Why Tide Pods Look Like Candy

P&G had also found that consumers were tired of lugging around bulky 7-pound Tide detergent bottles, measuring out liquid detergent and pouring it into a cup, and then cleaning up the inevitable spills. Doing laundry had become a dreaded duty.

The company needed to create something different that would convince consumers to move away from liquid laundry detergent. It set out to create a distinctive palm-sized, liquid-filled laundry detergent capsule that would grab shoppers’ attention on the shelf and make doing laundry a little more exciting.

In 2012, after eight years, P&G America finally introduced Tide Pods, a delicious blue, orange and white single pack of concentrated laundry detergent.
Tide Pods was a breakthrough success. But P&G created a product so visually appealing and compelling that it inadvertently became a public health risk.

Interruption of the laundry

Tide, which hit the U.S. market in 1946 as the first synthetic laundry detergent, has long been one of P&G’s most important brands on a list that includes Gillette, Pampers, Dawn, Bounty and other staples of American households.
Tide dominated the laundry detergent sector and was at times P&G’s largest US brand. Within the company, working on Tide was a coveted job and often a stepping stone to senior management.

Tide Pods wasn’t P&G’s first attempt at creating a laundry tablet.

In 1960, P&G launched Salvo, a compressed powder tablet. It was on the market for about five years. In 2000, P&G introduced Tide Tabs: tablets filled with washing powder. But the company pulled them from the market two years later – the powder tablets did not always dissolve completely and only worked in hot water.

“It wasn’t even close to hitting the targets,” a former P&G employee later told The Wall Street Journal.

P&G’s next attempt – the development of a liquid tablet that would eventually become Tide Pods – was an extremely difficult technical task. More than 75 employees and 450 different packaging and product sketches were involved in this. Thousands of consumers were surveyed.

The goal is to “break sleep washing” among consumers who “automatically pick up detergent,” P&G’s marketing director for North American fabric care told the New York Times. “We want to shake up this category with innovations.”
At the 2012 Academy Awards, P&G featured Tide Pods in a sparkling, vibrant commercial with the tagline “Pop In. Stand Out”. The spot encouraged customers to “stick” Tide Pods in the washing machine and watch their clothes “burst” with brightness. P&G spent $150 million on a promotional blitz to ship Tide Pods to consumers.

“Food imitation products”

Within a year, Tide Pods surpassed $500 million in sales in North America and controlled about 75% of the single-dose laundry pack market, the company said at the time. The product was so successful that other manufacturers rushed to develop similar versions.

Tide Pods has appealed to customers with its lightweight design, blue, orange, and white striped swirl, and soft, squishy feel.

Today it features a patented three-chamber design that separates detergent (the green compartment), stain remover (white) and bleach (blue). P&G didn’t say why it changed colors.

Even the packaging of Tide Pods was different.

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The company developed a clear plastic container in the shape of a goldfish bowl that clearly highlighted the pods to make them stand out on the shelf. People also liked the way the Tide Pods felt in their hands, researchers found.
according to dr Frédéric Basso, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science who has researched this trend, the design of Tide Pods reflected a long strategy by consumer goods manufacturers to develop cleaning and personal care products that have food or beverage properties, known as “food-like Products”.

Other examples of this tactic are Bottles in the form of soft drinks and labels with colorful fruits.

By designing products that make connections to food, games, or other positive experiences, customers are less likely to automatically associate those items with uncomfortable or boring work, Basso said.

“Tide pods obviously remind people of food, particularly food that was 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 E -Mail. It’s “bite-sized, processed, colorful, with a non-threatening texture, something of a cross between a candy and a chicken nugget.”

Unwanted Consequences

But the appearance of Tide Pods posed an unforeseen threat.

Young children and elderly people with dementia started putting them in their mouths. Within two months of Tide Pods launching, nearly 250 cases of young children eating packets of detergent were reported to poison control centers across the United States.
P&G quickly responded to safety concerns by making Tide Pods packaging more difficult to open with a double-lock closure on the lid. A year later, the packaging was changed to orange from the original clear plastic resembling candy shells. Since then, P&G has made a number of other changes that have made tide pod packaging more child resistant and improved warnings.
P&G said accidents among young children are primarily due to improper storage and access to laundry packages, not the color of the pods. The company pointed to a 2017 study that found color did not play a critical role in accidental contact with laundry pods.

The company is conducting an ongoing tide pod safety campaign to educate consumers on the proper use and storage of the product, a P&G spokesman said. It includes advertising and content partnerships with online channels for parents.

Yet, in 2013 and 2014, detergent capsules from Tide and other companies were involved in two deaths and two dozen life-threatening poisonings. According to one study, more than 37,000 calls to US poison control centers involving children under the age of six were received during those years.
P&G has developed numerous safety innovations for tide pods since 2012.
Eight deaths were reported to the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2012 and 2017. Two of the cases were infants and six were adults with dementia.
In 2015, Consumer Reports said that detergent capsules were too risky to recommend because of their safety issues.
This year, P&G and other manufacturers passed voluntary laundry package standards to reduce accidents involving young children. Under P&G’s leadership, manufacturers agreed to keep the capsules in opaque containers, coat them with a bitter or foul-tasting substance, and reinforce them to reduce the risk of bursting when squeezed.

A P&G spokesman said the standard has led to a sharp drop in accident rates in recent years, even as more people use laundry packages.

Despite P&G’s efforts to make Tide Pods packaging and design safer and to warn consumers of risks, in early 2018 a Tide Pods “challenge” meme quickly spread on social media among teens challenging others to to swallow the capsules. Tide partnered with then-New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to issue a PSA and launched a safety campaign on social media.
At the time, New York lawmakers asked P&G to change the design of the Tide Pods to make them look less edible. The state legislature introduced a bill that would require all laundry detergent packaging sold in New York to be a uniform color that is “unattractive to children”.

However, P&G said accidents happen whether the product has no color, one color or multiple colors, and there is insufficient evidence that each color is associated with safety improvements.

Keeping Tide Pods out of the reach of children, the company says, is the number one safety preventive measure.

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