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Tide's Brand Safety Problem Is Back as Pods Memes Surge

By Published on .

Just when it almost looked safe for Procter & Gamble Co. to advertise on YouTube again, the meme "eating Tide Pods" has surged again on social media.

Videos that seem to show people biting the appealingly designed, highly toxic, concentrated laundry detergent products, which have been around since 2012, have suddenly become hot, such as one showing "furries" (people who like to dress in animal costumes) using Tide Pods as a pizza topping.

The new memes that emerged on YouTube and elsewhere come as P&G considers a return to the platform after pulling the plug on paid placements there last year over brand-safety concerns. It's not clear whether this will influence the decision.

Spokeswoman Tressie Rose says P&G is still reviewing how YouTube and other digital platforms have complied with Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard's call for digital platforms to guarantee brand safety and get Media Rating Council-accredited third-party verification for their audiene numbers. The MRC has yet to accredit pending applications for such certification from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others, but Pritchard indicated in November the company may provide an extension for platforms that are making adequate progress toward the goal.

Regardless of the media implications, videos of people eating Tide Pods are, of course, the last thing P&G wants to see. Pods have been the company's most successful product launch of the past decade since their 2012 debut. But reports of children and even adults dying or being seriously injured by ingesting the brightly colored products that look like candy to some people has been the bane of the brand's existence.

P&G replaced the original clear packaging with more opaque and harder-to open child-proof packages, and launched TV, online video and radio public-service announcements to warn people to keep the products away from children.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports more than 10,500 cases of poisonings from all laundry packs, not just Tide's, in 2017 (down from 11,500 in 2016 despite continued growth of the busines). Not just kids are at risk. Four adults with dementia have died from eating laundry detergent pods, while two children have, according to data released last year by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The first reported death linked to detergent packs was in 2013 and involved a less festively designed All unit-dose product eaten by a child staying with his mother at battered women's shelter. All was then owned by Sun Products, now by Henkel.

Laundry pods are a $1.3 billion annual business that grew more than 12 percent last year as measured by Nielsen data that excludes online sales and some club stores. P&G, led by Tide, has more than an 80 percent share of the business, according to Bernstein Research.

Besides YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter also have seen an increase in posts on the eating Tide Pods meme. The Onion may have gotten the idea started with a fictional and satirical 2015 post from a child about his determination to eat a Tide Pod, which it followed up earlier this year with a fake news story about a new Sour Apple flavor of Pods. CollegeHumor has drawn 2.9 million YouTube viewers—and some current advertisers (unsurprisngly, not P&G)—to a "Don't Eat Tide Pods" video that, of course, shows a guy eating Tide Pods. The humor site followed that more recently with a meme roundup from various social media.

P&G's PSA telling parents how to keep kids from eating Tide Pods has drawn a more modest 1.3 million YouTube viewers.

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people who use our products," says P&G spokeswoman Petra Renck. "Our laundry pacs are a highly concentrated detergent meant to clean clothes, and they're used safely in millions of households every day. They should be only used to clean clothes and kept up and away from children."

P&G isn't pushing for YouTube to remove the videos or anyone else to remove posts. "The internet is a communication tool enabling people to freely express themselves as they wish," Renck says. "Our focus is simply on providing the facts."

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