Students' behavior surrounding Tide Pods threatens Ross business relationship
A representative of Procter & Gamble Co. visited the University of Michigan on Jan. 22 to lecture Ross School of Business students on marketing tactics and its role as part of the Tide brand. However, the lecture went awry after the students attending asked questions centered almost exclusively around popular phenomenon Tide Pods. Ross students have since said they were told the questions jeopardized the business schools’s relationship with P&G.
While the representative, Business alum Courtney Ratkowiak, opened the floor for questions related to marketing, students, utilizing the anonymous feature of the question-app Pigeonhole Live, sent in a number of questions based on a popular meme centered around millennials eating Tide Pods.
P&G is an American multinational consumer goods corporation. They own a series of brands including Gillette, Old Spice, Febreze and Tide, among others. P&G has had a longstanding recruiting relationship with the Business School.
The lecture took place outside of normal class hours on a Monday night, and included a mix of Business students and non-Business students. According to a junior who wished to remain anonymous, the fact the lecture occurred outside of the class schedule contributed to the students’ attitude.
Some of the highest voted questions included: “What new flavors of tide pods do you have coming out?” and “How many tide pods a day keep the doctor away?”
“The problem was they used this anonymous app called Pigeonhole,” the anonymous junior said. “I think that was where they went wrong; as soon as they did that for the first time, the dynamic of the presentation changed.”
According to the junior, attendees wanted to post something funny as the questions continued. The representative appeared to be flustered, and skimmed over the joke-questions, answering only the serious ones.
“I definitely think most people, including myself, walked out of the presentation thinking that it was funny,” the junior said. “Then they told us P&G was reconsidering a relationship with Ross, and that jeopardizes people’s chances of working for them, and for the most part everyone was galvanized to be like ‘Oh, we need to do something about this.’”
In fact, not long after the lecture had commenced, course instructor Burcu Tasoluk emailed the students informing them of P&G’s reaction to the students’ questions and behavior during the lecture.
The email, obtained by The Daily, noted hosting guest speakers is a privilege and presents an opportunity to hear valuable information from business professionals. It also referenced the Ross Student Code of Conduct and Statement of Community Values, encouraging students to adhere to the prescribed guidelines for behavior.
“(We) received correspondence from P&G following Monday’s lecture indicating disappointment with students’ inappropriate questions during the Q&A and their conduct thereafter (including on social media),” the email read. “Such behavior is disrespectful to the speaker, and reflects poorly on us, Ross, and the University of Michigan.”
When students next attended class, they were informed of P&G’s response to the guest lecture and instructed to form an action plan on how to remedy the relationship with P&G. Students broke into groups and brainstormed ways to reach out to P&G.
The main goal of the action plan as outlined in the marketing class was to “reflect acknowledgment, ownership, and accountability of what happened.” A small task force of students wrote an apology letter to the P&G guest lecturer.
According to Business junior Connor Baechler, the incident negatively impacted students who wanted to start careers or internships with P&G. However, the recent Tide Pod memes had such a wide reach that Baechler thought the questions were almost inevitable.
“On one hand, it is disappointing that current Ross students would disrespect a Ross alum during a serious presentation, even if it appeared to many that the presenter was not flustered by the inappropriate student responses,” Baechler told The Daily in an email interview. “Furthermore, P&G is a crucial recruiting partner for Ross and its status as a top business school, and the company expects strong candidates from the school in return. I feel especially sorry for any Ross students who are actively interested in starting their careers at P&G... (but) from another perspective, the timing of such a presentation (for a Tide product!) could not have been worse, with all the memes and spoofs about the 'Tide Pod Challenge' floating around social media. I do not think P&G executives or Ross administrators could understand how prevalent the joke had become to any college student, not just Ross.”
Carolyn Yoon, Business professor of marketing and course coordinator, stated the Business School will use this situation as a case study and learning opportunity for students tasked with maintaining professional relationships in the future.
“What happened in the marketing course that day is not indicative of who our students are or our culture, and P&G understands that,” Yoon said. “We look forward to maintaining our partnership with P&G, as well as our many other corporate partners.”