A closed Tupperware store in Brussels.Omar Havana (Getty Images)
Tupperware Brands fights to stop decay. The iconic maker of food storage containers, one of the first companies to cash in on virality – often caused by housewives, as they were known in the 1950s – has narrowly avoided bankruptcy. As much as technology has reshaped business strategies over the past 77 years, Facebook’s owner Meta Platforms relies on a comparable one. It is a new example of how influencers can also spoil the party.
Inspired by paint can lids, chemist Earl Tupper created his eponymous plastic tableware in 1946. Tupperware, however, did not sell well in stores, in part because customers—mainly women—needed to be shown how. use it, explains the company on its website. Brownie Wise, the saleswoman credited with pioneering the Tupperware effect, which is teaching women to sell to her friends by hosting themed gatherings in her living room.
Although Tammy Hembrow, an Australian mom with 17 million Instagram followers, would never be confused with June Cleaver (a character from the 1950s sitcom Leave it to Beaver), there are some notable similarities. The yoga equipment and oral hygiene products featured on her profile are anything but subtle. Astute promoters like Hembrow account for around 10% of the social network’s users, according to marketing group Influencity. 90% are nanoinfluencers, that is, people with less than 10,000 followers. And far more women are trafficked in Meta networks than men, according to Pew Research. It’s proof that the idea of winning over shoppers by projecting a lifestyle—today’s online equivalent of a Tupperware party—is a major contributor to Meta’s profits.
The near demise of Tupperware has exposed the drawbacks of that business model. On the 3rd, the company agreed to restructure its debt after warning on April 3 that it had serious doubts that it could continue to operate. Ironically, in the meantime, Tupperware also became the product of another modern network effect: meme stocks, a highly speculative online investment. Despite everything, its shares have fallen more than 80% in the last year.
The biggest problem is that the influencers jumped ship. Tupperware has about a quarter of the active sales force it had at the end of 2012, the same year Facebook bought Instagram. It’s not clear if those same mother-entrepreneurs migrated into Zuckerberg’s realm, but today they have many other ways to establish and monetize their influence. For companies that depend on them, it’s a useful lesson in conserving.
The authors are columnists for Reuters Breakingviews. Opinions are yours. The translation, by Carlos Gómez Abajo, is the responsibility of CincoDías
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