In 2004, Procter & Gamble was looking for a hit.
It had been two decades since the consumer product conglomerate introduced Tide liquid detergent, and revolutionized the way people washed their clothes. Cheaper rivals and in-house store brands broke Tide̵[ads1]7;s dominance.
P&G had also found that consumers were tired of lugging around large seven-kilo tide bottles, measuring and pouring liquid detergent into a cup and then cleaning up the inevitable mess. Doing the laundry had become a dreaded task.
The company needed to develop something so different that it would convince consumers to switch away from liquid detergent. It began trying to develop a distinctive palm-sized, liquid-filled detergent capsule that would catch customers’ eyes on the shelf and make laundry a little more exciting.
In 2012, after eight years, P&G finally introduced America to Tide Pods, a delicious blue, orange and white single pack with concentrated detergent.
Tide Pods was a breakthrough success. But P&G created a product so visually appealing and irresistible that it accidentally became a public health risk.
Tide, which came on the American market in 1946 as the first synthetic detergent, has long been one of P & G’s most important brands on a list that includes Gillette, Pampers, Dawn, Bounty and other staples in American homes.
Tide came to dominate the detergent sector and was at one time P & G’s largest American brand. Within the company, working with Tide has been a sought-after job and often a springboard to the management suite.
Tide Pods was not P & G’s first attempt to develop a wash tablet.
In 1960, P&G launched Salvo, a compressed powdered tablet. It was on the market for about five years. In 2000, P&G introduced Tide Tabs: tablets filled with powder detergent. But the company pulled them out of the market two years later – the powder tablets did not always dissolve completely, and they only worked in hot water.
“It was not even close to reaching the goals,” a former P&G employee later told The Wall Street Journal.
P & G’s next attempt – to make a tablet with liquid that would eventually become Tide Pods – was an enormously difficult engineering task. It involved more than 75 employees and 450 different packaging and product sketches. Thousands of consumers were surveyed.
The goal was to “disrupt the” sleep wash “” among consumers who “automatically pick up” detergent, P & G’s marketing director for North American drug care told The New York Times. “We want to shake up this category of innovation.”
At the 2012 Oscars, P&G introduced Tide Pods in a glittering, live commercial with the slogan “Pop In. Stand Out.” The place encouraged customers to “pop” Tide Pods into the washing machine and watch their clothes “pop” with brightness. P&G spent $ 150 million on an advertising flash to roll out Tide Pods to consumers.
Within a year, Tide Pods passed $ 500 million in sales in North America and controlled about 75% of the endosher laundry package market, the company said at the time. The product was so successful that other manufacturers ran to make similar versions.
Tide Pods appealed to customers with its lightweight design, blue, orange and white striped swirl and soft, squishy feel.
Today, it has a patented three-chamber design that separates detergent (the green space), stain remover (white) and bleach (blue). P&G did not say why they changed the colors.
Even the Tide Pods packaging was distinctive.
The company developed a transparent fish ball-shaped plastic container which clearly showed that the bellows stand out on the shelf. People also liked how Tide Pods felt in their hands, researchers found.
Tide Pods’ design reflected a long-standing strategy for consumer product manufacturers who designed cleaning products and personal hygiene products that showed food or beverage properties, according to Dr. Frédéric Basso, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science who has researched this trend, known as “food. imitation products ».
Other examples of this tactic include bottles shaped like soda and labels showing colorful fruits.
By developing products that create links to food, play or other positive experiences, customers are less likely to automatically associate these items with an unpleasant or tedious task, Basso said.
“Tide Pods obviously remind people of food, especially food made to appeal to children,” said John Allen, an anthropologist at Indiana University and author of “The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship with Food,” in an email. . It is “bite-sized, processed, colorful, with a non-threatening texture, in a way like a cross between candy and a lump of chicken.”
But Tide Pods’ performance posed an unforeseen threat.
Young children and the elderly with dementia began to stick them in their mouths. Within two months of the launch of Tide Pods, nearly 250 cases of young children eating detergent packs were reported to poison control centers around the United States.
P&G responded quickly to security issues by making Tide Pods packages more difficult to open, with a double lock on the lid. A year later, the packaging was changed to orange from the original clear plastic that resembled candy bowls. Since then, P&G has made a number of other changes that made Tide Pods’ packages more child-safe, and it improved the warning labels.
P&G said that accidents among young children are primarily due to incorrect storage and access to laundry packages, not the color of the bellows. The company pointed to a study from 2017 that found that color does not play a critical role in unintentional exposure to laundry.
The company has an ongoing safety campaign on Tide Pods to educate consumers about the proper use and storage of the product, said a P&G spokesman. It includes advertising and content partnerships with online parenting channels.
Nevertheless, detergent capsules by Tide and other companies were involved in two deaths and two dozen life-threatening poisonings in 2013 and 2014. U.S. poison control centers received more than 37,000 inquiries in those years involving children younger than six, according to a study.
Between 2012 and 2017, eight deaths were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Two of the cases were young children and six were adults with dementia.
In 2015, Consumer Reports said that wash capsules were too risky to recommend due to safety issues.
That year, P&G and other manufacturers adopted voluntary standards for laundry packages aimed at reducing accidents involving young children. Led by P&G, the manufacturers agreed to store the capsules in opaque containers, coat them with a bitter or disgusting substance and strengthen them to reduce the risk of cracking when squeezed.
A spokesman for P&G said that the standard has led to a sharp decline in the number of accidents in recent years, even as more people use laundry packages.
Despite P & G’s efforts to make Tide Pods’ packaging and design safer and warn consumers of risk, a Tide Pods “challenge” meme quickly spread on social media among teens who dared others to swallow the pods in early 2018. Tide partnered with then-New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to issue a PSA and launch a security campaign on social media.
At the time, New York lawmakers asked P&G to change the design of Tide Pods to make them look less edible. State lawmakers introduced a bill that would require all detergent packages sold in New York to have a uniform color that is “unattractive to children.”
But P&G said that accidents happen whether the product has no color, one color or several colors, and there is insufficient evidence to show that some color is associated with safety improvements.
Keeping Tide Pods out of the reach of children, the company said, is the most important safety precaution.