The Tide is High, But I’m Holding On (And Waiting for the Skip Ad Button)

I was on my usual mid-afternoon YouTube binge happily watching beauty gurus when my binge was interrupted by an unusual ad.

YouTube devotees know that every video (as far as I’m aware) is now preceded by an advertisement. These ads vary in subject, relevance, and length. Some offer a handy little Skip Ad button that allows you to click to your desired content after a few seconds, while some are 15 seconds long and offer no skip.

What made this particular ad different from others was the subject: the Tide Pod Challenge. YouTubers take part in challenges regularly — depending on their channel content and popularity — so there are a few challenges familiar to many of us viewers. I had heard of the Chubby Bunny Challenge, the Cinnamon Challenge, and tamer ones like My Boyfriend Does My Makeup, but never this one. Why? It’s an advertising campaign! The ads were posted by the makers of the Tide channel on June 26, 2015, as dictated by the time stamp below each video. After seeing the first ad starring SecretLifeOfaBioNerd, K.L. Cao, I was compelled to watch two more starring Rooster Teeth and The Slow Mo Guys. My findings amused me, but I was also irritated by what I saw.

My issue with this series of ads is not that laundry detergent has found its way onto YouTube, but the way in which the product is advertised.

Firstly, who even are these YouTubers? Perhaps my selective attention (which keeps me firmly in the world of lipstick reviews and beauty hauls) prevented me from being exposed to these people. Rooster Teeth makes gaming videos. SecretLifeOfaBioNerd has almost 100 DIYs on her channel. The Slow Mo Guys do things, well, in slow motion. Advertisers make use of celebrity testimonials to establish credibility. In the case of the Tide Pod Challenge, Tide chose YouTubers as their “celebrities.” This brings to mind a question about opinion leaders: does incorporating supposedly revered YouTubers in advertisements work when consumers will possibly have no idea who they are? The creators of the “challenge”/ad felt the need to put the names of the YouTubers and their channels at the bottom of the screen in every ad. The very blatant showing of names reveals to me that Tide knew the campaign would be ineffective among some viewers in establishing credibility.

Second, I was turned off by the before-Tide appearances of the women and the excessive mess made to promote Tide. Both Barbara of Rooster Teeth and K.L. Cao are seen wearing full faces of makeup accompanied by styled hair. Their appearances are ruined by the Challenge. Cao applies a homemade avocado mask to her face, neck, and white dress shirt, while Barbara, who is also wearing white, gets macaroni and cheese thrown at her in buckets and dumped on her head. Not only do the women have to wash their shirts, but they have to get food out of their hair, wash their faces, and redo their makeup — pickles Tide can’t get them out of. When their clothes are washed and dried, they emerge with clean hair and makeup that looks the same as it did pre-food. Tide can’t wing my eyeliner, y’all.

Lastly, all three videos I examined have the words “Do not try at home” in tiny white print at the bottom of the screen. The disclaimer appears just as food (avocado, macaroni, ketchup) makes contact with white clothing. Tide, if you’re going to make a video showing me how great your product is at removing stains from an avocado-covered shirt, how can you not expect me to test it? Social learning theory tells me someone’s crafty child is going to get curious after seeing these ads.

When it comes down to advertising strategies, it’s clear that Tide is making an effort to be current by making use of YouTuber testimonials. Nevertheless, the presentation of the ads as a “challenge” is off-putting. I think I’ll stick to Gain.