The videos on Tide's YouTube channel
don't actually feature any rock stars from the 1980s or hand puppets, but that didn't stop satirical website and newspaper The Onion
from poking fun at the detergent brand for those things in an article last Wednesday
, titled, "Hey, Everybody! This Cool New Tide Detergent Video Is Blowing Up All Over the Internet!"
In it, Fred Hammond, the fictional director of digital video and social media ad integration for Tide, goes on at length about how great his new viral video is.
"It's just so funny!" Hammond says. "But not just funny—cool, too. If you like things that are funny and cool, you should definitely watch this clip from Tide. I guarantee it's right up your alley!"
In a clever nod to The Onion's satire, Tide made the video described in the article a reality right around 48 hours after the website posted the fake op-ed piece. The move even got some Onion employees talking.
The Onion's writers could have written the fake op-ed piece about any big brand trying to drum up buzz via social media. Odds are they picked Tide at random. Sarah Pasquinucci, external relations representative for Procter & Gamble's fabric care brands (including Tide), says the company got the joke instantly.
"Honestly, we laughed," she says. "We—and I am sure many similar brands—could relate to the article, navigating the world of social media with a brand that doesn't have an obvious fit into the landscape. Although we are always learning, we like to feel that we have done a pretty good job, with multiple Twitter trending topics and nearly 3 million Facebook fans."
Tide's team knew fairly quickly that it wanted to respond, too.
"We thought we would join in the fun and play the game a bit," Pasquinucci says. "And why not? We can laugh at ourselves."
If you're going to post a response to a joke online, you'd better do it fast, while the joke is still fresh in people's minds.
Tide was keenly aware of that fact, so it went all hands on deck, calling in the marketing team, the external relations team, the community management team, public relations agency DeVries PR, digital agency and production lead Digitas, creative agency Saatchi and Saatchi, and other agency partners.
Not only did the various partners have a small window in which to create it, the video also had to depart pretty wildly from its usual YouTube fare. Most of Tide's videos involve product demonstrations, customer testimonials, inspirational pieces, or how-to guides.
"With the situation that was handed to us, we had to respond in this unique way in order to play into the joke," Pasquinucci says.
Even with that challenge, Tide's video was posted to YouTube within two days of The Onion's original post. The brand announced the new video with a promoted tweet directed at The Onion's account:
"Want a cool new Tide video all over the Internet? Watch now. Talking animals & all.
Credit where it's due
In a hard-to-believe satire-to-reality feedback loop, Tide's silly video response to a silly article about a fictional viral video really did set off some buzz and get people talking. Even employees of The Onion had to give it a nod.
Kyle Ryan, managing editor at The Onion and its pop-culture review arm, The AV Club, linked to the video in a tweet, remarking: "Well played, Tide. Well played."
Pasquinucci says the acknowledgements from The Onion's staff were particularly gratifying.
"It was fun to see their response, especially since it was what they jokingly deemed as the recipe for a successful viral video," she says. "We have a lot of respect for The Onion and their talented writers, so to get their kudos was humbling."
That tweet was retweeted dozens of times, and other Twitter observers commented on how savvy the response was.
In about three days, the video has amassed just under 2,500 views. That may not sound overwhelming, but Todd Defren, principal at SHIFT Communications, says the video does everything right.
"The spirit of self-conscious silliness—the fact that Tide can laugh at itself—only bodes well for the company," he says. "This is a good example of why social media can't be relegated simply to ROI metrics about 'selling more product.' It's just as much about participating in the community, to protect and strengthen the overall brand."
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.