Want Samples and Coupons? Join the Party

  • Join the consumer fest

    How would you RSVP to an invitation to spend an evening eating, drinking and talking about a new cereal or critiquing a new video game?

    If you have friends with wide social networks, there's a good chance such an invitation will land in your inbox. And, chances are you'll answer "yes" if you love to participate in that great American pastime -- consumerism.

    This year, more than 2 million consumers will be receiving such invites, according to the Irvington, N.Y., firm House Party, a major organizer of these fests in people's homes for corporations such as Kraft Foods Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

    Companies are quickly adopting these get-togethers as a new marketing method. "It gives us a chance to put new products into the hands of consumers and their friends, experience the products in a group setting, and then spread the news about them through their social networks and friendships," says Silvia Harmon, spokeswoman for Kraft in Northfield, Ill.

    Here's a closer look at how these consumer fests work and why so many are joining the party.

  • Who wants a party?

    About 1.2 million people are registered with House Party, and 900,000 of them actively send in emails hoping to sponsor a party, says CEO Michael Perry.

    Being selected to host is as competitive as getting into a big-name college. "We might have 50,000 applicants to host 5,000 parties," Perry says. Those beating the odds earn high marks when House Party analyzes their "social currency" on Internet networking sites.

    Another group sponsoring similar product fests is the parenting magazine Kiwi. About 16,000 "mom ambassadors" are registered and approved to host get-togethers. All must complete an application at GreenMomsMeet.com, "so we are sure they are really interested" in the program, says Sarah Smith, editorial director of May Media Group, Kiwi's parent in New York.

  • What happens at these gatherings?

    Unlike parties for traditional home-based products, such as Tupperware, nothing is sold. What's expected is talk. Usually, several hundred House Party events are held on the same day around the country. Sponsors spur conversation with suggested activities. For instance, guests will gather to cook frozen pizzas or watch an event such as the Oscars and try a new drink.

    The gatherings Kiwi organizes aren't really parties, Smith says. "A lot of these moms are already part of a group that meets regularly, like a play group," she says. Mothers simply tote their coupons and samples, distributing the latter for feedback.

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