube is the main platform in this block.

The fourth block is Presence, which refers to platforms that identify the proximity of people’s friends in order to generate collaboration or awareness.  Examples of this are Foursquare, Facebook, and Mobile apps.

The fifth block is Relationships, which refers to platforms that facilitate the process of personal or professional recommendation, such as LinkedIn.

The sixth block is reputation, measured by others in different manners such as number of followers.

The seventh block is groups, refers to platforms that focus on building groups or subgroups within communities.

After assessing the seven blocks, the next step is called congruity, which consists on analyzing activities’ effectiveness according to each social media level.  Followed by curate, which is to know when and how to intervene in consumers’ conversations.  The last step is chase, meaning to “scan the periphery” (Day & Schoemaker, 2006), which in this case is the social media landscape, in order to identify the signals that might look weak but could represent current or future opportunities or threats for the brand’s sustainability.

Discussion from our empirical example, Tupperware Brands Products

Ferrell and Ferrell (2012) found that within the top 100 global direct selling companies, 73% of online communications is directed to consumers, and 60% to consultants. This communication should be categorized into three concepts, “reactive, promotional, and recruitment” (Ferrell & Ferrell, 2012, pp.277).  Reactive communication wants to engage online consumers, promotional looks for promoting and selling the brand’s products, and recruitment looks for consultants (Ferrell & Ferrell, 2012).

In 2011 Tupperware advertised its social media activation by launching a campaign called chain of confidence, which had four objectives (The New York Times, 2011):

1.     “Cool-ification” of the brand (Rick Goings, 2011, cited in The New York Times, 2011).

2.      To develop an interactive community for its consultants and consumers.

3.     To gain brand advocates.

4.     To reach a younger and dynamic audience

Tupperware used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and its web page.  Applying the honeycomb framework, it appears that the strategy appeals to help to build people’s identities’ project by enhancing confidence.  In this sense the “objects of sociality” (Kietzmann et al., 2011, pp. 245), could be confidence, Tupperware for earning money and Tupperware as a lifestyle. This strategy uses the building blocks of identity, sharing, and relationships. Identity is a building block since one of its “objects of sociality” (Kietzmann et al., 2011, pp. 245), is confidence, which is directly related to people’s project of identity. Sharing is accomplished by encouraging people to share videos about women achievements. Through Relationship Tupperware wants to develop its consultants’ network in order to attain more final consumers. Tupperware doesn’t address other building blocks that are important for its strategy such as conversation. Apparently, there are no other platforms employed by Tupperware such as forums, explicit collaborative sites, or self-governed online communities.  Consequently, this situation could be the reason for the unknown co-creation of content.  

A conclusion could be that Tupperware, as an iconic brand (Holt, 2004), should develop an online community. One of the findings of Seraj’s (2012) study is that through online communities the process of prosumption (Toffler, 1980, cited in Seraj, 2012, pp. 213) takes place, and so different outcomes of co-creation.  This  “is an irreplaceable source for companies to get feedback for products or services improvements” (Seraj, 2012, p. 215). Therefore Tupperware could benefit from the co-creation outcome of online communities.

Some speculation

According to (Holt, 2004) an Iconic brand is one that answers ideological contradictions between a society and its individuals; therefore, a society or group embraces it.  As a result, Tupperware could be described as an iconic brand in the 1950s, since it successfully worked as an answer that allowed women to balance and fulfill their own expectations and those of their society (Bax, 2010, pp.176-177).

It could be argued that Tupperware’s confidence theme might not generate engagement. To support this statement we present a Tupperware consultant of the new generation, who is a married young woman, very good at social media who manages its job through different social media platforms, web page, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest, under the brand name The Tupperware Lady.   This consultant introduces herself saying that she dedicates to market Tupperware because it is a “fun, and[ flexible way to earn money” ](The Tupperware Lady, 2013). Clearly, this new consultant does not have the needs of confidence and recognition.

Therefore, it is clear that Tupperware has the challenge to understand the current historical context by drawing on social media.

To achieve the last goal, Tupperware could use Nutella’s strategy of owning the production of its site my Nutella The Community.  This site enables and encourages its consumers to re-shape the meaning of the brand. Thus, Tupperware might identify its ideology in order to be seen as a current iconic brand.  This assumption is seen in Nutella’s site, which “helps to sustain the Nutella cult and myth by showing that, in Italy at least, these…creations on the site are not marketing inventions but sociological realities” (Cova & Pace, 2006, pp. 1099). This site is “non-intrusive” and “user-generated” (Shankar and Hollinger, 2007, cited in Winer, 2009) pp. 110). The term non-intrusive means that consumers accept to receive information and user-generated implies that consumers develop the content.


Initially, we stated that Tupperware’s challenge is to understand the current historical social media context, which means to understand the postmodern consumer and new consultant.  This is the main challenge from which other four derive. The second challenge is to deliver value through its social media. We have presented a social media analysis that proves a lack of energetic interactions among Tupperware’s consumers that lead to consumer empowerment and co-creation.  Moreover, as we have discussed, the “object of sociality” (Kietzmann et al., 2011, pp. 245) created by Tupperware, confidence, seems not to fit the needs of the new consultant. The third challenge is to identify its new postmodern identity and to recover its position of iconic brand, as the foundation of its social media strategy. The fourth challenge is to leverage from co-creation to generate a better mix and content of online and offline party experiences that generate engagement and boost sales. 

There is a fifth challenge that is speculative, which is to reinforce the ties and engagement of a self-governed community of direct selling representatives in general, through social media.  Collaboration could be the “object of sociality” (Kietzmann et al., 2011, pp. 245). Finally, by overcoming these challenges, Tupperware can deliver value and engagement, which generate loyalty, satisfaction and positive word of mouth, which achieve brand sustainability.  

Reference List

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