Sealed with a ‘Like’: Tupperware and Social Media

More than 60 years after its inception, Tupperware marketers are working hard to dispel what it says are dated perceptions of the brand (Cortese). Despite the fact that Tupperware products are still extremely successful – with a Tupperware party in progress every 2.5 seconds across the globe – the brand has, over the past five years, altered its communication strategy in an attempt to keep up with the next generation of consumers (Bax 171). Through the use of social media channels, Tupperware Brands is looking to expand its customer base while shunning traditional forms of advertising. But despite concerted efforts to update its image and to shake off its title as an ‘icon of suburbia’, Tupperware continues to target the same demographic it did in the 1950s: women caring for families (Clarke 133).

For several years, brands have been capitalising on the opportunities offered to them by social media. Primary channels include Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but – in the very nature of the medium – new players (Instagram, for example) are constantly entering the race. These channels allow brands to gather fans and promote their products for free. In addition, brands can use advertising opportunities to promote their activity further on a cost-per-click or cost-per-impression basis (Facebook). Compared to traditional print and television advertising, this is a very low-cost opportunity for brands to exploit. Using paid activity, brands can broaden reach to capitalise on an environment where every new ‘follower’ is a potential new customer.

For a brand like Tupperware, which is seeking to revamp its image, social media encourages direct engagement in a way that traditional forms of marketing never could. Tupperware and other brands can directly appeal for feedback, gauge the popularity of products and ideas, and work to cultivate their own image. With more than 107,000 fans on the Tupperware US and Canada Facebook page alone, it is a platform ripe for the brand’s growth in the 21st century.

For more than 60 years, Tupperware has been an immensely successful, not to mention iconic, American brand. This is despite the fact that Tupperware Brands continue to avoid traditional advertising, relying instead on direct marketing, word of mouth, public relations, and celebrity endorsements (the brand, for example, sponsored Tori Spelling’s baby shower (see below)). The brand’s chief executive, Rick Goings, explained the aversion to traditional advertising, telling The New York Times that word-of-mouth endorsements “from someone you have confidence in is the absolutely best form” of marketing (Elliot).

Tori Spelling's baby shower, 2011. www.people.com

Tori Spelling’s baby shower, 2011. People Magazine

Though Tupperware’s traditional method of non-advertising still brought the brand profits of $2.2 billion in 2008, social media is helping the brand reach the daughters and granddaughters of existing customers (Bax 171). As part of the ‘cool-ification’ of the brand, Tupperware Brands is capitalising on their reputation for quality, while shying away from links to ‘your mother’s Tupperware’ (Elliot). But although Tupperware is making a concerted effort to modernise perceptions of the brand, it is sticking with a tried and true target market. The brand heavily markets its products – the vast majority of which are cooking or food preparation items – to women caring for families.

In 1843, Catherine Beecher wrote that women are ‘the responsible guardian of the health of a whole family’ (Beecher 68). More than 150 years later, Tupperware continues to spruik this persisting idea on all its social media channels. Indeed, the use of airtight containers to keep raw, healthy produce fresh is one of the brand’s primary marketing messages. This plays into the idea that women – as the purchasers and preparers of food – will invest in products which promise to maintain the healthfulness of their husbands and children.

Source: Facebook

Source: Facebook

The above Facebook post is indicative of the persistent implication that women are invested in the health of those they care for. Tupperware plastics are shown sitting on a rustic wooden table, side by side with woven baskets filled with presumably freshly-picked berries. Vibrant colouring suggests freshness, while the baskets imply a level of homemade authenticity. A post from the same day on Twitter (below) spruiks the same series of containers, while linking their use to National Fruits and Vegie Month. By mentioning National Fruits and Vegie Month, Tupperware succeeds in making this Twitter post seem less like advertising. This is important for the brand’s image because it means Tupperware can advertise its products, while leading followers to believe the brand is invested in their ongoing good health.

Source: Twitter

Source: Twitter

Similar to its efforts on Facebook and Twitter, Tupperware actively seeks engagement with female customers on its YouTube channel. From the pink logo to the persistent Sex-and-the-City-esque music, the brand’s videos cater to a female audience.

Source: YouTube

Although almost of none of the videos feature narration or text (making them perfect for global distribution), the imagery is highly gendered. This particular video is sleek and unfussy, suggesting cleanliness and hygiene. The action of packing and unpacking the cake is very repetitive, indicating the durability of the product, which is contrasted with the daintiness of the cakes (which, we assume, have been baked and decorated by the white woman in the video). And, indeed, daintiness is a theme which is carried across many of the Tupperware videos, with the invariably female actors preparing small portions of colourful, visually-appealing food in Tupperware containers – without mess, of course. These factors, in combination, solidify Tupperware’s portrayal of woman in the home: she is clean, she is healthy, she cares about her family, and she cooks with Tupperware.

Tupperware’s foray into the territory of social media is, by its own admission, an attempt to revamp the image of the brand. Despite sticking its plastic toe in the waters of social media, however, the brand continues to target the same demographic that it did 60 years ago: women with families. Capitalising on long-held ideas of females as primary food and food-product purchasers, Tupperware stays latched onto the perception of females as domestic carers in an attempt to gain a new generation of customers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Christina E. Bax, ‘Entrepreneur Brownie Wise: Selling Tupperware to America’s Women in the 1950s’, in Journal of Women’s History (2010) 22:2, 171-180.

Catherine Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the use of Young Ladies at Home and at School (1843), Boston: Thomas H. Webb & Co.

‘Campaign Cost & Budgeting’, Facebook, accessed 19 July 2013, https://www.facebook.com/help/318171828273417/

Allison J. Clarke, ‘Tupperware: Suburbia, Sociality and Mass Consumption’ in Roger Silverstone (ed), Visions of Suburbia (1997) New York: Routledge.

Amy Cortese, ‘Tupperware Freshens Up the Party’, July 7 2007, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/07/business/07interview.html?_r=1& .

Stuart Elliot, ‘The Tupperware Party Moves to Social Media’, May 4 2011, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/05/business/media/05adco.html?_r=0 .

Fear and loathing in women’s advertising

It did what all ads are supposed to do: create an anxiety relievable by purchase. – David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

If you ask the average person to name one truth about advertising, odds are they will repeat that well-worn idiom: sex sells. Sex is used in advertising like a blunt instrument, beating the consumer over the head with sensory information designed to capture and hold their attention long enough to sell them a product. Perhaps this is why it springs to mind so quickly when the topic is ads — we’re more apt as consumers to notice the bright and the loud, and miss the more fine-edged tools that are used to sell. Perhaps the most commonly employed tool in the advertiser’s box, especially in media targeted at women, is fear. Throughout the decades, ads have built narratives based around creating and exploiting insecurities and then promising the cure for the low, low cost of $9.99.

This fear-based marketing most often focuses on creating insecurity about women’s role as caretaker by creating competition between the target consumer and other women, either real or imaginary, and creates fear focused on loss of love, position, or respect.

Frigidaire Frozen Delights, 1927 (Duke University Library Digital Collection)

Frigidaire Frozen Delights, 1927 (Duke University Library Digital Collection)

In this Frigidaire booklet, we see a classic example of this subtle technique. While on its surface the image appears to be a pleasant but innocuous story about a good hostess, it actually contains two important themes common to fear-based advertising. The woman in question is held up as an example of the ideal hostess, who serves as the public face of her household (and an extension of her husband), intent on impressing her guests with her good food and modern techniques. What this ad demonstrates is that it is not enough just to cook well, but to be on the cutting edge — modern sanitation and more importantly, modern appliances are necessary to fit this ideal of household ambassador. The consumer is left wondering what role she would play in this scenario, the cutting-edge, lauded hostess or the impressed (and probably behind-the-times) guest? If the latter, the solution is right at hand — Frigidaire appliances to bring her up to date!

Heinz Soup, Punch Magazine, November 23, 1949 (Flickr)

Heinz Soup, Punch Magazine, November 23, 1949 (Flickr)

Here we see another example of advertising pitting modern women versus the dreaded “old-fashioned” ways. Perhaps borrowing a page from Campbell’s playbook (Parkin in Kitchen Culture in America, p. 59) Heinz chose to subvert the notion that home cooking is a sign of love by pitting the laborious process of the (fantastical) from-scratch process to the modern, processed version that’s just as good. From a can is just as “rich-and-rare” and will earn the same smiles, and no camels need be involved. By making the kind of cooking that women likely grew up with seem both laborious and silly, Heinz attempted to pit “modern” women consumers against the past and by extension, their own mothers to sell them on the idea that can was best.

Folgers Instant commercial, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Folgers Instant commercial, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Of course, women had more to fear than just their friends and loved-ones judging and outperforming them. In this Folger’s ad from the 1950s, this housewife’s sub-par morning coffee is stacked up — and loses — to the “girls down at the office” who make better brews on their hot plates. Her failure to satisfactorily provide for her husband (and his refusal to reward her with physical affection after explicitly comparing her unfavorably to the unseen and therefore more ominous “girls” at his office) is a prime example of the message that the chief duty of food preparation is to provide for others, as “ads rarely portrayed women finding gratification in eating… just procuring the [correct] food was evidence of women’s love” (Parkin, Food is Love, p. 37). There is no evidence in this ad that the thought of how she likes her coffee has even crossed her mind, and it is only after she takes the advice of her wiser friend (and adequately demonstrates her love through the right product) that she is rewarded with the chaste kiss she was denied earlier.

Ivory Snow ad, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Ivory Snow ad, c. 1950s (YouTube)

Though the housewife of the Folger’s ad was happy to receive wise counsel from her friend, there’s little doubt that the average woman viewing the ad would wish to identify with the in-the-know friend and not the housewife with burnt coffee. Other ads also played with this theme of inter-neighborhood rivalry, but chose to feature the “in-the-know” woman as the center of the narrative. In an Ivory Snow ad from the same decade, we see the pretty blonde housewife first show off her treasured trousseau to her friends who are full of admiration, then later see her stop a friend from using generic detergent for a job that clearly calls for Ivory Snow!

Pan American Coffee Bureau, Life Magazine, August 6, 1945 (Google Books)

Pan American Coffee Bureau, Life Magazine, August 6, 1945 (Google Books)

Perhaps our protagonist is friends with the hard-working housewife from a Life magazine ad for the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, who knows that iced coffee is the secret to cool and collected summertime chores that eludes her disheveled neighbors. Again, the competent woman is front and center in the image and clearly dominating the narrative. Like the Ivory Snow ad, she not only knows what she’s doing but even enjoys her chores, helped along by the products that give her the edge over other women. The target consumer is meant to aspire to be that competent woman, to imagine herself the envy of the neighborhood housewives, and rather than having to discover the tools and techniques to assist her in this herself, the advertisements are selling her the products that will get her there in no time. They embody the ideal of seamless perfection, “offering a smooth surface of cleanliness and harmony that covered up any trace of flurry, mishap, or sweat” (Shapiro, Perfection Salad, p. 13), and through their modern techniques and polished demeanor thereby conquer the old and outdated.

By constantly weighing images of good, efficient, modern, and “together” women against images of outmoded, old-fashioned, uninformed women engaged in visible labor, advertising sought to create and exploit a fear in their target audience of falling into the latter category, and offering easy solutions to avoid these pitfalls. It was not enough to keep house, entertain, and provide love for your family, but it must look effortless and it must inspire envy in your peers or risk being the envying party. And just like sex has not stopped selling, this fear and competition narrative has not gone out of style either — although now with the wonders of computer editing, the women we’re competing against in advertising now? Ourselves, minus a Swiffer.

Swiffer WetJet commercial, 2013 (YouTube)

Swiffer WetJet commercial, 2013 (YouTube)

Bibliography

Parkin, Katherine, “Campbell’s Soup and the Long Shelf Life of Traditional Gender Roles.” In Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race, edited by Sherrie A. Inness, 51-67. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986.

Undemocratic Desire: 21st Century Yogurt Commercials in the United States

In the last decade, yogurt commercials in the U.S. have been embedded with messages about gender, consumption, and love. Much like salad, chocolate, and low-fat cereal, the popular dairy product has been marketed specifically to women. According to Bell and Valentine, “… food has long ceased to be merely about sustenance and nutrition… Every mouthful, every meal, can tell us something about ourselves, and about our place in the world” (Bell and Valentine 3). I argue that yogurt commercials subliminally communicate messages used by advertisers nearly a century ago. These antiquated notions about women, food, and desire are perhaps most alarming because they have been skillfully hidden under the guise of contemporary female empowerment.

Looking first at this Yoplait advertisement from 2008, the scene indicates that eating yogurt is an acceptable form of consumption for females, in contrast to messages from decades past that “rarely portrayed women finding gratification in eating”(Parkin 37). However, this minor, 140 calorie-gain is inextricably intertwined with weight loss, thus undermining the notion that she is truly indulging. Furthermore, the fact that the befuddled husband cannot even see the yogurt intensifies the association between the product and women. How could a man be interested in something that is invisible to him? According to this advertisement, Yoplait is a woman’s secret.

Dannon Oikos took a slightly different approach in their marketing technique, by suggesting that yogurt is the manner in which women receive love and sexual gratification. According to Parkin, “…food advertisers created and reflected strong cultural associations between sex and food, including women’s use of it as an aphrodisiac”(Parkin 10) many years before Oikos conceived of their commercial. But the Greek yogurt company takes this association a step further by suggesting that not only can women substitute food for sex—they prefer it. The seductive John Stamos is promptly exchanged for a cup of Dannon Oikos, and with glee. Thus, the ad suggests a societal discomfort with female sexual desire, just as Yoplait depicted a disapproval of raw female hunger. Nineteenth century women would have considered “… any knowledge or display of appetite” to be “a sign of unbridled sexuality”(Inness 18). In this ad, I argue that her appetite is only acceptable because she rejects the sexual stimulus (Stamos), thus distinguishing her snack from sex.

In this 2012 Super Bowl commercial, the manner in which Oikos spokesperson, John Stamos, is head-butted indicates that the female has agency, but the reality is she has gravitated towards a product that he introduced to her. Thinking about the tactic from a meta-perspective, advertisements do much the same work, by introducing the product to consumers, but fooling them into thinking the purchase was their idea. There is also a common thread here with the Yoplait ad—yogurt is a woman’s territory, which she will defend when threatened. One must also consider the context of this commercial—the super bowl, an event in which men do the head butting. Therefore, Oikos advertisers are suggesting that when women are denied their yogurt, they are no longer properly feminine.

Dannon Light n’ Fit advertisers chose to draw attention to the fact that the American mother isn’t receiving the care and attention she deserves—and yogurt can fill that void. The Italian fairy yogurt-mother of sorts is flamboyant and comical enough that the ad seems self-aware of her silliness, and yet the viewer still receives the same take-home message: eating yogurt will make a woman more physically appealing (be it in the form of a haircut or otherwise), and without it she is a sub-par female.

Finally, much like Campbell’s soup commercials that “co-opted suffrage messages, diluting the power and significance of women’s political goals to further their own profit margin”(Parkin 69), Yoplait conflates their product with freedom. It is vital to note the specific comparisons the bridesmaids make to their low-calorie dairy cups. They are “not-catching-the-bouquet-good” and “burning-this-dress-good.” And yet, the pair simultaneously praise “cute” best men and wish for ushers who aren’t shorter than them. These may be single women, but they are still long for heteronormative interactions with stereotypically masculine men. Ironically, eating their yogurt with their feet on the table renders them immobile from actively pursuing their desires.

With these visual texts in mind, how can women in the United States move forward? According to Manton, “Together women must re-establish a more positive, constructive relationship with both food and their bodies, and an environment that makes positive constructive living possible”(Manton 7). It is not simply a matter of boycotting yogurt or confronting manipulative advertisers. American women must be able to discern, and believe, that yogurt cannot love them back, and furthermore that food is an inadequate and inappropriate substitute for the actual object(s) of their sexual or emotional longing.

Work Cited

Bell, David, and Gill Valentine. Consuming Geographies: We Are Where We Eat. New York: Routeledge, 1985.

Commercialsadverts. “Warm Coat—Dannon Light ‘n Fit TV Commercial Ad.” YouTube. YouTube, 18 Apr 2013. Web. 3 July 2013.

Inness, Sherrie. Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food, Gender, and Race. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Manton, Catherine. Fed Up: Women and Food in America. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1999.

OikosYogurt. “Oikos Greek Yogurt ‘Plane Kiss’ TV Commercial.”Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 9 Jan 2013. Web. 3 July 2013.

Palrip. “Andrea Rosen Yoplait Commercial.”Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 11 Jan 2008. Web. 3 July 2013.

Parkin, Katherine. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

Thecrazyitalian717. “Dannon Oikos Greek Yogurt Super Bowl 2012 Commercial!” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Feb 2012. Web. 3 July 2013.

Xglp. “Leisha Hailey Yoplait Commercial.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 Nov 2008. Web. 3 July 2013.

Get Some Nuts: How Snickers Bars are Marketed as ‘Man-Candy’

Over the course of the past century, women have been the primary target for all types of food advertising (Parkin 151). This is particularly evident when looking at candy advertising, which has attempted to appeal to a seemingly special, supposed ‘biologically predetermined’ relationship between women and chocolate (Inness 14) Despite the obvious weighting towards women in the candy market, however, there remains a specific place in candy advertising for men.

As noted by Jane Dusselier in “Candy and the Construction of Gender,” the 1920s saw advertisements directed at men begin ‘characterizing candy as a valuable fuel rather than a feminine indulgence’ (Inness, 15). While women’s candy was seen as a dainty, sensual treat, men’s candy was marketed as having more of a purpose to its consumption. This trend remains true in the new millennium, as exemplified in advertisements for Snickers bars.

According to parent brand Mars, Snickers bars ‘Curb your hunger before your hunger curbs you’. The product page of the Mars website shows a thick log of chocolate, ‘packed’ with almonds, caramel and nougat being gripped, vice-like, by a huge male fist. In order to distance itself from any sort of flippant feminine indulgence, Snickers is explicitly marketed by Mars as not a sweet treat, but a realistic antidote to hunger. The ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ series of advertisements attempts to cement Snickers as a source of sustenance and useful energy.

Snickers television commercial, 2011

The above television commercial features veteran actress Betty White playing football with a group of burly young men. Once she’s fed a Snickers bar by his girlfriend (who does not eat, but merely serves the candy), he transforms into a man again, capable of carrying out his duties – that is, playing dirty, masculine ball sports.

The link between Snickers and manliness is one that is continually spruiked by Mars’s advertisers. The commercial below is from the ‘Get Some Nuts’ series of advertisements featuring The A Team character Mr T.

Snickers television commercial, 2008

This particularly television commercial features a man in brief yellow shorts speedwalking down a suburban street. From atop a military vehicle, Mr T yells that the man is ‘a disgrace to the man race’ and shoots Snickers bar from a bazooka gun until he begins to ‘run like a real man’. The contrast between Mr T and the object of his temper is stark. Mr T is a large, black man with an authoritative voice and presence, while the speedwalker – that is, the one who needs to ‘Get Some Nuts’ – is slim, white and effeminate.

The contrast between Mr T and his presumably less-masculine counterpart was certainly not a coincidence. Such a comparison draws distinctions about what constitutes a ‘real man’, and what doesn’t. Ultimately, the advertisement was pulled by Mars after the Human Rights Campaign accused the band of perpetuating ‘the notion that the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community is a group of second class citizens and that violence against GLBT people is not only acceptable, but humorous’ (Sweeney). The fact that the speedwalker was seen to be effeminate was both a critique of his masculinity and sexuality.

Compare Snickers to a contemporary candy bar that’s marketed specifically to women, such as the Fling bar, also by Mars. The Fling bar, a ‘shimmering, indulgent…treat with under 85 calories per stick’, is marketed with the tagline ‘Naughty… but not that naughty’.

Fling Facebook post, 2009

Fling Facebook post, 2009

The name suggests an illicit affair, addressing but then disregarding feelings of remorse, claiming ‘you can indulge without feeling guilty’. In comparison, the Fling bar and the Snickers bar respectively exemplify the relationship women and men are supposed to have with chocolate. While men are encouraged to eat – ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ – and, indeed, they are shown ravenously taking open-mouthed bites of huge Snickers bars, self-denial and guilt are used as drawcards for candy marketed towards women.

As exhibited by the marketing of Snickers bars, ’men’s’ candy is about self-satisfaction with wild abandon, with no second thought to denial or restraint. For Snickers-eaters, chocolate is supposed to be about satiation – the satisfaction of hunger. A 2011 study by Anschutz et al found that men are less likely to be concerned about their snack food intake, and more likely than women to respond to exposure to food advertising (Anschutz et al, 256). This is potentially because food advertising that targets men doesn’t reference guilt, shame or indulgence the way ‘women’s’ candy does. For men, the devouring of chocolate is not about indulging in a wicked treat, one so illicit that it can be compared to an extra-marital affair. For advertisers targeting men, such as Mars Snickers bars, this perceived lack of restraint works in the brand’s favour.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anschutz, Doeschka, Rutger, Engels, van der Zwaluw, Carmen, van Strien, Tatjana. Sex differences in young adults’ snack food intake after food commercial exposure, Appetite, 56 (2011) 255-260.

Dusselier, Jane. Bonbons, Lemon Drops, and Oh Henry! Bars: Candy, Consumer Culture, and the Construction of Gender, 1895 – 1920 (13-50), in Sherrie A. Inness (ed.) Kitchen Culture in America (2001) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Parkin, Katherine J. Food is Love: Advertising and Gender Roles in Modern America (2006) Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Sweeney, Mark. Mr T ad pulled for being offensive to gay people, The Guardian, 2008, web, July 1 2013.