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Tide Pods television ad emphasizes child-safety

A CPG megabrand takes a new approach to advertising.

The ad begins with a mother and toddler seated on the floor, next to a toy mobile, consisting of brightly colored animal-shaped placards suspended on strings. The mother strums the strings, making the placards turn. Initially, the toddler seems attracted to the motion and leans forward but suddenly stands and scampers away, escaping the still-seated mother's reach. Immediately prior, viewers had "heard" (ala the movie, Look who's talking) the toddler think, Animals. I've seen those before. The scene plays out while a voiceover says, "Parents help their children discover the world. But sometimes, they do it on their own."

The commercial then shows various toddlers in action: a girl inserting her toes into her mouth; a boy chomping down on a pumpkin; another boy biting on a table. With each, the viewers are able to "hear" the toddler's imaginative, fanciful thoughts. Next, the voiceover says, "Kids discover the world with their mouths." The typical adult viewer already knows that toddlers have an irrepressible sense of adventure and that they regard the world as edible; nonetheless, viewers likely will continue watching because the toddlers are so doggone adorable.

Up to that point, the viewer has no idea whose ad this is. That information is revealed when the ad cuts to a laundry table on which sits an open canister of Tide Pods; a lone Pod is next to the canister. And who comes waddling into camera view, all smiles, pudgy hand about to grab the Pod? None other than the tyke who walked away from the mobile. But he's thwarted, intercepted by Mom, who places the Pod into the canister, snaps it shut, and places it high in a cabinet. Reenter the voiceover: "Keep laundry packs out of reach and away from children." Superimposed against the background of the closed cabinet door is the message, Always keep away from children. Below that is a pictogram of the circle/slash variety typical of communicating something prohibited. Inside the circle/slash is a depiction of a canister and the silhouette of a child holding a Pod. The pictogram itself is an element of the graphics on the actual canisters. The ad signs off with the voiceover, "Brought to you by Tide," as the screen shows only the Tide logo against corporate orange.

A precedent setting ad

The ad, atypically, makes no promotional claims about the product's efficacy, quality, or other such features; instead, the focus is on child-safety. But that doesn't mean promotional benefits are not there to be had, as Tide generates plenty of good will and increases consumer confidence.

Not to be overlooked is Tide's long-held status as a megabrand. It might seem counterintuitive, but a megabrand can't maintain its status by claims of superiority vis-à-vis the competition. That's because the marketplace already has accepted that comparison; otherwise, the brand would not have grown into a megabrand. A megabrand, nonetheless, is not immune from the constant pressure of differentiating itself. By portraying itself as the brand committed to child-safety and the first in the category to run ads to that effect, Tide has the makings for yet another competitive advantage.

Acknowledgement of the strategic potential of child-safety is evidenced further by the Tide website. On the Pods page, the aforementioned pictogram is displayed prominently, as is the message in capital letters, KEEP TIDE PODS AND OTHER DETERGENT PRODUCTS OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. Taking the message further, there's a Learn More button. When clicked, it opens to a page titled, Clean Up Your Laundry Routine, providing printed safety guidelines along with an associated embedded video.

Packaging plays central role

Pods demonstrate the indispensable role of packaging in allowing different forms of a product, along with the conveniences that those forms provide. No measuring, no pouring, just drop an individually-packaged pod in the washer, as the other pods remain in the easy-open, easy-reclose canister.

And despite whatever conveniences packaging provides, when there's a hazard associated with a product, packaging is the logical medium through which to communicate whatever warnings are warranted. Packaging, unlike other media, communicates at the point-of-purchase and at the time of product use, allowing warnings to be present at key times. And when packaging is teamed with other media, as Tide did with television and Internet, packaging should remain front and center, giving consumers the means of recognizing the product in the store.

Others shouldn't swim against the tide

For sure, the ad has relevance for other marketers of laundry pods, including the private brands of the club stores. And the relevance spreads in concentric circles; take, for example, the fact that a major brand of dishwasher detergent comes in pods, multicolored no less, and potentially attractive to children. The challenge to marketers is to view Tide's initiative from the broadest perspective, and ask whether there are reasonably foreseeable circumstances in which their products can be hazards to children.

Marketers vary in their awareness and approaches. Some simply have a perception of their products as non-threatening and have a blithe indifference to child safety. Others have a policy of soft-peddling warnings, fearful of a negative impact on the purchasing decision. Whatever a marketer's disposition, it's not self-serving unless it's far-reaching, inquisitive, and dedicated to doing what's responsible and prudent.

Now that Tide boldly has set an example, it wouldn't be smart for other markets to ignore it, thinking that it'll all come out in the wash.

For related reading, see Packaging Insights:

Children ingesting detergent pods: should it have been foreseen? , Sept. 10, 2012
Packaging and warnings, April 30 2008
The use of symbols on packages, August 10, 2010
Bettering the packaging-advertising connection, January 11, 2013


Sterling Anthony is a consultant, specializing in the strategic use of marketing, logistics, and packaging. His contact information is: 100 Renaissance Center- P.O. Box 43176; Detroit, MI 48243; 313-531-1875 office; 313-531-1972 fax;;

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