In 2018, The Pink Stuff was little more than a household cleaning product with a cute name. “The Miracle Cleansing Paste,” as it says on each container, was sold by only two retail chains in Britain. At a factory near Birmingham, The Pink Stuff line ran for about two hours a month. It was more than enough.
“It was a brand with many uses,” said Henrik Pade, chief executive of Star Brands, the company behind the product. “But no one used it.”
In fact, The Pink Stuff – which is, yes, bubble gum pink – had a few fans. One of them was Sophie Hinchliffe, a then 28-year-old hairdresser in Essex, about 30 miles east of London. Ms Hinchliffe had naturally heard about The Pink Stuff on Instagram and began posting daily videos to her new account, @mrshinchhome. All the videos were clips from her relentless campaign to spruce up the house she had just moved into with her husband.
There was Mrs Hinch, as she was called, using a toothbrush to clean the grout in her bathroom. Here she polished her candlesticks. If it got stained, The Pink Stuff would clean it, she told her small but growing audience. Don’t buy new tiles, she advised. Spend 99p and restore the old ones. She also recommended other brands. The Pink Stuff was simply a favorite.
“Hinchers,” as her followers quickly christened themselves, found something meditative and satisfying in watching a talkative, glamorous yet approachable woman eradicate filth. And these people weren’t just onlookers. They sought product advice from the chief purifier.
By the time “hinching” became a verb – defined as “to clean vigorously” – in Britain, The Pink Stuff’s days of obscurity were over. Stores that offered it found customers waiting for replenishment carts to come by so they could pick up all the small bins they needed. Or more.
“I was like, ‘Guys, what have you done?’ I can’t get any!’ “, Ms Hinchliffe said in a video interview. “Then The Pink Stuff got in touch and said, ‘Would you like us to send you some?’ »And that’s when I discovered the whole world of influencers.
Ms. Hinchliffe, who has 4.8 million followers on Instagram, never hopped on TikTok – “I have a hard time following a platform,” she explained – but The Pink Stuff did. Pink Stuff-related videos have been viewed more than two billion times on TikTok, according to Star Brands.
The viral bump
The Pink Stuff joins a jumble of once-obscure products that have been transformed by the internet, and TikTok in particular. It’s a list that includes the Hoan Bagel guillotine, the Stanley cup, and Carhartt beanies, to name just three. The sales increases gained from online fame can be fleeting, however. Quite simply because a new product is being hoisted aboard the viral train: look, it’s the Dash Mini Waffle Maker! – does not mean that it will stay there.
According to Star Brands, which began tracking online mentions of The Pink Stuff a year and a half ago, the hashtags were regularly viewed by about 20 million people each week. Sales have quadrupled since 2018 to about $125 million a year, a modest sum compared to industry giants like Clorox, whose annual revenues top $7 billion. But no one at the company’s Leeds headquarters believed that figure was possible a few years ago. The factory now runs three Pink Stuff lines, all day, with a workforce that has more than doubled. The product is now sold in 55 countries and available at Walmart, Home Depot and Amazon.
“We don’t spend money on traditional advertising,” Mr. Pade said. “It’s totally viral. Which is a little scary because we have no control over the messaging about our brand.
Marketing experts say this puts The Pink Stuff in a precarious situation. When the fortunes of a previously unknown product are built through social media, it is at the mercy of forces that can be monitored but not managed.
“The goal should be loyalty, not virality,” said Marina Cooley, professor of marketing practice at Emory University. “Virality is dangerous because it is ephemeral, it has no stickiness. People get excited about the first interaction and then look for the next viral thing.
The original version of The Pink Stuff was launched in 1931. It was just as pink as it is today, but had a decidedly less charming name, Chemico Bath and Household Cleaner, and came in a gray glass jar. As early as 1948, it was packaged in a pink box, but it was not until 1995 that the manufacturer fully considered the color of the product by adopting its current name. New owners took over Star Brands in 2018, hoping to bring a few cleaning products back to life. They quickly hired the brand’s first in-house social media guru, but sales barely budged until the Mrs. Hinch phenomenon began. The company didn’t contact her until well after she had developed a customer base. (They gave him a free product, but didn’t pay him for his support.) It was all happenstance. “You can’t plan to go viral,” Mr. Pade said.
Welcome to #CleanTok
As TikTok grew in popularity, Pink Stuff hashtags became part of #CleanTok, or videos offering tips, tricks, and hacks for sanitation-conscious people. For several years, it has been one of the most resilient niches on the platform. To date, there have been around 110 billion global views of #CleanTok videos, well ahead of #BeautyTok, with 78 billion global views, according to figures provided by TikTok to Unilever.
A typical #CleanTok video features a so-called “cleanfluencer” (some have over a million followers) working on a sink, pan or floor, with a particular cleaner and a particular brush. There are usually before and after images, making these little vignettes a cross between a commercial and an episode of “Law & Order.” They start with a mess and end with a verdict.
“People find it very calming,” said Lori Williamson, an influencer who lives in Toronto and recently racked up over a million views on a video of her cleaning a hairdryer. “Others say it’s motivating.”
She has partnered with 20 brands, but not The Pink Stuff. She learned about it after Ms. Hinch introduced it, but before Star Brands ramped up production, which it did in 2020, and bought a North American distributor, which it did Last year.
“It cost $24 to get it,” Ms. Williamson said. “I was so upset.” (It now costs $4.99 on Amazon and is available in about 30,000 stores worldwide.)
How well does The Pink Stuff work? The vast majority of #CleanTok videos are triumphant stories — The Pink Stuff conquers every surface in a bathroom, The Pink Stuff revives a sneaker. Someone in the comments section invariably asks the same question: Does the pink thing have a name?
There are also Pink Stuff fails, like pots that stay covered in baked-on gunk. A woman warned that The Pink Stuff failed to repair scratches on her car, something it was not designed to do.
Wirecutter, a consumer review site owned by the New York Times Company, tested The Pink Stuff and concluded that it was good but overrated.
A happily ever after ending
Ms. Hinchliffe began posting videos to manage her anxiety and help her connect with others, like her, who were more comfortable at home than being around strangers.
“If I started to get a little anxious or panic for no reason, I would grab my mop, or I would grab my vacuum, or my duster, and I would just put the music on and go at it,” she said. “And I would find that I was no longer focusing on what I was worried about.”
With her fame, Penguin Random House came calling. Her debut book, 2019’s ‘Hinch Yourself Happy’, was the first of a handful of books to reach number one on the Sunday Times bestseller list. Brands also called. Mrs. Hinchliffe is now working with Procter & Gamble to create Mrs. Hinch versions of cleaning products. Once a year, she visits the company’s offices in Brussels and refines their perfumes. Today, she lives in a five-bedroom farmhouse with her husband and children, as well as a dog, chickens and alpacas.
A happily ever after ending is harder to predict for The Pink Stuff. It’s no longer up to Ms. Hinch, but if the goal is to create a sustainable product, Star Brands has its work cut out for it, said Professor Cooley of Emory University.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s an adult in the room running the cult,” she said. “Someone has to dictate a communications strategy – working with influencers, working with retailers.”
Four years ago, when Generation Z discovered Vaseline, she noted, Unilever created a handful of new versions of the 152-year-old Vaseline, like Vaseline Gluta-Hya, which it introduced like 10 times “more radiant” for the skin. than vitamin C. In other words, the company has addressed the new customer base.
Mr. Pade of Star Brands says The Pink Stuff engages with influencers, but it makes no sense to try to control them. The bathtub design has been slightly modified, and the company has a four-person social media team to monitor hashtags and produce internal posts. Otherwise, The Pink Stuff convoy drives itself. Brand supporters can spot sponsored content a mile away, Mr. Pade said, and they don’t like it.
“Interest will wane at some point, as the household’s popularity will be overtaken by sex or drugs,” he predicts. “But once people hear about The Pink Stuff through social media, they try it.”
Audio produced by Tally Abécassis.