How Tupperware Made Itself Relevant Again

Brand Shifts Image Via Endorsers Ice T, Brooke Shields, Sees Sales Increase 14%

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BATAVIA, Ohio ( -- Entering the 21st century, Tupperware's best days seemed well behind it.

The 60-year-old brand's heyday was when June Cleaver-esque moms burped pricey but oh-so-functional plastic storage containers they acquired at neighborhood parties -- the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings.

No June Cleaver here: Tupperware's new spokeswoman is Brooke Shields.

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Six Decades of Tupperware
Mass-market substitutes from Rubbermaid started displacing this cheery scene decades ago. Then even cheaper, semi-disposable Gladware containers started displacing Rubbermaid.

Yet Tupperware has undergone a resurgence of late, growing not only in places such as China and Russia, where Wal-Marts are still hard to find, but even in the U.S. and Canada, where sales rose 14% last quarter. That marks the second consecutive quarter of double-digit growth as the business in North America expects to return to profit.

Ice-T Tupperware party
This is clearly not your grandmother's Tupperware: The company gets 40% of its sales globally from beauty care, after acquiring Sara Lee's largely Latin American direct-selling beauty business last year. Chairman-CEO Rick Goings now talks of appealing to hard-charging "alpha moms" and fashions Tupperware parties as "girls' nights out." Ice-T even co-hosted one in New York earlier this year, then talked about it on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien."

So when Mr. Goings was looking for a spokeswoman for Tupperware's new cause-marketing/online-social-networking program, Chain of Confidence, he decided to steer clear of the expected domestic doyennes in favor of Brooke Shields, poster child for working motherhood and post-partum depression.

"People ask us why we didn't use a person like Martha Stewart," Mr. Goings said. "She would just reinforce the old image of Tupperware. We want a new image."

Ms. Shields is fairly high-priced talent for a marketer that generally spends little on media, relying instead on one of the world's original word-of-mouth marketing networks, a campaign made up mostly of PR via Devries Public Relations, New York, and digital media via Whittman Hart Interactive, Los Angeles. But for Mr. Goings, Ms. Shields represented the perfect fit.

"We've seen her go from a model to an actress to a Princeton graduate ... then be open with issues she's had with depression," Mr. Goings said. That, he said, meshed perfectly with Chain of Confidence, which is based on building the self-esteem of women and girls.

SMART spending
As part of the effort, Tupperware made a $1.5 million contribution to SMART Girls, a self-esteem program of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, whose board Mr. Goings chairs.

The campaign's aim is to reach consumers and prospective distributors, which is really part of the same process. "I sure wish we could recruit [the SMART Girls participants] in the future to be Tupperware representatives," Mr. Goings said.

Tupperware's global force of 2 million distributors remains its primary vehicle–one that even marketing powerhouse Procter & Gamble Co. tapped to help launch its Swiffer brand before it established its own Vocalpoint buzz-marketing network.

The online-community aspect via aims to keep women who do become reps or Tupperware customers "engaged much longer, because we didn't want them to feel like the Tupperware experience ended after they had their first set of people over or after they left the party," said Rebecca Coleman, general manager of Whittman Hart's Los Angeles office.

Latin beauty
By reinventing Tupperware's marketing, Mr. Goings is looking to reinvent the company as a whole. Thanks to the Sara Lee acquisition, Tupperware Brands is the No. 2 direct seller of cosmetics in Mexico. Consumers in Latin America spend only $1 billion on Tupperware's kitchen-storage products but $20 billion on personal care, and half of Latin America's beauty sales are direct. The average Mexican spends more on beauty products than the average North American, Mr. Goings said.

In its core business in developed markets such as the U.S., Tupperware has looked toward higher-tech kitchen widgets. Its FridgeSmart storage product doubles the shelf life of produce and reduces the 30% of fresh fruit and vegetables Americans throw away, Mr. Goings said.

In Germany, Tupperware is marketing a breathable cheese container Mr. Goings likens to Gore-Tex that reduces moisture buildup. And he said Tupperware microwave products are now made from the same bulletproof raw materials used for the windshields of Mirage fighter jets.

If the fundamental philosophy sounds similar to that of Avon, you won't be surprised to learn Mr. Goings formerly headed the North American business there. "We asked, 'Are we a brand or a channel of distribution?'" Mr. Goings said. "We're really a gestalt. We're a bit of both."

There's also a third view: Tupperware as a marketing medium. Even as others busily develop their own buzz-marketing networks, Mr. Goings is open to distributing samples for other marketers through Tupperware parties.

Six Decades of Tupperware

1946: With plastics readily available following the war, Earl Tupper develops the first of many kitchen containers with airtight seals. A "plastics revolution" is born, Tupperware says -- as does Dustin Hoffman, 21 years later in "The Graduate."

1948: First Tupperware party.

1951: The parties go so well, Tupperware pulls products off retail shelves and goes direct. Wal-Mart is disintermediated a decade before Sam Walton founds it.

1960s: With more women working outside the home, Tupperware branches into the traveling desk and plastic carrying case. In a word, Dustin -- plastics.

1970s: Tupperware launches its first microwaveable products.

1980s: Emerging in this fast-paced decade are "Bonfire of the Vanities," Gordon Gecko and the TupperWave Stack Cooker, which nukes a three-course meal in 30 minutes.

1990s: By 1992, nearly half of Tupperware reps have other full-time jobs. The company offers "Value for Time" classes, and by decade end tries sales online and in mall kiosks.

2000s: Tupperware reaches 100 markets. One Siberian rep brings in six figures a year. In 2006, Tupperware buys Sara Lee's Latin American direct beauty business.
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