There are brands on TikTok that are more than happy to be featured in the dirtiest trend on the app, otherwise known as “cleaning TikTok.”
Cleaning is a surprisingly popular activity on TikTok, in fact. The videos follow a simple formula: A TikTok user presents a disgustingly grimy oven, countertop or bathtub, and then scrubs until they sparkle. They use the same catchy pop songs as a soundtrack to their deep clean that any teenager would use in a lip-syncing selfie or dance routine, which is the usual content associated with TikTok.
The cleaning TikTok videos have a familiar feel for anyone who has seen a late-night ShamWow or OxiClean infomercial. Billie Mays, the pitch man for some of these products, would fit right in on TikTok. And brands are seeing the shine on sales from the cleaning craze.
“The TikTok cult item phenomenon is having this measurable effect on sales,” says Liz Cole, exec director and U.S. head of social at VMLY&R. “There are now these internet famous, cult items in a really wide variety of categories: cleaning, beauty and apparel.”
Products that in the past would have been labeled “as seen on TV” are now “as seen on TikTok.” Amazon even created a new page on its website for “internet-famous” products that are the “latest to go viral.”
One of the top products on Amazon’s page is one that most U.S. consumers would not have heard about even just six months ago. The Pink Stuff, a pink, pasty all-purpose cleaning product that claims to contain only natural ingredients, attributes its recent success to TikTok cleaning videos.
A search for the hashtags “Pink Stuff” and “The Pink Stuff” returns about 225 million videos, all depicting cleaning transformations. “It’s insanity,” says Sal Pesce, president and chief operating officer of Pink Stuff USA. “I’ve just never seen anything like it.”
“The videos are so cool,” Pesce says. “People will show you this oven that looks like it was burnt by a cake or something, and they use the paste and it’s clean, and they can’t speak better about the product. People are just fascinated by it.”
Pesce says the product was developed in the U.K. and his company got the rights to distribute The Pink Stuff in the U.S. this year. Since January, sales of The Pink Stuff went from 50,000 units a month to 350,000, and Pesce expects that to double by July.
“That’s with no marketing other than strictly organic social media,” Pesce says. “We’re not paying anybody. We don’t have any agreements with any influencers right now.”
The Pink Stuff USA plans to roll out a paid marketing campaign in the coming months, and there would be plenty of popular cleaning TikTok creators to pair with promotions. There are everyday professional house cleaners with sizable followings all over TikTok, like a Pennsylvania woman who goes by @katesgreats, who has 375,000 followers and regularly posts videos with millions of views.
The cleaning trend does not come out of nowhere. The internet has been obsessed with “oddly satisfying” activities. On Reddit, there has been a “power washing porn” community, 1.1 million subscribers strong, since 2012. That’s a forum of people who enjoy seeing the before-and-after-results of power washing tools.
“Oddly satisfying” is a genre of videos that depict weirdly entrancing everyday phenomena, like crud being perfectly scraped by a squeegee off a glass shower door.
Brands have taken notice to the fact their products could appear in these random trends. There are TikTok videos of toilet bowls rinsed in Lysol, and sinks covered in Comet.
Danisha Lomax, senior VP and national paid social lead at Digitas, says that “brands will be jumping all over” cleaning trends on social media, citing brands like Dawn and Fabuloso, that already appear on TikTok frequently. “It’s kind of taking Mr. Clean to the next level,” Lomax says.
“Any time you can make the everyday, mundane task or thing super-interesting, that’s another way to build that fun inspiring entertainment,” Lomax says.
TikTok, the Chinese-owned app, has been making inroads with consumer product brands since it became a cultural phenomenon in the U.S. The app is best known for music, comedy and its hold on youth culture, with 100 million users in the U.S. Its success has prodded Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube to try to copy its style of short, contagious public video creation.
All the apps are going after brands with promises of helping sales take off, and developing relationships with consumers. This month, at the NewFronts for digital advertisers, TikTok executives discussed the niche trends for brands to target, and one of them was “cleaning TikTok.” There also was “plant Tok,” for people with green thumbs; there was “tax Tok” for people interested in accounting; and there is “eduTok,” which is a category of creators versed in a variety of educational subjects.
“Brands have millions of TikTok subcultures and consumer passions to tap into,” Sophia Hernandez, head of TikTok’s U.S. business marketing, said at the NewFronts event. When asked about her favorite TikTok genre, Hernandez said: “It’s the ‘clean Tok,’ to be honest. I like watching really dirty things get clean.”
VMLY&R’s Cole says that she has worked with food, consumer products and even car brands interested in doing more on TikTok in the coming year. Last year, VMLY&R developed a TikTok campaign with Bagel Bites that generated 5 billion video views.
Cole says that there had been some hesitancy among brands about TikTok’s younger demographics, and whether that generation would be valuable from a sales perspective. But brands see that there is value in catching a trend on TikTok.
“Making brands more visible and relevant in internet culture tends to have this halo effect on awareness and consideration in the general population,” Cole says, “even with people who haven’t interacted with the brand online.”