I feel bad for the PR folks for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Tide laundry detergent brand. And feeling bad for PR people doesn't come naturally to reporters.
First, they had to deal with the internet alternatively mocking and lambasting the company when the "Tide pod challenge" became a "thing" about a year ago. In case you don't remember, that was when you started seeing videos that seem to show people biting the appealingly designed, highly toxic, concentrated laundry detergent products, which have been around since 2012.
I'm pretty sure a lot of those videos were intended as humor. But the problem is, not everyone understands humor. So P&G was forced to make very clear that pods are not intended to be eaten.
That, of course, came years after the company and its competitors did a lot of intense work along with their packaging suppliers to keep pods out of the hands of toddlers who might confuse them with candy.
Then this week, P&G introduced the Tide Eco-Box.
I hear you already. Wasn't Tide always in a box? That was the powdered version of the detergent, the kind my mother used when I was growing up, quite a while ago.
This new Tide Eco-Box is all about e-commerce. The company has put together a bag-in-a-box version of the liquid detergent that is highly concentrated — so it doesn't cost as much to ship — while it is also is its own shipping box, so shippers don't have to add flexible film padding or a separate box.
Cincinnati-based P&G proudly announced that the " shoe box" uses less packaging, with 60 percent less plastic than the current 150-ounce liquid package; doesn't require any secondary re-boxing or bubble wrap; is lighter and takes up less space, so more can be packaged on the same pallet.
"For the first time, we have designed a package [for e-commerce] beginning with the unique challenges and opportunities the e-commerce environment presents," Sundar Raman, vice president of P&G's North America Fabric Care business in a Nov. 9 news release. "This is a fundamentally different approach than we've taken in the past and represents our relentless obsession with delighting consumers — wherever they want to purchase our brands."
But the internet saw only one thing.
Doesn't it — pop culture and Twitter and media companies said — look like a boxed wine package?
And so it began.
Comments via Twitter especially doubled down on the Eco-Box as wine box, right down to commenters suggesting it be paired for dinner with Tide Pods. (The website BuzzFeed has a wrap up of many of the very similar comments.)
"We all know laundry detergent is for cleaning clothes," a (I'm guessing) very tired P&G spokesperson told BuzzFeed. " 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."