Brain Chatter: Brand Crisis Management 101

January 19, 2018 Ophelie Zalcmanis-Lai

For some reason, teenagers have taken to social media to eat soap.

More specifically, the #TidePodChallenge (as it’s being dubbed) requires people to pop a Tide Pod into their mouth and chomp down for a great time.


Before we delve into Tide’s unfortunate and accidental involvement in a huge brand crisis, we’d like to remind people not to put SOAP in their mouth. It’s gross. It’s irresponsible. It’s dangerous to your health. And, we repeat, it’s SOAP.

As unbelievable as it sounds, this viral video challenge is actually happening. Luckily, YouTube is working quite quickly to pull the videos off its platform.

However, Tide (Procter & Gamble) is now at the center of a very big and unwanted media storm.

The brand now faces a crisis that’s not of its own accord.

It didn’t ask for it.

It didn’t have anything to do with it.

It’s just unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time, and being associated with a very hazardous health risk that’s going viral.

This situation is not unfamiliar though. While brands can drag themselves into their own crises (Volkswagen, United Airlines, Pepsi, etc.), there have also been several cases where brands have been inadvertently dragged into less than preferable PR situations.

Remember McDonald’s pink slime/goop issue? Yeah, that turned out to be a Hoax.

The entire brand came under fire because of what some person made up. 

While certainly every brand out there has some form of a “what to do in the worst case scenario” PR plan worked out, it’s hard to employ that same kind of scenario to something that the brand itself didn’t do.

There is a difference, albeit subtle.

The question is then, what to do in this kind of situation?

Here is part of Tide’s response:

Let’s analyze it:

1. Respond to things head on.

Notice how the language in this post is direct. It doesn’t say anything like “recent videos have shown a dangerous act” nonsense – it straight up says don’t eat a Tide Pod.

It’s important to take responsibility, even when the responsibility isn’t directly a brand issue.

This way, consumers recognize that the brand is aware of social conversations and also cares. 

2. Jump in and act quickly.

Tide put this video up as soon as the videos were picking up speed. And the brand didn’t waste time making it look super perfect.

Judging by the quality of footballer Rob Gronkowski’s “No, no, no, no” montage, it was done quickly and simply. Which in this case, is more important than moving a logo over slightly to the left and making sure he’s wearing the right shade of brand-approved colours.    

It doesn’t matter how many people actually were or were not eating Tide pods. This was a safety hazard and Tide can’t afford to be or look complacent.

3. Think of it like an opportunity.

While we’d all like to think we don’t have to re-educate children on what not to put in their mouths, there is still an opportunity here for Tide.

And that opportunity is to remind people just how the brand cares about its consumers and how the brand is willing to be open about its ingredients (despite it being soap and the fact that soap is obviously not to be eaten).

It only goes to bolster brand recognition for Tide and Procter & Gamble if they do step up to the situation and handle it head on.

4. Establish a voice in the meantime.  

When it comes to unexpected occurrences, a brand is undoubtedly going to have to stray from its usual messaging.

But that’s okay. In fact, it should be embraced as yet another opportunity to fully establish what the brand is about.

Since brands need to be so clear when handling tough situations, this is the time to set the tone for the brand and remind audiences why they see appeal in said brand. Voice is one of those things that either inspires an instant connection or doesn’t.

When something goes wrong, it’s that voice that will either set the brand apart from others or cause more issues in the long run.

Obviously, when a crisis happens it isn’t always going to be uniform in nature – especially when outside forces have a hand in it.

That said, doing nothing isn’t an option for brands.

And in case anyone needs reminding, here's a quick safety tip: 

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