Thursday, January 17, 2013
by Pa Rock
Yesterday I stumbled across a story on the Internet that left me somewhat incredulous. It turns out, however, that not only is the story true, it is also old news – a piece of the cultural landscape that I had completely missed during my two-year hiatus overseas.
The tale focuses on a new criminal trend in the United States, the stealing on laundry detergent off of store shelves – and not just any detergent, but the best known brand in America: Tide. Thieves are grabbing the large bottles of liquid Tide (which some refer to as “liquid gold”) and running for the door. Some are getting so brazen as to load up shopping carts with the big, orange plastic bottles and then running out to waiting getaway cars. Some retailers report that they are being hit by teams of Tide thieves who load multiple carts before charging out of the store in tandem. The problem has become so severe that some CVS stores are placing those electronic security tags on every bottle of the detergent.
An article in USA Today last March said that a 54-year-old man was being held on a million dollars bail for stealing a grocery cart full of Tide from a Vons store. (A million dollars???) That same article noted that police in Cincinnati had over one hundred reports of stolen Tide in the previous year.
Apparently the famous laundry detergent is being used as currency by some in drug purchases. Many of the people who have the product sell it in poverty areas at a substantial discount over store prices, and others reportedly sell it by the “shot” in local laundromats. One lady writing in response to an article that I read said that her brother is an inmate in prison, and that he requests his visitors to bring him Tide which he uses as a currency on the inside. There were also reports of Tide being sold at bargain prices on Craig’s List.
Why Tide? Why not some other brand? That’s where the power of American advertising comes in. Tide has been the recognized leader in the market since the 1940’s thanks to a strong advertising program, it was the only brand that my mother would even consider using, though her cynical son believes that most of the brands come from the same vat of soapy goo. Tide, it would seem, is fashionable - even to criminals.
Second question: If a person is going to participate in what the FBI calls Organized Retail Crime (ORC), why steal something as bulky and heavy as a hundred-ounce bottle of bright orange Tide? Again, the advertising has created a market for that particular brand. Smaller, in-demand items, such as those fancy razor blade packs, are often kept in locked cabinets, but the Tide is just sitting there waiting to be lifted. And Tide, being so well advertised (branded), usually sells high, making it easier to resell - and for a bit more money than an off-brand would bring. (There is also probably a pride thing going on, being able to steal something as big and obvious as a gigantic bottle of Tide.)
Third question: Is this for real – or just another urban legend. There is so much on the Internet from standard sources that it appears to be an actual crime phenomenon. (Although a comment from one reader suggested that it was possibly just hype from Proctor and Gamble, the manufacturer of Tide, to increase sales. No, surely that is not possible in twenty-first century America!)
There are some clever puns coming out of this new criminal activity. Articles that I found referenced a “soap opera,” “grime wave,” and “clean getaway.” But clever puns aside, we are talking about serious criminal activity – and it is a very dirty business!
And with that I wash my hands of the whole mess!