Ad Nut
Jul 8, 2021

Tide washes away goodwill with an insulting and strategically braindead ad

AD NUT's RANT OF THE WEEK: In an India campaign by Leo Burnett, the detergent not only scolds parents but also falsely positions (or actually, fails to position) itself as a solution to their time woes.

Though they weren't trying to, Tide and Leo Burnett have produced a great illustration of what brands should not do when trying to ascribe larger purpose to themselves.

Sputtering, foul-mouthed rage was Ad Nut's initial response upon seeing the ridiculous film above. But now that a couple days have passed, Ad Nut finally feels capable of reasonably laying out an argument for why the work is a failure, and why it's by far the most full-of-shit ad of the week—even in a week where another campaign literally shows a bull shitting

There are basically two sins here.

First, insulting your own customers. Parenting is hard AF, as anyone who does it knows. But many brands and agencies apparently fail to realise this, even though surely there must be parents working on campaigns such as this one. This ad makes the parents out to be neglectful idiots who don't even seem to realize that their daughter needs loving attention at all until grandma (who represents the brand voice) scolds them into an epiphany. 

Seriously, why do brands get this wrong so often? Do they really think working parents (their own customers, mind you) are self-obsessed and neglectful? Do they not get that parents struggle to balance work and child-rearing?

The paragraph just above, by the way, is a verbatim repeat of Ad Nut's words in an earlier rant about a Singtel film, in which Ad Nut went on to complain that "apparently it's a law that working parents must be portrayed as stereotypical workaholics in order to accentuate the importance of family values".

So this Tide example is basically a case of 'same garbage, different campaign'. To Ad Nut's great consternation, there's no sign that brands are absorbing Ad Nut's sage advice in this area. That means we can probably look forward to many more ads in which brands reveal their disdain for their own customers by portraying them as unfeeling monsters or feckless dolts who need a laundry detergent to lecture them about how they should be doing a better job.

Which brings us to the second big sin here: falsely positioning your product as the solution to the (false) problem your ad sets up. 

To put it mildly, Ad Nut disagrees that time spent doing laundry is a major contributing factor to the emotional neglect of children. Sure, it's a household task that takes time. But most parents manage to get the washing—and a thousand other things—done every day, without leaving their kids to play forlornly in a corner for hours at a time. So the brand is attempting to set up a situation where it feels it can Say Something Important™, but the situation is mostly a straw man.

And even if we did agree that laundry is a major contributing factor to the emotional neglect of children, a worse sin is that Tide, as far as we can tell from this ad, does absolutely nothing to mitigate that, versus other laundry detergents. So the brand has set up a straw man, and then failed to light it on fire. Which kind of defeats the purpose of having a straw man.

To be fair, Ad Nut acknowledges the possibility that the brand intended to deliver an argument on this point. In the press materials for this campaign, Sharat Verma, chief marketing officer and vice president of fabric care at P&G India, said, “With #TideForTime, our endeavour is to bring to light a pertinent question, rendered even more important in the [pandemic] context—‘are we spending our time on what’s really important?’. We also realise that families spend around 300 hours every year doing laundry. This is also a reminder that by putting Tide to work and letting it deliver its superior cleaning, we can make some time for our lives and spend it on what we truly value."

So it seems that the idea was that Tide washes clothes faster, therefore making more family time. Ad Nut still wouldn't buy that, and would still hate that hypothetical ad. But the question is moot, because—and Ad Nut cannot stress this enough—the actual ad does not bother to make that case.

The whole thing is maddening and depressing. The brand expended much effort and money, but it ended up creating the impression that it's not only out of touch with the real lives of its customers but also disingenuous about Tide's capabilities—all while risking the rage of parents who will find the portrayal offensive. Ad Nut for one will never not think about Tide's opinions about parents when facing a future detergent purchase. 

Finally, it's useful to contrast this with the hugely successful campaign that was probably in the heads of P&G and Leo Burnett as they set out to work on this Tide campaign: Ariel's 'Share the load' campaign, by BBDO India. 

Let us count the ways that the most famous 'Share the load' spot is superior:

  1. It points out an actual problem close to the hearts of its customers: gender inequity in the execution of household chores in Indian households. 
  2. It doesn't make anyone look like an idiot. On the contrary, the work shows remarkable empathy not only for the woman who comes home from work only to do more work, but also for the men who never learned that they ought to help out. (Ad Nut actually feels the spot goes too far in its empathy for the men, excusing them for their failure to lift a finger when, in the 21st century, they should already have known better.)
  3. No one has to get a stern talking to from the brand in order to see the light. The father comes to realise that men should 'share the load' all on his own—without a lecture from any kind of household product!—because he is a human being with eyes and a heart and a daughter whose happiness he cares about. 
  4. The brand does not try (and therefore does not fail) to position itself as a miraculous panacea for the problem. It simply associates itself with the issue and ingratiates itself with shoppers by displaying not only its understanding of their lives but also the humanity of the people running the brand and creating its ads. 

Is it so hard to do all of the above? Apparently.

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.


Campaign Asia

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