Why are teens eating Tide pods? Or, at least, pretending to eat them in videos that they're posting online? We have some theories. But the company that makes the brightly coloured laundry pods would like you to know that, whatever the reason, it isn't their fault.
Procter & Gamble, the company that manufacturers Tide pods, is clearly in a tough spot. Kids are eating their poisonous laundry detergent as a kind of nihilistic joke (drinking bleach was all the rage this past winter) and while the old saying is that there's no such thing as bad publicity, this is pretty bad. The CEO of P&G has written a blog post about the recent fad, explaining that they can't stop kids from being absolutely stupid.
"Ensuring the safety of the people who use our products is fundamental to everything we do at P&G," David Taylor, the CEO of Procter & Gamble, wrote this week in a blog post simply called "Keeping Us Safe".
"However, even the most stringent standards and protocols, labels and warnings can't prevent intentional abuse fuelled by poor judgment and the desire for popularity," Taylor continued.
Well, he's got us there. Back in 1982, someone started tampering with Tylenol bottles in Chicagoland, lacing them with cyancide. Seven people died and the company that makes Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson, responded by creating tamper-evident packaging. The Tide pod-eating fad seems to be the opposite of that. P&G doesn't want anyone to get poisoned, but the company's younger consumers are practising self-harm as a kind of comment on just how crappy the world is right now.
"As P&G's CEO, I assure you we're working with our partners to do what we can to stop this dangerous trend, including ensuring social media networks are removing videos that glorify this harmful behaviour, partnering with advocacy and industry groups to help spread the word that this is dangerous behaviour not to be copied, and releasing this public service announcement that is designed to reach teens and young adults - in addition to other steps we've taken."
True to its word, Tide released a video on YouTube about how stupid it is to ingest laundry detergent. But obviously teens already know just how dangerous it is. That's why they're doing it.
"Let's all take a moment to talk with the young people in our lives and let them know that their life and health matter more than clicks, views and likes," Taylor wrote. "Please help them understand that this is no laughing matter."
Which brings us to precisely why this is happening: It is a laughing matter, because it's something that pushes the boundaries of what's deemed acceptable behaviour online. And teens are always trying to test just how far you can go with a stupid joke.
Companies flock to places such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat to market their wares, and modern corporations adopt youth culture in the process, just as they have for decades. And teens today mostly play along. They have grown up in a marketing-obsessed world, just as the Millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers did before them. And teens of 2018 really don't seem to mind being awash in brands. Until they do. And that's where the Tide pods come in.
How can this youngest generation rebel? By creating memes that are unnerving for adults such as David Taylor, the CEO of Procter & Gamble. We saw the same thing around Harambe, the gorilla that was shot at the Cincinnati Zoo in May of 2016. Why did youth culture embrace Harambe and make endless jokes in poor taste about the gorilla's death? Because it was one of the few things that brands such as Tide weren't going to touch.
And literally eating poison is just another one of those boundary-pushing memes that teens have adopted in order to carve out something of their own, hoping that maybe it won't be co-opted. People are indeed dying from eating Tide pods, but it's mostly adults suffering from dementia. And yet again, that makes the joke even more risque and appealing for kids.
In the end, everything about youth culture can and will be co-opted, of course, if there's a buck to be made. In fact, a pizzeria in Brooklyn has made a Tide pod-inspired pizza. And thus the marketing circle of life has been completed. Eating the Tide pod-looking pizza won't kill you (they just dye the cheese blue and orange), so don't expect teens of the year 2018 to be interested. But you can expect the next nihilistic trend to be even more outrageous.
What's more outrageous than eating laundry detergent or jokes about beloved zoo animals that died horribly? I'm not a teen any more, so I'm out of ideas. But all we know for sure is that it's coming soon to a YouTube near you.