Take a trip through the marketing history of household cleaners to see how advancing tech and a need for differentiation have driven innovation.
Spring cleaning time is here, meaning you are likely flinging open the windows and getting prepared for some washing and scrubbing. This annual activity seems to unite young and old and remind us of more traditional times. After all, lots of things have changed, but we still clean the same, right?
Well, not so fast! While many images seen in cleaning advertisements seem to be timeless, the way we clean has always been tied to technology. Additionally, the ways in which these products are marketed to consumers are linked to technology – thus both constantly evolving. Some messaging may stay consistent, such as conveying that the product will make the user’s life simpler, but the way these messages and products reach consumers has progressed greatly over the past 150 years.
The Early Days
Back in the 19th century, people were faced with the back-breaking chore of laundry, washing by hand and crafting soaps from raw ingredients – often taking up to four days per load. As industrialization progressed in the early 20th century, companies began to manufacture massive washing machines, leading to a higher demand for pre-made laundry soaps. Early brands like Rinso transitioned to household use, and the first laundry soap ads began to appear.
Following two world wars and significant technological progress, the image of domestic life changed. This period in the late ‘40s to early ‘60s represents the “golden age” of consumer advertising that many people envision when thinking about vintage CPG marketing. The reason we remember these marketing pitches so vividly is that they represented a powerful sales tool when faced with nearly identical competitors. Jingles, superiority claims, and humor became tools for household brands to imprint their unique value into consumer minds. Many of the domestic-based ads targeted the wealthy and middle-class homeowners, predominately featuring the “model housewife”.
Mass advertising was the vehicle to bring these messages to the public, making ads for laundry soap and household cleaners commonplace in magazines, on radio, and throughout broadcast TV. As our culture’s appetite for media grew, memorable mass marketing approaches grew along with them.
By the early ‘90s, CPG producers were in competition with one another to differentiate using niche products or specialized versions of existing brands. New product categories such as deodorizing spray and multi-surface cleaning wipes emerged, helping the market for household cleaning products grow. Even though women’s roles in the workforce were becoming more equal, a majority of these ads were still targeted towards the 1950s version of a housewife. However, others started to reflect the blurring of domestic labor responsibilities, emphasizing how the convenience of niche products could even benefit a masculine ideal.
How Household Cleaners Innovate Now
Innovation drove the growth of the household cleaner market throughout the 20th century, and it continues to do so in our own decade. Products like single-use laundry detergent pods show how the image of household chores is ever-changing and tailored to the needs or wants of the cleaner. While one person may prefer the tradition of mop and bucket, others enjoy the convenience of a disposable mop pad.
Innovation also comes in the way CPG brands approach consumers with marketing messages. For instance, popular multi-surface cleaner brand, Pine-Sol, recently constructed a pre-roll digital video ad campaign designed to accompany the most popular searches on YouTube. The ads use deadpan humor and stock video to assert that, even though the brand isn’t an expert on the video’s topic, it is an authority on getting things clean. Unlike some cleaning ads, these pre-rolls seem to forfeit gender bias – sending messages that the products “get the job done” regardless of demographics.
Tailored messages represent the gradual break brands must take from mass marketing in order to remain relevant and impactful. Brands now recognize the need to communicate directly to all of their consumers and remind them that cleaning products still hold an important place in their lives.
As you get rid of the dust on your bookshelves and the grime behind your sinks, you can now take a second to reflect on how cleaning products and their marketing tactics have advanced over the past few centuries.