Coercive Power

This is the power of influence behavior through the use of punishment or the withholding of rewards. Punishment, for our purpose, does not refer to the physical kind, the more subtle psychological; sanctions. For example, students may readily conform to the dress code of some group on campus such as fraternity and purchase the accepted clothing of this group in order not to be ridiculed by it.

Marketers are also able to use coercive power effectively in certain situations. Inducing fear is one approach that may be taken by advertisers of some items such as life insurance, mouthwash, weight reducing products, dishwashing detergents, cat litter and deodorants. Coercion occurs through showing the unfortunate consequences that could befall a consumer who fails to own or use such products. For example, the embarrassment of having loose dentures is brought to our attention by Poligrip and other denture adhesive manufactures. Similarly the group ridicule which comes from having b.o. is humorously but effectively illustrated in a Dial soap ad in which several car pool members all ride in the rear seat of a car while the driver, alone in the front seat, gets the message that she needs to use Dial.

Tupperware and other products sold in social group situations also make effective use of group coercive power. Group pressure may be strong because some attendees at these sales parties tend to feel that if others are buying something they do not to be embarrassed by not making a purchase. They feel that such an action would lead the hostess and her friends down.

Undercover Wear, Inc., the innovator of home lingerie parties, offers women the opportunity to treat themselves to something special by shopping for intimate apparel in the privacy of their own homes. The sales technique has blossomed into a multimillion dollar company with over 40,000 sales people (called Undercover Wear Agents) covering fifty states and Canada. The product of course is not new. Clothes of a seductive nature have long been sold through the mail. But now they have been brought out of their plain brown wrappers to anew market segment comprising solid middle class suburbanites. Manufacturers have successfully used home sales parties to sell a variety of household goods such as plastic storage containers and cosmetics, but Undercover Wear uses them to market lingerie.

The parties attract women of all ages, from their twenties to their sixties. Some are homemakers, and others are career women. Friends gather to enjoy a little wine and cheese; then all take a sensuality test to break the ice. There are about twenty questions on the test, such as, if you’ve read the Sensuous Woman, give yourself 10 points. A lingerie prize is given to the winner.

When the group is in the right mood to inspect the line of conservative to sexy lingerie, the living room is turned into an Undercover Wear boutique with a soft sell. As the saleswoman holds up a pastel colored wisp of diaphanous material – actually a nightie with a super sheer look – the women gasp, giggle and shriek. Then the moment comes as guests are invited to try anything on. Some of the younger, slimmer and bolder guests may dash to a bathroom or bedroom, close the door and try on an armful negligees. The teenage daughter of the hostess and her friends may be unabashed enough to model the lingerie before the living room crowd; but others will only let one or two friends see theirs.

By the end of the party, the saleswoman is likely to have sold $300 worth of super sheer baby doll, lacy, satiny, backless, frontless, side less, and very sexy lingerie.