Tide Pod challenge has Proctor & Gamble on the PR defensive

The Tide Pod challenge, named for the laundry detergent pods produced under Proctor & Gamble’s Tide branding, has made news in recent weeks. One of many internet memes that have been taken to the illogical extreme, the so-called ‘challenge’ involves taking one of the pods, and attempting to chew or eat them. On YouTube, videos could be found showing teenagers taking up the challenge. The website is now removing the videos as part of their own policy to remove content that encourages dangerous activity.

There are obvious health concerns with such an act. Tide Pods are extremely toxic to ingest, and can result in a myriad of short and long-term issues with digestion and breathing. The possibility of dying from consuming detergent is very real. However, despite warning labels, public announcements, the pods have seemingly made people ignorant to the very real dangers of laundry detergent.

As with any number of products that have harmed or even killed consumers, Proctor & Gamble finds itself on the defensive. CEO David Taylor wrote a blog on his company website to state his own personal concerns as a parent with the dangerous meme. Tide teamed up with the Patriot’s own Rob Gronkowski to release their own video on YouTube to remind people about what Tide Pods are used for.

As P&G scramble to get in front of the Tide Pod challenge before more people get hurt, questions about the product’s safety are returning to the forefront

The fifteen days of 2018 saw poison control centers dealing with 39 cases of intentional misuse of detergent pods. To put this in perspective, 2017 saw a total of 53 cases of misuse.

However, it is not the first time that the Tide Pods have been scrutinized. The small, almost candy-like appearance was problematic in 2012. Tide was forced to announce a new form of packaging to prevent babies from gaining easy access. However, from 2012 to 2015, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported disturbing statistics: More than 33,000 calls to poison control centers were fielded over detergent pod incidents. The most affected were children 1 or 2 years of age.

Accidents continue to be a concern even as intentional eating of the pods is seemingly on the rise. And the problem isn’t limited to the very young—experts believe that the elderly stricken with poor eyesight or dementia could be victims of any detergent pod.

Proctor & Gamble have repeatedly addressed safety concerns over the Tide Pods over the years. However, the recent rash of incidents has called into question the effectiveness of those measures. The possibility that Tide Pods, and other detergent pods, will be removed from store shelves has been rumored—one that was swiftly quashed by fact-checking internet sites and Proctor & Gamble itself.

How satire eventually became the Tide Pod challenge, and a nightmare to parents and investors

Tide Pods are small, brightly colored, and smell pleasant by design. This combination of factors can attract a child to them, and is why parents must control access to the pods. Yet this does not fully explain how the Tide Pod challenge came to exist.

Internet denizens have made many crude jokes about the appearance of Tide Pods over the years. Most discussion of the detergent pods was focused on accidental ingestion. The Onion released its own darkly humorous take on the pods in 2015 and later in 2017. The jokes spread, until seemingly inevitably, people took the jokes too far.

The Tide Pod challenge grew from the satire and through social media. A combination of the “forbidden” nature of the pods, and the need to seek attention or status on social media websites, has driven some to take on “the challenge.”

What more could be done to put a stop to the Tide Pod challenge?

Tide Pods have warning labels, as with any detergent. Proctor & Gamble has addressed potential safety issues with this, and its other products. However, like other major corporations, it cannot totally control what the users do with a product. This unfortunate fact calls the effectiveness of YouTube’s video removals into question. And such removals do not eliminate social media from this situation. There are other video sharing sites, other venues for attention-seekers and influencers to use.

To some, the pods being discontinued would solve everything… ignoring the other products out there that look “appealing”. It also ignores the power of social media to spread information among like-minded individuals. It’s not a matter of if there will be another “forbidden food”, but rather when the next will be found and turned into a “challenge”.

Even before the rise of social media, similar ‘challenges’ have swept through the youth of the world. Many such challenges have come with the risk of serious harm or death. Some products have been removed from stores, but others continue to be sold today with more warning labels than ever. Safety packaging continues to change for a variety of dangerous household products. Eventually, one has to start asking themselves where a line is being drawn. How much responsibility do corporations have towards consumers who are deliberately misusing a product?

There is no way to fully predict how the Tide Pod challenge will end as a social media sensation. As for the product itself, its place on store shelves appears to be secure—in more ways than one. Inevitably, the question of liability will enter the conversation, and there appears to be no simple answers.

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