2012年汰渍凝珠上市时有款广告，可以充分体现宝洁的兴奋情绪。广告里，一位女性从敞开的盒子里拿出一颗凝珠，扔到洗衣机滚筒里。背景是气泡爆裂的声音，还有Men Without Hats乐队唱的欢快歌曲“砰砰砰，走向世界”。广告结尾是标语“小泡泡，大出色”。但现在，宝洁不希望任何人把汰渍凝珠跟泡泡破裂联系在一起。
Consumer conglomerates like Procter & Gamble face a daunting challenge: They sell huge portfolios of famous brand names—in an era when many shoppers are happy to buy no-name brands to save a few bucks. By the early 2010s, that problem was becoming a drag on growth at P&G. And former employees say that Tide, a brand that dates back to 1946, was a case in point—no longer luring customers in its commoditized category. Laundry pods offered P&G a chance to restore Tide’s competitive edge.
Fortune spoke with nine former P&G employees about the Tide Pod’s development, and their accounts tell a consistent story about the process. (P&G declined multiple requests to make current executives available for interviews. Fortune spoke with the senior manager responsible for overseeing its pod safety efforts and conducted multiple conversations with the corporate communications team.) The idea of selling liquid cleaning agents in pre-measured packets wasn’t new: In 2001, P&G and Unilever started selling laundry pods in Europe that were larger than today’s versions. Former employees say that given the moderate success of these packets, as well as its dishwasher detergent tablets, P&G was confident that its more advanced Tide Pods would catch on in North America. Beginning in 2004, P&G embarked on a development process that it hoped would turn the product into a hit. Over the next eight years, the company would later boast, P&G dedicated 75 staff members to the Tide Pod project, involved some 6,000 consumers in market research, and generated more than 450 packaging and product sketches.
As the final shape emerged, the development team was thrilled with the results. Tide Pods were fun to hold—squishy, yet firm. Their colors—Tide’s signature blue and orange, in swirl-shaped chambers atop a white backdrop—stood out far more than the single-colored packets on the market at that point. And the pods came packaged in a clear tub, designed to show off the attractive design inside.
“We knew we had a breakthrough product on our hands,” says Tom Fischer, a former P&G executive for fabric and home care sales, the division responsible for Tide Pods.
The pods’ launch, in February 2012, proved them right. Shoppers seemed to love the convenience and the colorful form factor, and sales soared. In P&G’s 2012 annual report, released just a few months after they hit the market, then-CEO Bob McDonald proudly described Tide Pods as an example of “innovation that obsoletes existing products.” Between 2013 (liquid laundry packets’ first full year on the U.S. market) and 2018, pod sales grew 136%, according to Euromonitor International, a market research provider. During that period, the overall laundry detergent category grew just 7%. Today, pods make up close to a quarter of P&G’s overall laundry detergent sales.
A TV commercial that accompanied the Tide Pod launch in 2012 conveys the euphoria. In the ad, a woman draws a pod out of an open case and tosses it into the drum of a washing machine. In the background are sounds of bubbles popping and the upbeat Men Without Hats song “Pop Goes the World.” The spot ends with the tagline: “Pop in. Stand out.” But nowadays, popping is not an image P&G wants anyone to associate with Tide Pods.