Mr. Clean: The Multitasker

Mr. Clean is embracing multitasking. New ads from Procter & Gamble breaking this week show the product doing the work of three brands combined.

A TV spot from Grey, New York, for Mr. Clean with Febreze all-purpose cleaners shows three unnamed, animated cleaning products in a closet conceding that, yes, Mr. Clean is the better cleaner.

“Hey, world, he cleans great and he helps eliminate odors, too,” one of the trio says. Two talking spray bottles arrive at the same conclusion in a separate spot for the Magic Eraser: “I mean, I feel like it took you like, three times longer to do whatever he did,” one tells the other. (The commercial ends with one of the bottles saying, “I just want to be squeezed,” with a “teardrop” coming out of his nozzle.)

The latest campaign marks a shift for the brand towards more of a value message. Previous ads played up the fresh scent and multiple uses of Mr. Clean with Febreze.

The three-in-one argument is designed to appeal to shoppers looking for a solution that’s both inexpensive and manageable, according to Mr. Clean brand manager Shannon Taylor. “When you think of the economy we’re in right now, the consumer we’re going after does have an [inclination] towards simpler cleaning routines,” he said.

The push comes as dollar sales of all-purpose cleaners dropped 2.1 percent, according to IRI data ending Jan. 25. Pine-Sol, sold by Clorox, is in first place, with $62 million in sales. Mr. Clean with Febreze trailed private label with $18 million in sales. (Private label posted an 11.1 percent increase, or $19 million in sales.) The figures do not include sales from Wal-Mart and convenience stores.

P&G hopes the use of competitive advertising—a first for the brand—will provide a compelling argument for a product that is pricier than store brands, but Jack Trout, founder of Trout & Partners, says the ads may have the unintended effect of boosting private label sales.

“It might help to sell the all-purpose private label brand, but there’s nothing you can do about that,” he said, adding that consumers can just as easily trade down to store brands to get the job done. “You can’t take them on, but you can take on the specialty brands, the ones who are just as expensive.”

Another possible hitch is that consumers will see an all-purpose cleaner as less effective than three separate solutions. “There is always the belief that individual cleaners outperform all-purpose cleaners because they are made for just one purpose,” said Laura Ries, president of marketing consultancy Ries & Ries in Roswell, Ga.

The emphasis on value has prompted another, more subtle change: Gone from the ads is a heavy emphasis on the use of the Mr. Clean character. (He appears briefly at the end.) Taylor said the move reflects the brand steering away from traditional Mr. Clean ads, which show him either cleaning or inspiring moms to clean. “We’ve never really seen his role as being [that of] a salesman for the brand,” he said.

Krista Faron, senior analyst at market research firm Mintel in Chicago, said the change may also be indicative of the times. In an economic downturn, pricing is key and, for many packaged goods marketers, this results in a loss of brand luster.

“It’s a departure from the past, when the iconic stature of Mr. Clean might have been enough to draw consumers in, even though the brand commanded a premium price point. Today’s products have to deliver tangible benefits,” she said.

Spending for the campaign was not disclosed. P&G spent $45 million on measured media behind Mr. Clean in 2008, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Those figures do not include online spending.