Tupperware Parties: the first social network

Who remembers Tupperware parties? I certainly remember my mother getting the blue tablecloth, miniature pencils and plastic tubs out of an evening and showing her friends how these everyday objects can keep your food fresh all week.

Sometimes referred to as the first social network, these parties used word-of-mouth marketing when we didn’t even have the term for it. I often cite the Tupperware party as great inspiration for how social networking can operate, by bringing people together in a social environment to learn about products from the mouths of customers that use them. It still fascinates me that this simple idea, which was so effective, is often referred to as retro and irrelevant to today’s culture.

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Image courtesy gatochy

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Tupperware was developed in 1948 by Earl Silas Tupper (1907–83) in Leominster, Massachusetts. He developed plastic containers used in households to contain food and keep it airtight. Tupperware pioneered the direct marketing strategy made famous by the Tupperware party.

In 2003, Tupperware closed down operations in the UK and Ireland and it is almost impossible to get Tupperware now in the UK. They announced a relaunch in 2011 but before the year was out the relaunch plans were cancelled.

In the same year, the company boasted that a Tupperware party was held somewhere in the world every 1.7 seconds, driven by a direct sales force of 2.6 million – still mostly women – in nearly 100 markets, said Rick Goings, the chairman and chief executive who arrived over 20 years ago from Avon.

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The famous Tupperware ‘burp’ of opening an airtight container is what most remembered about the product when they were introduced. Many have copied the idea since, but there is still a warm feeling towards the pioneer company that was present in many people’s homes.

In a world where we can be in touch with whomever at whatever time, through the power of technology, real-world meetings are still widespread and those personal connections are ever-important. The online social network meetup.com boasts almost 14 million members worldwide, with almost 400,000 meetups happening each month. This network is successful due to its power to bring people together with similar interests, even if you have never met before.

I still believe there is a place for Tupperware parties and the culture that they inspired, these plastic products were more than a technologically-advanced kitchen product but a culture shift that has shown us how socialising and commerce can go hand-in-hand.

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Image courtesy arts_enthusiast

Daniel

Having worked in design for the past decade, Daniel started ateliertally.com as a discussion of timeless, modernist product design. Trained as a graphic designer, he also has an avid interest in typography. You can follow him on Twitter @ateliertally.

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