Saturday, August 28, 2010

I threw a Sauza House Party™

House Party, Inc. started a word-of-mouth marketing revolution when they blended elements of the at-home selling party (social, relaxed, fringe benefits to the host) with the standard big-brand event sampling event.

They've obviously hit on a winning formula: companies are lining up to hire House Party and volunteers (mostly women) compete for the opportunity to host.

Thanks to this blog, the folks from House Party have encouraged me to throw one of their events in my home for quite some time; but I hesitated, unwilling to serve my guests Kraft Mac and Cheese or peddle toddler toys during a play date. It just struck me as too commercial and awkward. And that's coming from me, a professional marketer.

However, the email about the Sauza Ladies' Night In party piqued my interest. I've hosted plenty of girls' nights at my place and I love a good margarita. I could host a relaxed get together for my friends (including fellow OPRF bloggers Carrie, Emily and Molly) at the end of back-to-school week and see what the House Party experience was all about.

What I liked
House Party provides a lot of inspiring content for party hosts, including recipes, decorating advice and party activities. There are also a lot of parties to choose from--there's really something for every taste. Right now party options include a Michigan State tailgate, a Tombstone Halloween Pizza Party and--most perplexingly--a Kleenex Clean & Fresh Hand Towels party. The process to apply is somewhat lengthly, but it is straightforward and you know where you stand. Once you're approved, the box of party goodies arrives promptly.

I used the provided $5 off coupons to purchase Sauza tequila for the party, and I loved the eco-friendly bamboo cutting board included in my party package.

I also loved having an excuse to invite people over and enjoy a relaxed evening with good food and some very awesome margaritas.

What needed work
The featured recipe for the evening, the Sauzarita, looked horrifying to me. It called for a can of HFCS-rich limeade concentrate and a bottle of beer. Instead, I squeezed a bajillion tiny limes and made a pitcher of fresh margaritas (1 cup fresh lime juice, 1 bottle Sauza Silver, 1 1/2 cups orange liqueur and lots and lots of ice).

The pitcher and margarita glasses included in the box were cheap plastic--lightweight and kind of tacky looking. Plus, the plasticware didn't have a recycling number stamp on them so I'm not sure I can safely recycle them (I'm Freecycling them instead).

My guests also complained about the RSVP process. Some of them were able to register and navigate the House Party website, but quite a few had trouble. Compared to Evite, the House Party invitation functionality is really clunky and difficult to use. On top of that, all of my registered guests were automatically signed up for the House Party mailing list, receiving pitches to host parties like the Durex Girl Talk event. Just because someone attends an event doesn't mean they want to host one or have their email box clogged with offers.

In summary
From a marketing perspective, I think the House Party concept is brilliant and its execution is solid. Although I buy spirits once in a while, I had no brand loyalty to any tequila before. As a shopper, I'll reach for Sauza now, and I think it's fair to say my guests were left with a very positive association with the brand as well.

Providing Sauza drinkware and the logoed bamboo cutting board meant there was some subtle branding at the party, but I'm guessing most hosts would welcome (and put up) decorations featuring the Sauza logo.

I'd have gone through more tequila if House Party had included a few different margarita recipes to taste and enjoy. And although I was willing to foot the cost, I'd have welcomed coupons to help defray the cost of buying margarita ingredients and food. Perhaps there's a missed opportunity here: imagine if Sauza and House Party offered Frito-Lay or Frontera the opportunity to include gratuity coupons for tortilla chips and salsa to serve at the events.

Be sure to check out Molly's post about the event, which includes a link to the recipe for the amazing watermelon soup/cocktail she brought along.