Why is Tide so popular?

by on January 24, 2008 at 1:45 pm in Economics | Permalink

Eli Lehrer informs me that Tide has a high market share even though it is more expensive than most other brands.  This source says the market share of Tide is about forty-four percent, with the sum total of all Proctor and Gamble products (Gain and Cheer are two others) accounting for about two-thirds of the market.  Is Tide so good?  Does Tide really "know fabric best"?  I couldn’t name one supposed feature of the product and I’ve been buying detergent my whole life.  I couldn’t even tell you what brand I buy.  Maybe it is Tide.  This is the kind of question that Wikipedia isn’t much good for. 

yoshi January 24, 2008 at 1:54 pm

The only thing Wikipedia is good for is to get the plot rundown for Episode 4 of Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

(I buy Tide – it was what my mother bought)

dude January 24, 2008 at 2:09 pm

i buy unscented, fragrance free All because Tide fades and shrinks my clothes. so there.

Lance January 24, 2008 at 2:15 pm

When Consumer reports tests the brands price makes a big difference and Tide was a consistent star.

Steve Sailer January 24, 2008 at 2:34 pm

Procter & Gamble’s philosophy is

A. Spend a lot on R&D to develop better products

B. Spend a lot on advertising to let the world know you have better products

This goes along with things like hire good people, train them well, be honest, and so forth.

It’s worked for them for a long time.

Meds January 24, 2008 at 2:39 pm

Tide wins, case closed. It’s all about intelligent investment. Tide for me has always been relatively price inelastic.

nathaniel January 24, 2008 at 2:48 pm

From the ACS article posted by KipEsquire:

J. Keith Grime, vice president of R&D for P&G’s global fabric and home care unit, says Gain’s success …

Ummm.

Tim January 24, 2008 at 3:38 pm

I don’t know if he still teaches at GMU, but I remember from his lectures that Professor Rustici in the econ dept over there used to own a supermarket so he may be able to give you interesting insight into something like this since he is sort of in the unique position of selling these products and being an economist.

Chris January 24, 2008 at 3:53 pm

I know why! All of the above are wrong!

First, but not most importantly, is that if a detergent works, you probably aren’t going to switch. So whatever you bought when you were at that point in your life when you first started buying detergent, is what you will continue to buy.

Second, and importantly – When you DO start buying detergent, its tough! there are a lot of different potions in that crazy aisle. The softeners are right next to detergents, and some detergents have all these different options, bleach, etc. And all the while your head is trying to remember what will harm your clothes, whether or not bleach is ok, etc…

All you want is the detergent! Just plain, vanilla detergent that works and that you can put in your machine. You see that familiar Tide logo and BINGO. At the bare minimum you know its a safe choice. Its basic, its detergent. Done. And it does work, so after using it once, there is no reason to switch, and go back to that agonizing selection process. Get out of this awful aisle and away from its myriad of complex options… Go to the cracker aisle, where things are comfortable and safe and familiar.

At least, thats how I felt as a college freshman. I’m sure many other people know better. But as long as a sizable proportion of people feel this way, its enough to give a decent advantage.

Stephen Downes January 24, 2008 at 4:15 pm

I have always bought Tide. This is because Tide was the first – and for quite a while, the only – detergent to remove phosphates, a pollutant that destroyed waterways. This made it the only choice for me. I never switched after that, having never had any reason to.

akatsuki January 24, 2008 at 4:21 pm

I use Win sports detergent on all my clothes. It doesn’t shred clothing, nor does it coat it in softeners and residue to hide that fact. It is also biodegradable.

Yancey Ward January 24, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Ah, Nathaniel, you beat me to it!

blue January 24, 2008 at 5:18 pm

Several years ago, a Consumer Reports article on laundry detergents rated Tide as the best and warned against using cheap detergents, on the grounds that they’re harsh and will cause clothes to fade. So my mother told me, which is why I also use Tide today.

This article here says that Consumer Reports rated various Tide brands as the best but says the cheap brands are also very good.

asparagus January 24, 2008 at 6:30 pm

Quote” “I want to be a race car passenger: just a guy who bugs the driver…”

I KNEW that sounded like Mitch Hedberg. Still love the stuff on XM but it makes me sad.

Anyway, I like the generics and think the Costco Kirkland stuff works well in my front-loader. But there seem to be a lot of comments that found it worked and stuck with it. There are costs associated with switching to a new brand (time, energy, what if I have to throw away stuff I hate, I have to learn how much to use of the new brand, etc..)

mae January 24, 2008 at 6:36 pm

Now that you mention it, I wonder WHY my mother used Tide. Other than switching to the fragrance and dye-free version, I’ve never thought about it much. My daughter uses it too. If someone doesn’t ask questions, my 2 granddaughters will probably be using it as well in a few years.

I can’t think of another product I’ve put less effort into evaluating. The clothes are clean. End of story.

Martin Bishop January 24, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Once a consumer packaged good product takes the lead, it can be very difficult to dislodge even if (or perhaps especially if) there’s not much difference in product quality between it and its competitors.

I used to work for Hills Bros coffee. Nationally, we had less than 10% market share and were getting beaten up all the time by Folgers and Maxwell House.

But in Chicago we had c.40% of the market. All because, more than 50 years before, the company had handed out free 1/2 lb cans of coffee to a huge number of people in town. Despite their best efforts and all their marketing smarts neither P&G or KGF could make a dent.

andrea January 24, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Tide smells FANTASTIC. Period, end of story.

TW January 24, 2008 at 10:07 pm

In our house Tide is no different in results than the other brands. The only product that is different is a local one which green certified soap, borax and washing soda and that’s it. Gets every thing clean cheaply and no residue.

Goldrush January 24, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Wasn’t it Tide that came in new washers back in the day? It was featured in their print and teevee ads. That’s why your Mom uses it.

RJ January 25, 2008 at 12:58 am

Heinz Ketchup is dominant because it is the best.

TomG January 25, 2008 at 6:29 am

My 2 cents worth, and devalued thusly (my having no expertise to comment here) – it seems to me that if you happen to be the first to produce something, or at least the first to do it right, you’re likely to have a pretty constant flow of return customers – given that life’s time constraints make the value of time saved for use elsewhere a major determining factor. Kleenex, Cheerios, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, all come to mind instantly when someone asks me to think tissue, cereal, burgers and coffee – even though I’m pretty indifferent about the first one (I think of it as back-up toilet paper), I prefer Kix, if I want a real burger I go to TGI Friday’s or a pub, and I enjoy Starbucks bolder java. Tide just seems to have done it right – it’s the first visual image I think of when someone utters such an uninteresting topic as detergent.

max davis January 25, 2008 at 7:59 am

Heinz is so dominant because god loves pittsburgh

Anonymous January 25, 2008 at 9:55 am

Most of the Heinz answers are demand driven. As with Tide, the question is: why don’t the competitors match Heinz in terms of quality in the way that, say, Pepsi takes on Coke? Gladwell hints that Heinz has something of a secret formula (thanks for the link), but there are very few ingredients…

John January 25, 2008 at 10:00 am

Well, I can’t really explain why the market share is so large, but I buy Tide because it is the only detergent that is in my grocery store that is made for high efficiency, low water washing machines.

Perhaps their market lead also helps them get other types of product (like HE detergent) into stores while lower market share brands can’t get their whole product line in all stores.

Christina January 25, 2008 at 10:44 am

I grew up in a cheap household that used store brand detergent, to the detriment of our clothes. As a result, when I moved out and began buying my own detergent, I tried all the name brands, but have never gone back to anything generic. Though I don’t have anything against Tide, I really liked the smell of Surf, and so that was my preference, until its formula was changed. So I’ve been experimenting again and Gain (P&G’s lower tier brand) is my most recent purchase and I’m not that thrilled with it. I’m finding that it’s not as adept at dealing with stains as I’d like, so I think I’ll be buying Tide next round.

By the way, has anyone found the Downy ball to be a revelation as I have? Because I was never hanging around my washing mashine while running a load, I wasn’t able to add fabric softener at the right time and had to rely on dryer sheets. The problem with dryer sheets is that they a) are obnoxious to deal with, and b) don’t do anything for clothes that have to be line dried. With the Downy ball I could use liquid fabric softener without babysitting each load. Once I bought a front-loading machine with a built-in fabric softener dispenser I gave my Downy ball to my sister so she could experience the the magic for herself. P&G really is good at innovation.

Jeff G January 25, 2008 at 11:06 am

Oh, and by the way: All the sources you folks have for market shares of consumer products (IRI) do not include Wal-Mart or Warehouse CLubs, or Dollar Stores in the equation. Just so you know, only about half of the detergent in the US sold is in Food, Drug, Target & Kmart. P&G’s overalll share is NOT as high when facotring in the bigger pack-size and sicount stores. Dollar Stores account for approximately 10% of all detergent sales, for example, and rarely even carry Tide for obvious reasons…

Invigilator January 25, 2008 at 12:59 pm

My wife, who is Macedonian and moved to the States seven years ago, insists on Tide even though it was not marketed in her homeland. She settled on Tide right away, more or less, and that was that — woe betide me if I buy anything else.

Goldrush January 25, 2008 at 5:05 pm

Ahh, memory did serve. Tide was introduced about 1946, and:

The link between the new heavy-duty synthetic detergents and the new automatic washers was reinforced a few years later when P&G struck agreements with a number of washing machine manufacturers to pack boxes of Tide in the new machines.7
***
7 Dyer, et al., Rising Tide, p. 77. The Federal Trade commission eventually disallowed such exclusive agreements, but by the time the FTC acted, Tide had become inextricably linked with the new automatic washing machines.

from National Historic Chemical Landmarks, http://acswebcontent.acs.org/landmarks/landmarks/tide/marketing.html

PlanMaestro January 25, 2008 at 7:35 pm

As usual in consumer products, check the historical accumulated investment in advertising for an explanation. What is the real difference of Coke, Colgate or Gillette against their competition?

TomG January 26, 2008 at 5:49 am

To the last comment, that’s why in the case of detergents Tide wins out among the relatively indifferent … it markets itself a lot so that the brand recognition is instant, it has the benefit of having wisely chosen a loud design too – so if it’s on a shelf with its competitors, it usually stands out first and will therefore most likely be chosen by the indifferent – except by those who also care about its relative price, which is a different indifference curve still (and if Tide keeps the price down in those areas of mostly young, single folk – such as university settings – they win that one too)

PlanMaestro January 28, 2008 at 11:33 am
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Arias W/ February 26, 2008 at 4:43 pm

I own a Advertising Firm so I could break down the psychology of why you buy tide but I wont. All I will say is look at the Consumer Digest Report. SA8 and Tide are tested against each other in several categories, and the evidence is astonishingly clear. SA8 is a better QUALITY product hands down. Minus the Bright Packaging. (Hint Hint. LOL)

二宮沙樹 July 28, 2008 at 7:43 am

Very nice article! Thanks for this!

Bob Gilbreath May 13, 2009 at 6:13 am

I’m way late to this discussion but might be able to add a different perspective. I worked on the Tide business as an Assistant Brand Manager in ’99-’01. While there are lots of smart things we did in terms of marketing spending, product innovation, etc., one thing stuck out again and again as I spoke to women in consumer research and asked them why they buy the brand: “My Mom used Tide.”

It’s important to remember that marketing spending actually can have a very small impact on total sales of any brand, sometimes as low as 5% of volume comes from advertising investments. That means the other 95% comes down to things like “what brand your Mom told you to buy.” In this case, detergent is a low-involvement category and Tide really is significantly better (I’ve seen the demos), the price is higher, but people heed the warning of their Mothers and don’t want to risk poor performance from a cheaper product on something as basic yet critically important as the family laundry.

Bob Gilbreath

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