A few months ago I visited the birthplace of some of the world’s most iconic brands: Ivory, Pampers, Gillette. It was Procter & Gamble’s brand museum at their head office in Cincinnati, and it’s where I re-encountered one of the more beloved mascots from my childhood: Mr. Clean.

TV commercial late 1950’s. USA. Image source:

This is a great example of brand marketing strategy that stood the test of time and came out strong by solving an every day problem, staying true with to core purpose, giving the people what they want and finally being flexible in view of the “long game”.

Marketing is about connection; we lose sight of human elements when we only start focusing on shiny new technology or selling product features. Brene Brown says that true connection is through empathy.


In the 1950s Linwood Burton ran a ship cleaning business that required lots of elbow grease and even more toxic cleaning products. He was motivated to make an alternative cleanser that wouldn’t harm the health of his employees but remained as effective. He named it “Mr. Clean” and sold the patent to Procter & Gamble in 1958.

There you have it: solve a human problem and you have a brand that connects with people.

Businesses neglect the power of listening to their audience (both employees and customers) and giving them what they what — empathy sells. With all of the amazing social media platforms it’s now easier than ever to listen to what your audience is saying. They are speaking up and brands need to listen — in fact it needs to be integrated to their tactical efforts.

How can you do any listening, if all you are doing it talking? In her article “The Benefits Of Niche Marketing For Global Reaching Brands”, Kaaren Whitney-Vernon says it best.

The secret of any global brand success is cultural understanding […]How and where do they get their customer pulse? By being silent. They let others do all the talking for them. Maybe that seeming lack of social marketing strategy is, in fact, the strategy. Customers come to Apple.


Mr. Clean’s mantra stayed consistent over the years and all throughout their growth — what a beautiful reminder to stay true to your core. As Mr.Clean spread all over the world, it adapted communication for the local culture but kept its core meaning.

Image source:
  • Don Limpio, in Spain (originally launched and sold for years as ‘Mister Proper’)
  • Maestro Limpio, in Mexico and Puerto Rico
  • Mastro Lindo, in Italy and Malta
  • Meister Proper, in Germany (originally; labeled for a short time as Mr. Proper)
  • Meneer Proper, in Belgium and in the Netherlands (Colloquially, the brand is known as ‘Mister Proper’)
  • Pan Proper, in Poland
  • Mister Proper, in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Middle east, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovakia, Romania, Russia and Ukraine
  • Mr. Clean M. Net, in Canada
  • Monsieur Propre, in Belgium, France and Morocco
  • Мистер Пропер (Mister Proper), in Russia


Most branding publications have been claiming the power of the brand is in the hands of the consumer — I would like to challenge this. The power of consuming content and media is now in the hands of the consumer; brands have more “power” than ever.


Real dialogue between brands and people creates a stronger connection. With the larger number of social media platforms it’s simpler to bring people and brands closer together, there’s a cultural shift that’s making people increasingly want to feel more connected.

Françoise Hovivian writes in “Globalization: Apple’s One-Size-Fits-All Approach”

“Always make sure you are on top of changing trends or attitudes of your tribe and be flexible enough to change with them. Your community of loyal customers will be a huge resource for your research, focus groups, and testimonials.”

You need to be audience-centric with your brand marketing strategy, and that will only work if every once in awhile you shut up and do some active listening.


Most recently the most famous bald guy in the world (fun fact: who image was created in the likeness of a sailor to tie back to its origins) got a makeover for this year’s Super Bowl. Jack Nell Writes in his article for Ad Age:

“Mr. Clean has lived nearly 60 years without making it into a Super Bowl ad. It turns out he was just waiting for the right time, when he could be a role model as an irresistibly sexy modern guy who cleans.”

Screen shot from youtube link above

Personally there is nothing sexier than a man who cleans my house.

There needs to be give-and-take between a brand and the people it connects with — it’s a relationship between the persona that represents your company and the person on the receiving end. If you want the relationship to last then it should be given the same type and amount of respect that you would give anyone else you aim to grow with. It takes time, effort, communication and flexibility from both parties. It takes empathy, and when applied to brands….

empathy sells.

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