Enthusiastic brands welcome the return of the house party

For Verizon, the best way to convince new consumers to buy its FiOS technology was to let them try it.

For Verizon, the best way to convince new consumers to buy its FiOS technology was to let them try it. But rather than sponsor demos, Verizon recently enlisted existing customers to act as evangelists in what some are calling the modern-day Tupperware party.

On Super Bowl Sunday, about 1,400 Verizon FiOS TV subscribers signed up to host game-watching parties to show off the technology. In its first foray into house parties, Verizon worked with House Party, an agency that helps companies organize in-home parties, to organize the event.  

"When you think of Tupperware parties - there's a lot of power in being in a home environment where people are comfortable and with friends," says Bobbi Henson, PR director for Verizon. "It's very different than seeing an ad. You can relax and really enjoy the product."

Social networking, she adds, has also brought back the charm of shared experiences and common interests. House parties, she notes, feed into that.

Closer to consumers
Kitty Kolding, CEO of House Party, says she's seen a considerable spike in business since she started the agency in 2005.

"We were an experiment then," she adds. "Now, marketers have decided they need to get closer to thoroughly target consumers."

She says more marketers are using house parties now that word of mouth has gained prominence as a marketing tool and since regular consumers have increased their influence with blogs and social media.

Valerie Moens, senior manager of corporate affairs at Kraft Foods, says it has been working with House Party since 2007 on events for many of its brands, such as DiGiorno and Velveeta.

"It's a great way to engage in a dialogue about products, have direct feedback, and generate word of mouth," she explains.

Typically, clients hand out post-event surveys with client-approved questions that ask about the party experience, the product experience, and people's opinions of the product both before and after the event, says Terese Kelly, House Party's director of PR.

"We also encourage them to upload photos and blog about the party," she adds.

Kimberly-Clark's Pull-Ups brand teamed with House Party in February on an estimated 5,000 house parties, where moms and kids learned a new "potty dance" and shared potty-training tips, says Michael Krebsbach, senior brand manager at Pull-Ups.

He says the company's research showed that mothers dreaded potty training, believing it would pit them against their children. Because it's such a personal topic, K-C wanted to make this process more enjoyable "right to consumers in their homes," he adds.

K-C is also planning house parties for its Poise products in April. The party's theme is "ladies who laugh." Hosts are encouraged to create humorous home videos and take part in a video clip contest.

Yet marketers don't necessarily have to sponsor or even offer giveaways to make house parties work. In fact, some companies are putting the onus on consumers.

Kim Charney, brand manager, for Little Black Dress Wines (LBDW), worked with Henson Consulting to get consumers to host clothing swap house parties with a bottle of its wine.

"We love the idea of helping them start the party, but also having the hosts develop their own party and theme," Charney says.

The wine company's Web site offers tips on throwing these parties, including encouraging hosts to have the wine on hand, as well as branded invitations. LBDW recently conducted a media tour with Bachelorette alum Jen Schefft, who hosted a party in January. But it doesn't get in-volved in the consumer parties.

"The key was to keep it simple," says Henson Consulting CEO Kathleen Henson. "If they could not do it in three or four steps, you're asking too much."

Making house parties work Relinquish control
Hosts and attendees often don't like to use scripts or be on detailed schedulesProduct availability
Ensure items are available for purchase in the areas where parties are heldInformed attendees
Guests must know it's a branded party. Better to have fewer guests comfortable with the idea, rather than springing it on unsuspecting ones

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