Tide wants us to believe that we live inside a Tide ad.

Early this year, in February, Tide won the Superbowl advertising game by hijacking many other ads by calling them ‘It’s a Tide ad’. The trick was simple – get actor David Harbour (Chief Hopper from Stranger Things, and the next Hellboy) to act in many ads that use standard TV ad tropes of selling beer, car, mattresses, diamonds etc. and claim that the ad that you just saw (of some other brand) was actually an ad for Tide ad because they were wearing spotless white clothes in that ad! It’s a nice gag, at best that closed with David gatecrashing Old Spice Guy, Isaiah Mustafa in an ad that ends with the classic Old Spice jingle.

In October, Tide tried a Phase 2 of this idea with the NFL. Watch the 2 videos here: Video 1 | Video 2

Unlike the earlier attempt, this one seems massively disingenuous. Here’s why.

In the ad above, you get a peek into the Eagles huddle where Malcolm Jenkins offers an inspirational speech to his teammates. He says, “They think they’re on their home turf, but this ain’t New York. It’s New Jersey. And nobody’s got better jerseys than us. They’re green. They’re white. They’re so clean they might as well be a Tide ad.”

In the other spot, a referee on the field calls “intentional cleanliness” on two spotless players and did not throw a flag on the play or penalize anyone but, rather, complimented them for “looking good”!

This is ‘native TV advertising’, where it’s hard to say where reality (live telecast) ends and Tide ads begin. If it is that deeply embedded/planted, would people recall that they are in the act at all? The other problem is that this is like your friend talking to you normally and suddenly plugs a product. You trust your friend, but what if he was *paid* to include that product talk? Or, what if I was being paid by all the brands I write about, on Twitter, LinkedIn or my blogs? I’m not, I assure you, but you see what a grey line it is?

There are many examples of this on social media. For example, from Shah Rukh Khan, no less! See: Dummies guide to Shah Rukh Khan’s tweets – real or acting?

I get asked almost for every tweet I talk about some brand, either in reply or on direct message, “Was that a promotional tweet?” and I respond with a ‘No, it wasn’t’. We’re literally touching the edge of the ethical line in communications and marketing when we get TV hosts and players to pitch products without a specific disclaimer that they are doing it for a commercial engagement where they are paid to talk what they say. That’s the antithesis of advertising which confidently takes on a designated slot/time and goes on to impress us on why we should be buying a product or a service. The reason for them pushing the line is obvious – that people are tuning out advertising in those designated slots. That’s not because people don’t like advertising as a whole; it is because of some ads being repetitive and not engaging at all.

The way out is better story-telling, better creativity, more relatable and appealing scripts… not greying the line of when the ad starts or ends and literally trying to fool the customer in the process.