What PR pros can learn from Tide Pod donuts

Have you ever participated in a viral challenge?

You may have dumped a bucket of ice water on your head as part of the “Ice Bucket Challenge” to raise awareness for the disease ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge spread on social media like wildfire as more and more people wanted to take the challenge.

Many brands decided to “hijack” this trend to make themselves relevant and have an impact on the issue. This way, brands were able to attract new audiences and join the world’s conversation.

The latest viral challenge is much more dangerous. College kids and teenagers all over the nation decided to take the “Tide Pod Challenge”. They dared each other to fry up Tide Pods, bite into them and gush soap from in between their teeth, or even ingest them.

“My friend was stressed with rushing sororities so she ate a Tide Pod to be funny,” said Cara, a college freshman in Wisconsin. The appearance of being funny overshadowed the warning labels on the Tide bag that ingesting laundry detergent is toxic.

 Tide made sure to respond to this challenge that was quickly spreading. They chose to tweet a video of football tight end Rob Gronkowski to hopefully speak some sense to this young, Gusher hungry generation.

 Screenshot from Twitter. Tide hired Gronk to make a statement about not eating Tide Pods.


Screenshot from Twitter. Tide hired Gronk to make a statement about not eating Tide Pods.

To bring more positive light to the brand’s name, Tide also produced 1:45 worth of commercials to play during the Super Bowl. It is estimated that they spent over 17.5 million dollars for these commercials, not to mention what they had to pay Stranger Things star David Harbour to star in all of them.

 Although the Tide Pod Challenge created a PR Crisis for Tide, it became a PR legend for someone unexpected: bakeries.

 The rise of Tide Pod donuts

 Amidst Tide’s efforts to slow down the buzz around the Tide Pod Challenge, someone new came into the mix. Bakeries all over the nation, from Arizona to Indiana, decided to hijack the news of the Tide Pod challenge and profit from it.

At first look, bakeries have nothing to do with laundry detergent and on most days, there would not be any way to mesh these markets. However, they were able to “hijack” this news story and use it as a sales strategy. Many bakery owners took a humorous approach and played on Tide’s response to the whole issue.

“Tide Pod doughnuts are bad for laundry, but good to eat,” said Joey Carioti, co-owner of Cranky Al’s in Wisconsin. Cranky Al’s made Tide Pod donuts for two straight weeks and sold out every single day.

A bakery on the other side of the nation in Arizona is having the same success:

Screenshot from Twitter. Many news outlets tweeted about the Tide Donut phenomenon.

Screenshot from Twitter. Many news outlets tweeted about the Tide Donut phenomenon.

Why this worked

 Hijacking news stories can help your brand stay relevant and attract new audiences. These bakeries were probably not selling out of donuts every single day before, but by adopting a social media trend they were able to relate with their current and new customers. With the Tide Pod Challenge peaking in January 2018, waiting two months to produce Tide Pod donuts would not have been relevant anymore and would not have had the same effect.

Although your market may not have anything to do with the news story, there are many ways to creatively frame the story for your benefit. This could be in the form of using a trending hashtag, tweeting about something happening that day, or talking about national holidays and sporting events. Joining the world’s conversation can expand your audience and help you come up with new and fresh content ideas.

Another strategy to hijacking news stories is to pay attention to who the main audience is in the situation. The Tide Pod Challenge was popular amongst teenagers and college kids. Donuts are often sold to this age group because of the cheap price and convenience, so the bakeries took the opportunity to cater to them. Having something funny and social media worthy is a great way to increase business and positive media coverage for your company.

These bakery shops increased in business for almost no extra cost for them, because they simply frosted batches of donuts with new colors and design. Creatively using the stories from the world around you can help your brand become newsworthy, and may even produce a legendary campaign.

Written by Mikilah Braun.

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