In 1958, the jingle introduced an American household cleaning product represented by a brand character named “Mr. Clean”—a cartoon illustration of a muscular, T-shirted chap with arms folded, a smile on his face, and a squeaky clean bald head. Curiously, he also sported an earring in one ear.
It was an era when mothers were full-time homemakers, and Mr. Clean was just what a mom needed to help keep the house tidy. (And maybe an imaginary friend to keep her company while hubby was at work and the kids were at school?)
Television was in its boom years. The wildly popular “Superman” television series had just completed its six-season run at the end of 1957. He wasn’t the only popular character on TV. Early commercials made heavy use of advertising mascots to promote otherwise mundane products. Mr. Clean was joined by such immortals as the Green Giant, Speedy Alka-Seltzer, and Tony the Tiger.
Mr. Clean was the brainchild of Procter & Gamble, arguably the most prolific brand company in the world. By 1958, P&G had already introduced Ivory, the country’s “purest” soap; Tide, the country’s leading laundry product; and Crest, the first toothpaste with fluoride. Mr. Clean was just another entry in the brand parade, but one that would sustain itself over the next fifty years and, interestingly, see something of a re-birth as recently as 2000.
Mr. Clean is nothing if not influential. While his trademark jingle is widely recognized, his persona has entered pop culture. When an individual is described as a “Mr. Clean,” it’s usually not in the most flattering light; it is a derogatory term for a person whose behavior is just too good to be true. Mr. Clean has been referred to or satirized in a range of television shows, movies, and even video games.
Procter & Gamble faced an interesting challenge in bringing Mr. Clean to the worldwide stage. In Europe, to avoid confusion with similarly named products, among them “Mr. Sheen,” Mr. Clean was renamed “Mr. Proper.” The name becomes “Monsieur Propre” in France and “Meister Proper” in Germany. In Spain, the original Mr. Clean is translated into “Don Limpio,” while in Mexico, it’s “Maestro Limpio.” Despite the various names, however, Mr. Clean’s visual image remains essentially the same on all product labels.
While Mr. Clean was basically a single product for decades, in the past eight years, the brand has spawned a number of spin-offs. P&G is renowned for its brand extension strategy, and one wonders why it waited this long to expand the Mr. Clean line. According to brand licensing firm Nancy Bailey & Associates, a brand extension licensing program, initiated in 2000, has led to over 70 licensed products and over US$ 200 million in retail sales. The licensing program was extended into Western Europe, says the company.
A few years later, P&G stepped up its introduction of new Mr. Clean products. Today, the Mr. Clean line includes Mr. Clean Wipes, Mr. Clean Multi-Surface Cleaners, and Mr. Clean MagicReach, an all-in-one tool for bathroom surfaces.
In terms of sales, the highest impact introduction is probably Mr. Clean Magic Eraser products. The Magic Eraser was “discovered” in Japan, says P&G, modified and upgraded by the company, and brought into the Mr. Clean brand. The Magic Eraser created a lot of buzz when it was first introduced because it could clean virtually any kind of stain from a hard surface. It is basically a chunk of melamine foam that, when dampened and rubbed over a stain, “erases” it, much to the delight of consumers. P&G has already expanded the line to include variations of the Magic Eraser, which reportedly is outselling the original Mr. Clean product.
But the latest Mr. Clean spin-off may be a bigger gamble for Procter & Gamble. The company has entered an entirely new category with Mr. Clean AutoDry Carwash, which P&G says “gives your car a spot-free shine, with no need to hand dry.” This “car wash system” is a product that moves Mr. Clean in a different direction, appealing to the male consumer who is likely to be the one who’s washing the car.
More intriguing is P&G’s brand extension of the brand extension: In 2007, the company went beyond the carwash product alone and leveraged it into a service business, opening a “Mr. Clean Performance Car Wash” near its Cincinnati, Ohio headquarters. “We are treating this project like a learning lab to help determine whether P&G will build out the concept as a national chain,” said Glenn Williams, P&G spokesman. “Our research shows that consumers are quick and happy to associate the Mr. Clean brand with a high quality car wash.”
It looks like P&G might be ready to take the plunge. The company has already opened a second carwash in the Cincinnati area. Its website offers an indication of things to come: With the trademarked slogan, “Experience the Shine,” the Mr. Clean Performance Car Wash offers full-service exterior and interior cleaning, express exterior cleaning, and express detailing. A “Mr. Clean Club” card entitles the customer to every tenth wash free.
According to Design Forum, the Dayton, Ohio-based retail design consultancy that partnered with P&G on the project, the car wash experience brings the brand to life using the design filter “magically clean.” Full of amenities, the high-end car wash highlights other complimentary P&G products like Febreeze, Tide To Go, and Millstone Coffee. A recent Cincinnati Enquirer article states that the results at the existing two car washes have been so strong that Procter & Gamble is looking for more locations not even a year after the company's first car wash opened.
What an exciting time it is for Mr. Clean—a baby boomer who is transitioning from cleaning floors for fifty years to a rewarding second career operating car washes.