Back in the 1950s, a Marine ship cleaning business called Linwood Burton created a product that would become a household name for the next five generations and beyond. That product became known by its mascot, a bald man with an earring—otherwise known as Mr. Clean. The magical cleaning powers of the product included everything from dishwasher soap to multipurpose cleaners and stain removers.
Marketers can learn a lot from Mr. Clean. Not only has his product spanned 50 years—it’s still going strong. But how? And how can you mimic that success? First, let’s look at the history of the mascot.
In 1957, Harry Barnhart came up with the idea. According to Proctor and Gamble, the original image was based on a Navy sailor from Pensacola, Florida. But Hollywood modified it for advertising purposes after Proctor and Gamble purchased the product in 1958.
That same year, Mr. Clean (then called “Mr. Veritably Clean”) appeared in the first live-action television commercial, played by actor House Peters, Jr. Within six months, Mr. Clean was a best-selling household cleaner.
Why was/is Mr. Clean so consistently successful?
- Mascots are a softer sell. People trust a brand that feels personal and relatable. Mr. Clean gave the product a face that customers could connect to.
- He transformed with culture. When Mr. Clean debuted in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, he introduced a revolutionary ideology—that women were not the only ones who should care about cleaning supplies. Mr. Clean’s masculinity demonstrated the strength of the product, while also supporting the culturally relevant Feminist Movement ideals of that time. As the years passed, Mr. Clean continued to indicate that one product could be equally important to all types of people.
- He stayed true to the brand. Although the slogan changed over the decades, as did the variety of scents and capabilities, Mr. Clean remained faithful to the core of the original concept.
So what can you take away? A good marketing campaign will appeal to culturally relevant values. It will be personal and relatable. It will also stay faithful to the brand, no matter what minor changes occur in the strategy or product. Yours should do the same.
Want to see a vintage Mr. Clean commercial? Click here.