The so-called “Tide Pod Challenge” has reached epidemic levels.
In the first 15 days of 2018, poison control centres have reported at least 39 cases of people — mainly teenagers — intentionally ingesting the laundry detergent packets. For context, that’s as many cases as were reported during the entirety of 2016.
Procter & Gamble (PG), the manufacturer of Tide Pods, was initially mum on the topic, fearing any effort to discourage people from eating their product would only draw more attention to the trend. But with the challenge going viral online, they’ve decided to act. Here’s how they’re tackling the trends:
1. Taking to Twitter
Interspersed between heartfelt apologies to customers who’ve had trouble with Tide products and queries about the Tide product range, Tide’s Twitter account (@tide) now lists some replies that would make more sense coming from a health-care provider than a consumer brand. “Please drink a glass of water or milk and contact the Poison Control Center(800-222-1222) or a Doctor Immediately,” one reads. Another advises “Our Product is absolutely not to be consumed.”
2. Same Look, New Terrible Taste
In 2015, P&G started coating the pods in a bitter-tasting substance. The adjustment, which came three years after the 2012 launch of the product, was aimed at preventing children from biting into the pods. If the current spate of poison control cases is any indication, it hasn’t discouraged their adolescent counterparts.
3. Intra-Internet cooperation
The company has worked with YouTube and Facebook to take down “Tide Pod Challenge” posts, which are thought to be responsible for the recent rise in oral consumption. Though there are debates about the extent to which social media platforms should be involved in policing content, both platforms have cooperated with P&G to remove posts as quickly as possible on the basis that they encourage harmful behavior.
“Our Community Standards don’t allow encouragement of physical harm or content that is promoting or encouraging behavior that could lead to self-injury or death. We have and will continue to remove any of this material as soon as we’re aware of it,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.
A YouTube spokesperson echoed that statement, saying “YouTube’s Community Guidelines prohibit content that’s intended to encourage dangerous activities that have an inherent risk of physical harm. We work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate our policies.”
4. Calling In the Big Guns
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is also a spokesperson for Tide, recorded a video for the brand’s social media channels in which he advised on the dangers of eating Tide Pods.
No word yet on what this has done to consumption among fans of all other NFL teams.
In a statement, Proctor and Gamble said they “are deeply concerned about the intentional and improper use of liquid laundry pacs by young people engaging in intentional self-harm challenges.” In addition to their social media efforts, the company says it is working with the American Cleaning Institute, an organization focused on cleaning-product safety, to help “post-secondary education institutions to educate their students that laundry detergents should only be used to clean clothes.”
You read that right – post-secondary, as in colleges and universities. While P&G is certainly doing the right thing in its outreach efforts, lets hope for everyone’s sake that most American college kids are smart enough not to ingest packets of harmful chemicals.
Update 1/22: This article has been updated to add a statement and further details from P&G.