And now a word from our sponsor Teens are eating Tide pods.

Age of the Geek Column: Yeah, that's a thing now. Apparently the younger generation's latest step in their quest to make their elders say, "I did some dumb things as a kid, but I never did that," is to chew on packages of highly concentrated laundry soap.

To be honest, I'm not terribly worried about this so-called epidemic of catastrophically foolish behavior. I haven't done a formal count but I suspect that the number of news articles and think pieces about teens eating Tide pods, this one included, is greater than the number of teens actually eating Tide pods.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, they've received 86 calls about intentional exposure to laundry packets in 13 to 19 year olds since the start of the year. A startling rise to be sure, but let's face it, we're probably not losing our best and brightest to this anyway.

While a handful of teenagers are getting the bulk of the publicity, their numbers are but a tiny fraction of the 50,000 calls relating to exposure to liquid laundry packets in the last five years. Children under five are, by the thousands, giving that concentrated laundry detergent a taste. That behavior seems far more worthy of examination.

Which begs a pressing question.

Why do Tide pods look so delicious?

Why do they look like they'd be more at home in a bowl of gummy bears than the laundry room? Why is our liquid soap being delivered in carefully engineered plastic wrapping designed to show brightly colored swirling around each other like the yin-yang of detergent? Why is our soap so brightly colored in the first place?

I highly doubt that when the chemists at Proctor & Gamble refined their latest laundry cleaning formulas that those stain fighting chemicals came out of the beaker a bright orange and a deep blue. The same eye-catching colors that just happen to be part of Tide's branding.

I'm being felicitous, of course. It's obvious why Tide pods are colored the way they are. The orange and blue design is there to cement in your mind the association of those two colors with laundry soap. Every time you throw a pod in the laundry, you see that blue and orange and when it comes time to buy more you don't even need to remember the name of what you're buying. You can just look for the blue and orange.

It's a marketing tactic so simple and common that we never even stop to think about it anymore. I'd say it's the oldest trick in the book, but it actually pre-dates the written word. Color associations are embedded deep in our instincts. They served us well when we were all hunter/gatherers foraging for food, but they can very easily be exploited.

Orange and blue in particular are among the most effective pairings of contrasting colors in marketing. They draw attention and are naturally pleasing to the eye. Pick a random movie poster and odds are good you'll find an orange and blue contrast. You'll find it on candy and soft drinks and, of course, laundry detergent.

This is where things go wrong.

Because while you might associate those orange and blue pods with the laundry aisle, when little Timmy looks at them his brain associates those colors with a refreshing Fanta or Tony the Tiger on the blue Frosted Flakes box.

Obviously neither Proctor & Gamble nor Kellogg's intended to have their messages crossed like that, but here we are. So, is it fair to blame them?

On the one hand, when it comes to little Timmy, it's his parent's responsibility to teach him not to ingest highly concentrated laundry soap.

On the other hand, it's easy to see how little Timmy could be considered a casualty in the ongoing campaign of psychological warfare that marketers wage on their potential customers. After all, there's no practical reason Tide pods need to look like candy in the first place. Little Timmy's association of them with candy may be an accident, but the design itself is intentional.

I wasn't exaggerating when I described it as psychological warfare. Today's marketing techniques expand far beyond parlor tricks like color association. Entire fields of psychology are being utilized to nudge us all towards one product or another. It's just a hair's breadth away from brainwashing.

And it's only going to get worse. Gone are the days when marketers had to rely on scattershot tactics for a broad general audience. Today, thanks to all of the information we willfully submit to the internet, our advertising is as personalized as our Netflix queue. Algorithms are being written that can determine not just what kind of advertising will be most effective on a particular person, but also when and where to deploy it.

We live in a consumer culture. Every last one of us has, since the day we were born, been bombarded with catchy jingles and colorful characters to sell us everything from action figures to automobiles.

Advertisements run the world, and I'm not just saying that because I work at a newspaper that sells advertisements. Every business has something to sell and advertising is how they do that. Billion dollar franchises have been created out of 30-minute toy commercials disguised as Saturday Morning Cartoons. In just a few days, millions of people will tune in to watch a series of high-budget commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game.

I don't think there's anything we can do to change our consumer culture, or that we should even try to change it at all. That said, it doesn't hurt to take a step back and remind yourself about the true nature of branding.

Make sure your choices are your own.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and, just in case it actually needs to be said, don't eat Tide pods!