It started quietly last summer, when social media watchers began buzzing about it. Tweens had struck on a recipe for a mucilaginous, stomach-turning substance and were posting videos of themselves playing with it.
The slime trend had hit.
In fact, slime’s now bigger than ever. Devotees of the glutinous gunk—easy to make by combining glue, water and borax—have posted some 2.8 million images and videos of the stuff on Instagram. Search “slime” on YouTube, and you’ll get 11.9 million results.
Which is (mostly) good fun for kids who, to many parents’ delight, have actually found something analog to do. But slime’s biggest impact isn’t on kids at all: It’s on the bottom lines of brands that sell or make the ingredients for it.
Craft store colossus Michaels, for example, has devoted floor space in its locations to “Slime Headquarters,” a one-stop outlet for all things slime featuring not just base ingredients, but customizing elements like glitter and sequins. According to public relations manager Mallory Smith, Michaels first saw slime’s potential in January, “after noticing high sell-through rates of glue as well as … increases in social media posts and chatter.” To help draw foot traffic, Michaels has also held slime-making events in its stores.
McCormick & Co. has gotten slimy, too. After seeing sales of its food coloring rise 12 percent over January and February, the company pressed its R&D team into devising slime recipes in dreamy colors like aqua and raspberry, and posting them to its home page.
“Our kitchens tested about 50 different slimes,” relates senior communications director Laurie Harrsen, “finding that many recipes available online were too stiff and rubbery.”
But by far the biggest beneficiary of the trend has been Elmer’s, no doubt because glue is slime’s primary ingredient. Parent company Newell Brands not only saw Elmer’s sales double over the holiday season, but had to ramp up factory production to meet demand.
“It takes one bottle of Elmer’s glue to make one batch of slime,” explains Newell PR director Caitlin Watkins, “and many consumers are making multiple batches or extra-large batches of slime—so demand in glue is up significantly since the slime trend took off.”
Like McCormick, Elmer’s has also tasked its in-house chemists and marketing personnel with creating slime recipes, which live on a hub of its website.
But slime hasn’t proven to be all fun and games. Recipes posted by Michaels, McCormick and Elmer’s are for “kid-friendly” slime. These formulae substitute baking soda for borax, which purportedly led to burns on
the hands of an 11-year-old Massachusetts girl in March.
This incident is one reason why “brands should think carefully before they try to capitalize on the slime trend,” said James Walker, group vp of communications firm Ruder Finn. “Product safety is an obvious concern,” he said, but the other issue is whether a product—say, like shaving cream—would want to confuse its adult brand image by associating itself with a kid’s fad.
“Elmer’s Glue and Michaels stores are perfect for this craze because it builds on their positive association with arts and crafts,” Walker said. “While Gillette may see a small bump in sales, the brand is better off being associated with clean shaves and moisturized skin. Unless brands are targeted toward kids, they should sit this one out.”
Despite its social media moment, the slime craze is really just the recent return of an old craze. Mattel made a toy called Slime in the mid-1970s. Nickelodeon show You Can’t Do That on Television routinely slimed celebrity guests throughout the 1980s. And all three films in the Ghostbusters franchise featured a phantasm named Slimer.
According to Stacey Garska Rodriguez, who blogs as The Soccer Mom, gross stuff never goes out of style with kids. The difference now is that the web has turned slime from a special effect into a home project. “When I was a kid … [slime] seemed like this crazy stuff that was only for TV,” she said. “But now anyone can make slime with the easily accessible tutorials and supplies.”