Brands such as Avon and Tupperware used to be the kings of direct selling, but is the social media revolution changing that? The Drum talks to new business DeviliSsh which is using the sales strategy in the hope of getting their just deserts.
What is the next big thing? That’s the question marketers up and down the country ask themselves at this time every year. But for one up and coming company, the most important marketing tool in its arsenal this year will be a sales technique which dates back more than half a century.
DeviliShh is a Scottish dessert brand that is placing its faith in the generations-old party plan selling technique made famous by Tupperware and popularised by Ann Summers. It has a modern brand identity, created by Leithal Thinking in Edinburgh, but a penchant for direct sales which is straight out of the old school. “The inspiration came from looking at a model that has been working for about 60 years now,” says DeviliShh’s head of marketing, Paula Cormack. But is the party plan method a throwback, or still as relevant today as it was when Brownie Wise developed the idea for Tupperware in the early fifties?
Rick Goings, the CEO of Tupperware, explained the appeal of the brand’s sales approach in an interview last year: “The average retail store is open 12 hours a day but the other 12 hours of rent is built into the cost of the product. If somebody buys our products, they get incredible value. There’s no heating, no air conditioning, no rent, no advertising [to pay for]. It’s a great product and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.” Today’s Tupperware parties are often themed and boozy affairs. “It’s six or eight women sitting around having a good time. Thank goodness they’re taking public transport home,” Goings told the Guardian.
The DeviliShh parties aim to tap into this same sense of fun. The reps, dubbed Cheeky Devils, demonstrate the products and offer tips on “how to transform an impressive pud into a showstopping dessert”. “The parties are a fantastic way of pushing our sampling,” says Cormack. “[They are] much, much more effective than classic product sampling, where you would be standing in a supermarket paying for the privilege of standing in a supermarket dishing out samples to people who, frankly, are not really interested because they’re not in the right mindset at the time.”
The beauty of the party plan approach, according to Cormack, is the “instant feedback” it affords. “As you’re presenting you can see if it’s striking a chord or not. And at the end of the evening you’ve got the results in your hand in the shape of an order form.” Cormack has recruited a team to host the parties in Scotland first of all but has plans to take the brand south. “We’ve piloted it on a small scale to start with to make sure we understand which bits of the parties are working well and which bits need fine tuning. We’re now at a stage that we’ve got everything in place, we’re all teed up, and the next step is a strong recruitment drive. Our aim is to get Cheeky Devils the length and breadth of the UK.”
The DeviliSsh parties, like pretty much all other party plans, are aimed at women. The brand predominantly pitches itself at ABC1 women aged around 35 and upwards, a little older than the 30-45 age group it had originally intended to target. Its reps are mostly women, too, although Cormack proudly reports that she has recently recruited the first male Cheeky Devil. “I think having a man demonstrate to a group of ladies can only help reassure any of the ladies that can’t cook, won’t cook,” she says. “Especially the gentleman we have on our team; he’s got great big manly hands and I guess ladies are thinking if he can decorate a plate like that surely I can.”
Like Tupperware, the Stonehaven-based company has no plans to turn to traditional advertising. “We can’t go into advertising at this stage,” says Cormack. “We don’t have the budgets and frankly I have a niggle in my mind that advertising for the brand at this stage wouldn’t be right. What people are buying into at the moment is that they know something that nobody else knows. If you start doing great, brazen advertising it flies in the face of that.”
Cormack claims DeviliSsh is in talks with some “major retailers” but admits that getting fully listed in most major supermarkets is “highly unlikely”. Instead, she hopes the brand will gain traction through word of mouth. It is obvious that Cormack is no Luddite and she has compelling plans to “ramp up our efforts” to get people talking about the puddings on social networking sites. But at the heart of what DeviliSsh does is a trusty belief that the best place to captivate customers is in the real world.
“At the outset of this, in a presentation to the wider audience in the company to launch the brand internally, one of the things I was trying to get across to everyone with the parties was that yes we’ve got a social media strategy, and online interaction and buzz is important, but I want the old fashioned social interaction,” Cormack remembers. “It’s easy to get hooked in these days to thinking everything has to be online. But actually it’s the face to face, the off the cuff remarks, and the parties can be fantastic in that respect.”
In summarising what DeviliSsh is aiming to achieve, Cormack highlights exactly why Tupperware and Ann Summers have proved so enduring: their parties get people talking. “We all come in the office on a Monday morning and chat about how our weekends were and what we were doing,” Cormack says. “What I want to do is get to the point where people are coming into work and saying they were at a DeviliSsh party at the weekend. That genuine word of mouth and buzz: that’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve.” Will the party plan work for DeviliSsh as it has, traditionally, for others? The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.