Late 2017 saw the emergence of the Tide Pod Challenge, in which teenagers attempted to eat the liquid laundry detergent pacs, allegedly because they looked edible. Obviously this proved very dangerous, as doing so can cause vomiting, breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness. Tide’s stance on the crisis? Basically, they didn’t take one. There’s only so much a company can tell teenagers to do, without recalling and discontinuing a product entirely. They simply gave warning after warning about the product on social media when the crisis was happening, but also on the actual containers the pods came in. In a crisis, there are many different routes you can take in order to address a problem, and Tide really did their best to follow a crisis communication model in every way they could. The ways in which they took responsibility, how they monitored the situation via social media, the way they were honest about their product, and how they put the public first (Wilcox et al., 2016) are all honorable ways that Tide handled the Tide Pod Challenge crisis of late 2017/early 2018.
Tide took responsibility. In the midst of the PR crisis in 2018, Tide took to their social media and responded in real time to people on Twitter who claimed they ingested the pods. Tweets such as this one streamed from the official Tide Twitter account, repeating the same guidelines as to what one should do should they ingest a pod. Tide also provided resources via this method, telling people to contact the Poison Control Center and also providing their own number for customer service help. They also went the extra step in working with different social media platforms to “remove harmful content that is not consistent with their policies.” In responding in real-time and providing people with the best available resources, along with working to make sure the harmful content didn’t see the light of day, Tide took responsibility for a PR crisis stemming from their own product. Not once did they ever say that because they didn’t start the crisis was it not their fault.
They kept track of the situation and responded in kind. Obviously, a situation such as this in which people are being physically harmed warrants a quick response from the company responsible, and Tide did not disappoint. In the midst of the crisis, Tide tweeted out this tweet reiterating that the pods once again should not be eaten, but also included a video by New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski, simply repeating Tide’s message: “Use Tide Pods for washing, not eating.” By posting a simple video message and not endlessly repeating themselves on social media, but simply stating it via someone who is looked up to by the target audience (the teens looking to do or the teens who have already done the challenge,) Tide is able to drive home the ‘less is more’ approach to the crisis.
Tide was transparent and honest. They outlined what their product could do in very simple terms should it not be used the way it was intended. The CEO of P&G (Tide’s parent company) remarked the challenge to be “extremely concerning” and “dangerous”in a blog post in the midst of the challenge. “They didn’t want people to do this and they didn’t need any more publicity – but now they’re doing all they can (to discourage the challenge),” said the chair of the marketing department of Miami University at the time. When a company is transparent like this during a crisis, it puts them in a place of humility, where the public is less likely to criminalize them. When Tide disclosed as much as they can about the danger of their product, there’s only so much they can do to a point in order to completely stop the Tide Pod-eating trend.
They put their customers first. The first iteration of Tide Pods came out in 2012. Immediately, there were reports of small children getting their hands on them, so Tide responded by creating a double-latch lid to deter the children from being able to access them. When the popularity of the challenge was at its peak, Tide responded to people in real-time on Twitter, advising them on what they should do if they ingested a pod. They tried their best to advise consumers of the dangers of their very popular product, and help those that their efforts did not reach by improving their product and making it as unappealing as possible. They reacted quickly and took responsibility for the fact that their product may have looked delicious, but consuming it would elicit a feeling that is anything but.
As soon as they released their product, Tide listened to the concerns of the consumers and changed the product accordingly. “Speaking publicly about lessons learned is a major corporate step toward obtaining public… forgiveness,” (Lukaszewski, 2016) and Tide acknowledged their wrongdoing. When misuse of their product grew out of control, they made public statements and prevented encouraging behavior of this misuse. When it comes to crisis management, and in a case like this when the crisis was ultimately out of their control, Tide took proper action to correct the situation as best they could. As a result of their efforts (or possibly just the natural pattern of internet trends,) the Tide Pod challenge soon died off.
Wilcox, D. L., Cameron, G. T., & Reber, B. H. (2016). 10: Conflict management. In Public relations strategies and tactics, Updated 11th edition (11th ed., p. 182). Pearson.
Lukaszewski, J. E. (2016). Seven dimensions of crisis communication management: A strategic analysis and planning model. Ragan’s Communication’s Journal, 19.