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Of course Tide knows its new detergent packaging looks like boxed wine

The “Eco-Box” is the latest from the maker of Tide Pods.

Tide’s new “Eco-box.” Do not drink from it.
Procter & Gamble

Over the weekend, CNN Business reported that in January 2019, Tide, the laundry detergent brand, would release new packaging that would be both eco-friendly and cheaper to ship.

According to a release, the cardboard box contains a bag of detergent and a no-drip valve mechanism. The “Eco-Box” (a play on both eco- and e-commerce) was specifically designed to be shipping-friendly from places like Amazon and Walmart, where more and more people are purchasing their laundry detergent. It contains 60 percent less plastic and 30 percent less water than the brand’s traditional 150-ounce plastic tap bottle, and the release subtly bragged that more of the smaller packages would fit on delivery trucks.

CNN described the design as a “shoebox,” but the new packaging doesn’t look like a shoebox. It looks like boxed wine:

In late 2017 and early 2018, the brand endured months of memes about eating the colorfully tempting Tide Pods — a dark joke, as the pods had caused the deaths of small children and older adults with cognitive impairment who ingested them. That somehow then turned into a real-life “Tide Pod challenge,” a social media stunt in which (mostly) teens were supposedly eating the brightly colored, dissolvable detergent packets as a dare.

Then came the hysteria. YouTube started removing the videos. Poison control centers and Tide itself had to tell people to stop eating them. Some conservatives even seized on the meme as an example of why we shouldn’t listen to teens after school shootings, even though likely not that many people were actually doing it. As a phenomenon, it got really blown out of proportion and then beaten into oblivion, as Kaitlyn Tiffany noted at The Verge in March. But now we’re doing it all over again.

As of publication time, Procter & Gamble, Tide’s parent company, has not responded to Vox for a request for comment on the reaction to their new innovation. However, the brand told BuzzFeed in a statement, which I’m imagining some PR manager typed in an exasperated tone of voice in his head: “We all know laundry detergent is for cleaning clothes. To be sure people know this is detergent, we put a large picture of our Tide bottle on the side of the box. Whether your Tide comes in a box or a bottle, it should be stored up and away, out of the reach of children.”

But here’s an alternative explanation. There is no way in hell product developers at Procter & Gamble aren’t highly sensitive to the fact that their packaging might look like something edible. Consider this: So many outlets that normally wouldn’t report about the esoteric ins and outs of sustainable packaging reported this news. You can’t put a price on that kind of media exposure. Did they do it on purpose? Okay, probably not. Are they fine with getting this kind of attention? Definitely.

All the Tide executives will surely be opening a bottle of something that isn’t bright purple to celebrate their marketing win tonight.

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