Young people are idiots. I was an idiot, my parents' generation were idiots, and so on. History shows evidence of idiocy in nearly every preceding generation.
Today's idiots are eating Tide Pods. That's right. If you haven't heard, there's a viral trend called the Tide Pod Challenge in which kids are eating Tide Pods. The prize, for most, is dozens of likes and comments on social media. And for some, it's a trip to the emergency room.
The reason behind the illogical craze is simply that Tide Pods are colorful, edible looking objects. Despite several warnings from Procter & Gamble and the American Association of Poison Control Center, teens and young adults are continuing the intentional misuse.
A piece by Julie Pennell for Today highlighted three businesses that have capitalized on this stupid, soapy trend by incorporating it in their marketing. Vinnie's Pizzeria in Brooklyn promoted a pizza resembling a Tide Pod on their Instagram account. Duff's Brooklyn, a New York bar, created a Tide Pod shot. And Hurts Donut Company created a donut with blue and orange swirls that went viral on Facebook.
Each of these businesses created buzz and drove thousands of cheap online impressions, but their edgy marketing tactics raise the question: Is it smart for brands to be flippant toward controversial subjects?
Making light of a sensitive issue can backfire
Last year, Pepsi released an ad in which reality star Kendall Jenner ended a tense protest with a single can of the carbonated soft drink. After the ad was released, unhappy viewers took to social media to voice their outrage, many feeling the ad trivialized racial tension and social injustice.
In 2013, an ad ran for Unilever in Flora magazine that depicted coming out of the closet as shooting your dad in the heart. The company, along with the ad agency that created it, were compelled to issue a public apology in response to the backlash.
In a darker move, the chocolate brand Crunch posted the following on the brand's Mexico Twitter account following the Ayotzinapa massacre, in which 43 students were believed to be killed: "A los de Ayotzinapa les dieron crunch." The English translation: "They crunched those from Ayotzinapa."
And most recently, YouTuber Logan Paul drew outrage from even his most passionate fans when he posted a video of him and his friends discovering a suicide victim in Japan's Aokigahara forest earlier this year. Paul was quick to apologize, but his offensive video will likely leave a loathsome stain on his brand.
It's often a good idea for brands to take advantage of buzzworthy trends that might appeal to their target customers. Usually this is a harmless strategy that marketers use to stay relevant and increase brand exposure.
Dangling controversial click bait, however, can backfire in a big way when it crosses the line. That line isn't always clear, so it's wise for brands to pause and test their edgy content with a diverse internal or external group before releasing it into the public.
In the case of companies that exploited the Tide Pod Challenge, they seem to have come out unscathed. And as dangerous trends and hot-button issues continue to emerge, bold brands will continue to toe the line.