Procter & Gamble Takes on the “Tide Pod Challenge”

January 23, 2018

A few weeks ago, Tide’s official Twitter account posted a quick video of New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski talking about one of the brand’s best-selling products. While this would normally be standard procedure for a company spokesperson, the clip didn’t feature any footage of Gronk encouraging people to buy laundry detergent. Instead, he actively discourages the public from taking part in the “Tide pod challenge,” a dangerous viral dare that centers on ingesting containers of concentrated detergent. “No no no no no no no,” says Gronkowski in the video. “What the heck is going on, people? Use Tide Pods for washing. Not eating. Do not eat.”

So far this year, at least 39 people have received treatment from poison control centers for intentionally eating packets of laundry detergent. That’s the same amount of cases that were reported in all of 2016. Over the course of last year, however, the Tide pod challenge began picking up steam among young people on social media. The tiny bright-colored packets of laundry detergent have long been a source of danger for infants and others who can mistake them for food. But the Tide pod challenge centers on videos of people purposely ingesting concentrated detergent, sometimes by cooking them in a pan or even vaping them. Needless to say, this is incredibly dangerous and should never be done by anyone, ever.

Initially, Tide’s parent company Procter & Gamble chose not to speak out against the challenge when it surfaced online in 2015. Executives assumed that mentioning the issue publicly would only encourage more people to try eating Tide pods. But the challenge didn’t need official corporate recognition in order to go viral on social media by the end of 2017. Now P&G is taking on the problem directly, first by teaming up with platforms like Facebook and YouTube to make sure they remove all Tide pod challenge videos. The brand is also engaging heavily on social media both through big guns like Gronk and direct communication with possibly poisoned customers. Most of all, they want to communicate that eating concentrated detergent is no laughing matter. “Laundry pacs are made to clean clothes,” said P&G spokeswoman Petra Renck. “They should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke.”

Questions:

  1. Why were Procter & Gamble initially reluctant to speak out publicly against the Tide pod challenge?
  2. Do you think Procter & Gamble’s current strategy will decrease the appeal of the Tide pod challenge?

Source: Hallie Detrick, “4 Ways P&G Is Trying to Stop People From Eating Tide Pods,” Fortune, January 22, 2018. Photo by Austin Kirk.

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