Yes, you read that right. We’re not even three weeks into the new year and already people everywhere are indulging in the newest craze, the “Tide Pod Challenge,” which involves eating a Tide Pod for fun. Described as “delicious” and “the forbidden fruit” in online chats and on various websites, dumb people everywhere have decided to see what all the hype is about and are intentionally ingesting the poisonous chemicals that rest inside the pods, such as hydrogen peroxide and ethanol. As a result, poison control centers received over 12,000 calls from people last year who called in about poisoning from––you guessed it––ingesting Tide Pods. While joking about eating something as ridiculous as colorful laundry detergent can be funny to many, actually going the distance and eating it is not only incredibly stupid (it’s soap, what do you think it’s going to taste like?), but also incredibly dangerous.
So, how did this all start?
One of the earliest mentions of eating Tide Pods can be traced back to a 2015 “The Onion” article, a satirical news site. They wrote a piece from the point of view of a child trying to eat laundry pods.
In May of 2016, a famous YouTuber made a video about eating Tide Pods, and on March 31 of 2017, the famous comedy website CollegeHumor created a Youtube video titled, “Don’t Eat the Laundry Pods,” which had millions of views by the time 2017 was over.
As time went on, memes and gifs about eating Tide Pods, satirically called “The Forbidden Fruit,” began to circulate on Reddit and Twitter, the starting points of many Internet crazes:
As the hype around eating Tide Pods built, a video posted by YouTuber TheAaronSwan669 on January 7th contained the first mention of the words “Tide Pod Challenge.” Shortly after, many other videos popped up with people videotaping themselves eating Tide Pods in an attempt to get in on the new craze. As the movement gained traction and more and more reputable news outlets reported on the trend, Procter & Gamble were forced to make an announcement warning people about eating Tide Pods: “Laundry pacs are made to clean clothes. They should not be played with, whatever the circumstance, even if meant as a joke. Like all household cleaning products, they must be used properly and stored safely.” Because of the rise in popularity of the trend, stores like Walgreens and Walmart have literally begun locking Tide Pods, requiring an employee to retrieve them for you.
Wow. I can’t believe I live in a world where I can write a blog post about people eating laundry detergent. Although this story seems silly, it can have a significant impact on social media and digital marketing for Tide, as well as other companies. Obviously, this has been a PR nightmare for Tide. Through no real fault of their own, they now have to make PSAs to make sure that people won’t die from eating their product that wasn’t meant to be consumed. In an attempt to use their social media platforms and celebrity sponsorships to reach their target audience, Tide created a video with Pro Bowl Tight End Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots warning consumers not to eat the pods.
By using a famous athlete like Gronk who is known for partying and being a trendsetter among the sports world, Tide is hoping to relate to people who like Gronk and to hopefully use him to influence people not to eat Tide Pods. Although this probably was not how they intended to use Gronk when they signed him on as a sponsor, they are marketing their message on a digital platform to their target audience to effectively get their message across: Don’t eat the pods! In addition to Tide, other companies can use the Tide Pods craze to show their audience that they are cool and caught up on recent fads. Without advocating for actually eating the detergent, if a company’s Twitter or Facebook page makes a funny joke or posts an amusing picture joking about eating Tide Pods, they can connect better with the consumers who also think that this craze is funny while signaling that they are in touch with current trends. Buzzfeed, for example, has created articles ridiculing the decision to eat pods but also poking fun at the idea. Since the spread of this craze on social media enabled this crazy trend in the first place, it only makes sense that digital marketers would try to take advantage of it to reach out to their customer base.
What started out with a few harmless jokes about eating pods turned into a crazy and dangerous trend that, through social media, took over the Internet. What’s next in store for 2018, and how will digital marketers find a way to utilize the next craze?