Turning the Tide: P&G’s Response to the Tide Pod Challenge

02.08.2018 | Hattie Schafhausen

Recently, it’s become apparent that people will do just about anything, no matter how dangerous, to become internet-famous. Who could have guessed that eating highly concentrated packets of laundry detergent – an activity that can possibly kill you – would become an internet sensation?

For those who are not yet aware, the Tide Pod Challenge is a social-media trend that has inspired countless memes and tweets about eating single-load laundry packets that seem to look somewhat like candies with their shape and bright colors. Apparently the similarity is so striking that teenagers are videoing themselves eating the Tide Pods and uploading the video to social media platforms for bragging rights.

These bragging rights are not worth the potential harm it can cause the human body. Laundry detergent, especially in the highly concentrated form that Tide Pods are, is incredibly toxic. According to Consumer Reports, these pods typically consist of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and soap. Those three elements combined have the power to “literally eat away at the tissue that makes up your gums and inner cheeks.” After turning your mouth into a caustic chemical wasteland, the same will happen to your esophagus, stomach, and other parts of your gastrointestinal tract. Inevitable intense vomiting and diarrhea will follow, and if you don’t seek medical attention, it is a quick route to seizures, coma and eventually death.

A few years ago, Tide Pods drew negative attention for their harmful effects on toddlers who had accidentally gotten into the packaging. Proctor and Gamble (P&G), Tide’s parent company responded by adjusting the dissolvable plastic to be thicker and harder to bite through, as well as adding a bitter taste to prompt spitting the pod out. Little did P&G know that it would soon be dealing with a different crisis: people intentionally hurting themselves with its product that is clearly marked as toxic.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, the The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) reports that there have been 157 cases of “intentional exposure among teens to single-load laundry packets.” Because the total number of cases in 2017 was just 53, the rate that this internet sensation is gaining popularity is extremely alarming.   

In accordance with P&G’s swift response to its crisis with toddlers ingesting the detergent, it has arguably been just as proactive and comprehensive with this latest problem. In an effort to hinder the virality of the phenomenon, P&G moved quickly to work with social media sites like YouTube and Instagram to get the harmful videos removed. On Jan 17., YouTube announced it would be deleting all videos associated with the Tide Pod Challenge, saying that the videos violated a rule that prohibits content that is, “…intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm.”

Also using social media platforms in their favor, crisis teams with P&G used two-way communication with consumers to ensure its key messages were being disseminated to the right audiences. An example of this communication is P&G releasing a public service announcement featuring the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski.



This PSA appears to be constructive because P&G contracted someone with whom teenagers are familiar and who can reach these social media users on a peer level.

After asserting that, “even the most stringent standards and protocols, labels and warnings can’t prevent intentional abuse fueled by poor judgment and the desire for popularity,” P&G’s CEO David Taylor implored the public for help in a Jan. 22 blog post. “Let’s all take a moment to talk with the young people in our lives and let them know that their life and health matter more than clicks, views and likes. Please help them understand that this is no laughing matter.”

P&G’s key messages were very clearly thought out. Because P&G clearly marked its labels with “Keep out of Reach of Children” and “Do Not Ingest”, it was smart for P&G not to apologize for the mistakes of consumers. This way, “They validated public concerns, yet made it clear they don’t consider themselves responsible” said marketing professor Americus Reed.

On Feb. 6, 2018, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and Sen. Brad Hoylman of New York wrote a letter to P&G asking for a design change that would make Tide Pods look less appetizing and less like “Gummy Bears.” If P&G were to make this change, it poses the question if an uglier detergent pod will deter teenagers from seeking internet popularity? Or is the potential fame too enticing? Time will tell.

If someone you know ingests a laundry packet or has a question about the risk of exposure to one, immediately contact the national Poison Help hotline at 1-800-222-1222. The AAPCC poison control experts are available 24/7 and free of charge.


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Filed under: COMMUNIQUÉ PR, Consumer, Crisis Communications, Social media

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