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Advertising that works too well

Television advertising was built on claims that products do certain things well.  According to current Quaker ads, oatmeal makes immigrants warm enough on the inside to handle Canada’s cold winter.  (However, they do suggest putting on a parka too.)

A local restaurant’s commercial claims that its meals “taste like home.”  (I already eat at home.  I don’t want to taste the same thing when I go out.)

A popular hair growth product for men guarantees satisfaction but warns against using it if pregnant.  (I didn’t realize that was a problem for guys.)

And Oprah’s been everywhere promoting Weight Watcher’s new Freestyle program that allows you to eat whatever you want.  (Most of us just call that “dinner” and skip the membership fee.)

Okay, so some claims aren’t exactly helpful.  But recently, Tide Pods’ promotions have had life and death (and a little in between) consequences for some customers.  Apparently placing poison symbols on the label and promoting its ability to break down stains in cloth is not clear enough.  They have to specifically tell people, “Do not eat laundry detergent.”

According to news reports, over three dozen teens have “misused” Tide detergent pods by ingesting them this year.  It’s part of a recent viral challenge.  Teens record themselves biting into a Tide detergent pod and post the video online.  The result is a lot of frothing at the mouth, possible organ damage, and of course, the occasional death.

So after years of research and product testing and then branding it so that doing laundry actually seems appealing, Tide now has to backtrack.  It seems the pods are too appealing.

They have a gel-like texture, are brightly coloured and fit in the palm of your hand.  Fortunately, Tide realized this could be enticing for curious and orally-fixated small children.  So they dedicated an entire television campaign to remind parents to keep their pod container properly closed and out of reach of toddlers.  It just never occurred to them that the real problem would be full grown teens.

So the laundry giant also created an entire web page with instructions for survival should their product be ingested by idiots.  Good job, Tide.

Despite this, one branding expert suggested that the product be pulled from store shelves and completely re-packaged from the container to the pod, itself.  Then they could be sold “in a way that does not look edible, appetizing, exciting or anything else.”  Because, of course, that’s what marketing and branding is all about.

So to save a less-than bright portion of the population from poisoning themselves, new products should be appealing, but not too appealing.  Colourful, but not too colourful.  And not remotely resemble the texture of food.  (A thick plastic coating won’t stop a ravenous teen so hide your decorative fruit bowl.)

That’s one solution.  But personally, I’ve always subscribed to Darwin’s law of survival.  This just may be Nature’s way of identifying certain DNA before it reproduces.

Perhaps Tide should promote that in their next campaign.

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