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Tupperware Turns to DRTV To Bolster Brand, Direct Sales Force

Tupperware Corp., the $1.2 billion housewares company in Orlando, FL, began a limited rollout of its first infomercial last month.

The half-hour program is somewhat of a departure for the company, which relies mostly on its direct sales force, which has given the term “Tupperware party” an established place in the American lexicon.

But the company's U.S. sales have faltered in the last decade, shrinking from $207.1 million in 1987 to $156.5 million in 1997, according to its annual report. About 13 percent of the company's sales are in the U.S. market, while most of its sales growth is found in Europe, the Asia Pacific region and Latin America. Currency fluctuations in those regions had an adverse impact on the company the last couple of years.

The new infomercial is its first entry into DRTV sales, although it is hoped the program will not cannibalize sales of its direct channel.

“Tupperware has a bunch of different initiatives to reinvigorate the brand in the U.S.,” said Rommel Dionisio, a housewares industry equity analyst with Friedman, Billings & Ramsey in Arlington, VA. “They have everything from kiosks in shopping malls to this new infomercial. They want to get the brand name out there and demonstrate the products. The company has a very powerful brand name, but there has been a proliferation of lower-priced substitute products that compete in retail channels.”

Tupperware chose GT Direct, the direct marketing unit of GoodTimes Entertainment Inc., New York, and Big Picture Communications Inc., a commercial production company also in New York, to produce the infomercial and execute a DRTV marketing plan. The infomercial not only offers two kinds of microwave cooking products for direct sale — a reheatable set called “Rock and Serve” and a cookware set — but also is intended as a lead generator for the company's direct sales force.

“The show is intended to reach busy people, mostly women who don't have time to sit in a Tupperware party,” said Fern Lee, director of marketing at GT Direct. “I don't see it as creating any kind of channel conflict because the show also allows people to order a Tupperware catalog. We disseminate sales leads to consultants, who can follow up with people after they have received a catalog.”

The Tupperware infomercial is the first corporate project for GT Direct, which is best known for its infomercials for media products, including exercise videotapes titled “Move, Groove and Lose” starring Richard Simmons and a Bible audio tape series starring actor Heston.

While Tupperware is mostly sold through parties hosted by its direct sales force, the show does not depict a party in progress. Instead, it relies upon classic direct response principles of showing a problem (microwaved food tastes awful) and how the product can solve that problem (Tupperware makes great-tasting microwaved food fast). The show is hosted by Kate Connelly, a former host of a show on cable's Food Network.

“We wanted to update Tupperware's image for the 90s and introduce a new demographic to the company,” said Ava Seavey, president of Big Picture. “The typical Tupperware customer is an unemployed suburban Mom that has time to go to a party, but this program is for a younger group of working people who are pressed for time.”

While the infomercial includes many of the same elements of other infomercials for cookware — namely, lengthy demonstrations and testimonials from satisfied customers — Big Picture did not want to cheapen Tupperware's corporate image with a hackneyed “yell and sell” format that features an Australian host who loudly exhorts a product's superiority.

“One of our early ideas was to do it in a party format, but Tupperware rejected that,” Seavey said. “The company wanted to do something new and interesting, but also educate the consumer and protect its corporate image.”

Big Picture is one of a handful of production companies that produces corporate infomercials. It produced half-hour programs for the New York State Tourism Board, Primestar Inc. and Rogaine hair-loss treatment.

“I think we kept a dignified elegant approach which was also hard-hitting and demonstration-oriented,” Seavey said of the Tupperware program. “Tupperware has received quite a large phone response in tests.”

GT Direct's Lee said the infomercial would air in four markets during the first week of January — Dallas, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Raleigh, NC. Telemarketing on the campaign is handled by Convergys Corp., while fulfillment is handled by GT Direct.

Tupperware did not return an interview request.

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