The New Tupperware Party: Rodan and Fields on Social Media

This weekend, I was talking to a friend who works in the marketing technology space about potential blog post topics for my social media class. I was trying to subtly convince him to let me interview him for my post, but things quickly took a sharp left turn.

“Erin, you know what I would want to write about? SOCIAL MEDIA PYRAMID SCHEMES. If I see one more post about Body by Vi or Tupperware, I’m going to start blocking people.”

…yes, folks, Tupperware somehow just got put in the “pyramid scheme” category.

While I wasn’t immediately inspired to write about the evils of Tupperware (primarily because it seems like a pretty great company to me), my friend’s comment did make me think about a company that seems to have recently taken over my Newsfeed: Rodan and Fields.Blog post 3c

Rodan and Fields was created by Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields, who also created Proactiv. The company partners with “independent business owners” (read: women in my Facebook Newsfeed) who sell Rodan and Fields’ wide variety of skincare products, ranging from acne treatments to anti-aging formulas. Drs. Rodan and Fields founded their company in 2002 as a brand to be sold in high-end department stores, but made an unprecedented move by pulling their product out of retail outlets in favor of a pure direct-selling strategy in 2008. The company brought in more than $300 million of revenue in 2014 and entered the Canadian market earlier this year, so Rodan and Fields seems poised for continued growth over the next several years.

Blog post 3aBased on my personal experience, it seems that Rodan and Fields consultants rely heavily on social media for sales. Each consultant posts status updates with a custom URL to her personal store, where friends can order their skincare products to be shipped directly to their doors. Each post has at least a few “likes” and comments, which seem to be primarily from other Rodan and Fields consultants. This is a strength of the Rodan and Fields marketing strategy. Posts with likes and comments are much more likely to be selected by Facebook’s algorithm to appear in users’ Newsfeeds, so any engagement (even if it’s from other R&F consultants) increases Rodan and Fields’ social visibility.

Rodan and Fields has essentially taken the idea of the traditional “Tupperware party” and brought it to social media. Rather than inviting friends and family to your home at a given time, social media and custom sales pages allow consultants to sell products anytime potential buyers are online. This model combines the strengths of direct sales with the flexibility of ecommerce, so it makes perfect sense that Rodan and Fields has been wildly successful thus far.

Now, the million dollar question: Is Rodan and Fields a pyramid scheme? Short answer: Not yet.

Long answer:  Rodan and Fields’ is structured as a multilevel marketing company, where consultants are paid a commission based on what they sell, and then they receive compensation for items sold by any consultants who they have recruited into the firm. It is easy to see that this model puts a strong emphasis on recruitment, and has the potential to eventually push the firm over the line into clear “pyramid scheme” territory. However, given the amount of attention being paid to Rodan and Fields by traditional media, online media, and even the celebrity community (Miley Cyrus’ mom, Trish, is an R&F consultant), Rodan and Fields management has a strong incentive to pay close attention to any erosion of the firm’s structural integrity.

After further reflection, it seems that most of the women posting about Rodan and Fields in my Newsfeed are from the Southeast. Have you seen many Rodan and Fields posts from New Englanders? Or have you considered joining Rodan and Fields as a consultant?

6 comments

  1. I’m from New England and have not seen any woman on my Newsfeed posting about Rodan and Fields. However, I have seen various posts very similar to this from a make-up company called Mary Kay. One of the woman on my newsfeed is a consultant for Mary Kay and her entire newsfeed is filled with links of her “sale items,” which are always liked by other consultants. Like Rodan and Fields, Mary Kay is not a pyramid scheme, but it sure does seem like it could very easily become one! Social media is so powerful for businesses with this type of structure since it makes recruiting and selling products even easier. The sad part is that I feel like it subjects your friends to constantly being marketed to and even manipulates them into buying more product. Your friends on Facebook don’t just want to be a part of furthering you in your business goals, but they also want to be a part of your life by seeing family pictures and other typical social media posts. The issue is that these consultants are addicted to selling because of their ability to earn commission so they lose sight of the purpose of the platform they are on and the reason why their friends follow them. Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing, Erin!

  2. This is a very interesting article. I would say that the company is not a pyramid scheme to the effect of say, Enron, because they are delivering product on all scales. What I find interesting is that the company’s website doesn’t have any associated social media links. It’s as though the company wants to separate their brand from any stigma related to social media, yet their business model is predicated on social media outreach. There are so many companies that leverage multilevel marketing. They strike me as having a ‘top secret’ quality about them that I think is unnecessary. I would argue that the world’s best selling products are always made accessible by both traditional and non-traditional means.

  3. Interesting blog post. I’ve never heard of Rodan and Fields, but a family friend is an Avon representative, which is fairly similar. I went to a Stampin’ Up party a few years back, where one rep has a bunch of friends over and tries to subtly market the company’s products.

    To me, it’s interesting that R&F would be marketing so heavily over social media. I think a huge part of these “Tupperware party” brands is the social aspect. By social, I mean “face-to-face”, not over Facebook. I wouldn’t trust someone over the Internet to sell me makeup or skincare products and am likely to ignore any Facebook/Twitter posts that seem to be selling something.

    @brandnewtutelage that’s so strange! Very odd that they try to make their website seem so professional and don’t link any of their accounts. I would think that a company wants to maintain a consistent brand over all of its social outlets.

  4. @erincollinsmba I couldn’t believe you had picked this topic as I scrolled through the blogs because I was just discussing this over the weekend with my mom. Since I grew up in Puerto Rico and have many family members in Florida, I’ve seen my share of product consultant “Facebook takeovers”. While R&F does resemble companies like Mary Cay, they seem to be slightly better – at least so far. My mom’s best friend has been a R&F consultant for the past year, has been making good money and seems to love the company. She consistently posts on Facebook (which like @nicolecasperbc mentioned is not necessarily what you want to see from your friends) but does have repeated “parties” and gatherings with other consultants. Beyond their independent businesses, many have formed great friendships and partnerships. They say it feels closer to working for/at a company. Great post!

  5. I think @brandnewtutelage is right. This isn’t really a pyramid scheme, as they do deliver goods and services. I don’t really see a future in which they would stop doing that. Companies like Amway have been around for a long time doing this very thing. You may not like their marketing approach (I don’t, personally, as you’re selling friendships), but there’s nothing illegal about it like a pyramid scheme (i.e. Bernie Madoff).

  6. After reading your post, I could think of no less than 5 companies that have popped up on my newsfeed due to friends being “independent business owners” or “consultants” for companies like Rodan and Fields. I think it’s an advancement in the way people think about marketing, aka social media makes it much easier to target people you already know and have relationships with, making the selling aspect of marketing a step easier. But at the same time, this then calls into question what several of the comments above make clear: is it appropriate or even ethical to use your Facebook friends to force your business to success? Great post!

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