Swiffer knows how us gals loves our mops

Swiffer has a whole line of commercials featuring women breaking up with their old mops and brooms to hook up with Swiffer, or the rejected cleaning tools sending flowers in an attempt to woo back their former owners. All the commercials frame women’s relationships with cleaning tools like relationships with boyfriends who are/aren’t meeting their needs. Some of them have involved the woman and the mop in couples therapy, too.

Before you ask, yes, early on there was a commercial featuring a man trading in his old cleaning tools for Swiffer. But had he been dating his tools? Oh, no. No, they were his team and he was their coach. They weren’t cutting it, so he was trading them for better players. One other less problematic version of the commercial didn’t run long: a woman firing an employee who wasn’t working out, with the employee of course turning out to be an old broom. But it’s the woman-dumping-mop version of the commercial that’s clearly won out.

It’s hard to know where to start on what’s wrong here.

For one thing, Swiffer seems to have begun the campaign with the idea that men associate loyalty with teammates and women mostly associate it with the men in their lives – we females aren’t team players, you know; we’re cat fighting backstabbers! Mrowr! Then they’ve dumped the idea that there’s any point selling the product to men (yep, on this rare occasion someone realizes women are a valuable market, it’s cleaning products they’re trying to sell us), and dumped the idea that the women who buy their products can relate to a female boss. They’re also implying women have a pretty intense relationship with our cleaning tools, one that involves loving, fighting, jealousy, feeling ecstatic, feeling let-down and finally needing to move on and let go of something you once had a lot invested in.

It’s a mop, people. Believe me, women have been trading in old cleaning tools for better ones for, um… how long have cleaning tools existed?

Maybe if the commercials were actually funny, I’d feel more inclined to cut them slack. They’re not. It’s just patronizing as hell to suggest we women are married to our cleaning tools.


  1. Stella says

    Umm… In all frankness, I disagree. You might have a point about the decision to drop the coach-team and boss-employee commercials (wasn’t there one with a lawyer, too? I can’t remember whether the lawyer was male or female) but I think it’s a stretch to say that the commercial-makers think women have an intense emotional attachment to cleaning supplies. They know women don’t think of cleaning supplies like lovers. They know everyone else knows, too. That’s why the commercial is funny. I mean, it’s not exactly laugh-out-loud hilarious, but I smiled a bit the first time I saw it. Exaggeration is an essential technique of humor. Which is why the commercial exaggerates the relationship between people and mops.

  2. says

    I said they’re implying that women have an intense relationship with cleaning products. I don’t know if they believe it – intent doesn’t matter to me, because few if any people will ever hear what a creator’s intent was. What matters is what comes across, and this is what they’ve implied. (I do think you’re wrong to assume they think “everybody knows” it’s not true. They might think that. But they would be wrong. Every stupid idea you can imagine is held firmly by some jerk somewhere.)

    The defense that humor requires exaggeration is irrelevant because it’s not exaggeration I criticized: it’s the very idea that people are loyal to old school cleaning tools and need to be freed of that loyalty before they can try Swiffer. I don’t think loyalty to brooms is what’s keeping anyone from trying Swiffer. Either people are happy with what they have, or they just aren’t convinced Swiffer is an improvement, or Swiffer costs more than they feel like they can afford.

    But instead of applying humorous exaggeration to any of those actual stumbling blocks to women buying Swiffer, they’ve chosen to imply that instead of unemotionally using and replacing tools as needed, like grown-ups do, women get emotional about their cleaning tools and have to go through the process of a breakup before they can try something new.

    They’re “exaggerating” something that doesn’t exist (which is exactly why I don’t find it funny), and it stereotypes women as overly emotional and unable to cope with the real world, even when it overlaps with their domain of house and hearth.

  3. says

    Ugh, you’ve hit on all the points that made me fume every time I saw that commercial.

    There are definitely some perks to living in Japan… I don’t have to deal with stupid as shit American commercials (for some reason, most Japanese commercials don’t bug me as much… tho it might just be because I don’t get cable and therefore don’t watch a lot of TV here).

  4. emp says

    Your article made me laugh; I hate the recent Bounty commercials. Dad and son, about 8, stand and look at a mess on the floor, trying to determine how many sheets of paper towel to use. Two? Three?

    Enter mom with the authority of a cleaning woman–One, she says in triumph. She tears off a sheet and proceeds to clean the mess while the male members of the clan watch in awe. I can’t remember, but she might even cook dinner after that.

    Me? I would have said “one, genius, now clean it up.”

    My girl Hillary may have made 18 million cracks in the ceiling but the rest of us are still cleaning up the mess.

  5. sbg says

    You mean no one else besides me has an intimate relationship with her mop?

    Ew, that sounds wrong to say even in jest. I mean, really, really wrong.

    Seriously, though, all cleaner commercials make it seem like cleaning is a glorious task women enjoy doing. Riiiight. It’s not fun. It’s a chore, which is why my mom doled out cleaning responsibilities to all of us kids – every Saturday we’d duke it out on who had to vacuum, who had to dust, etc.

    It’ll always cheese me that those ads are 99% of the time targeted to women in the first place. What, no man ever has to clean? Doubtful.

  6. Mecha says

    On the ‘guy’ front, I vaguely remember one of the commercials along this line initially involved an infidelity thing (a guy who had, if you didn’t see the reveal, hired a PI to clearly check out the infidelity of the woman–er, mop.) Unfortunately, I can’t decide if that’s better or worse (at least it’s male rejection of poor relationshi–er, cleaning performance, but still, nnh). I couldn’t find examples of it, though on the YouTube, to make sure I was remembering it right.

    Also, while looking for the above, I found another line of ads which is available at http://www.youtube.com/user/swifferbreakup , which has a bit more variety (courtroom, dating, and politics, only 1 out of 3 making the relationship pun) which is a plus… but it still seems to be focused on women doing the accusing/complaining. And, of course, the ‘break up with your broom/mop’ name for the campaign, not really hurting your point, here. Standard human inertia nonwithstanding, very few people feel that strongly about their mass produced bought-from-the-store tools. Also, I’ve definitely been seeing the ads for the ones you’re talking about more than these, so, as you say, it seems this line of thought’s won out.

    The thing I’m trying to figure out, mentally, is ‘where is the humor meant to be.’ I think it’s meant to be juxtaposition (not man, but mop! Haw haw) and, in the line you bring up, the slight absurdity of the various attempts to woo (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TWXZp7_rlA for an example that is purposefully made out to be ridiculous) and that just doesn’t work at all for me. Maybe I’m just resistant to weak puns after years on the internet.


  7. says

    Mecha, your description of the PI commercial is interesting. It’s a plus on the equalization side of things, but OTOH, the women are dumping their mops because the relationship just isn’t working, but the man does it because… what, the mop is engaging in consensual cleaning with neighbors? That’s even stranger. “Your mop isn’t loyal to you; don’t be loyal to it”?? I’m totally not following what they’re trying to get at here.

    If they rotated the break-up commercials with the courtroom, boss and other themes, it would mitigate some of what I’m complaining about. But the ones you see over and over on TV are the ones involving the breakups and “Baby Come Back.”

    I assume they think those are the most effective commercials of the lot? I wonder why. I actually do use Swiffer, and am considering switching because the commercials get on my nerves and there’s some allegedly green company putting out roughly the same product at Target.

    The thing I’m trying to figure out, mentally, is ‘where is the humor meant to be.’

    Me, too. I wasn’t especially offended by the first one I saw – most cleaning ads are rather gendered, so it took me seeing the “coach” ad to go “whoa, wait a second…” – but even then I thought it fell flat and wasn’t very effective.

  8. Mecha says

    Well, I think the PI case illustrates the joke as it’s meant to be interpreted for that line of ads, which is ‘Standard situation, standard situation, standard situation–SURPRISE! MOP!’. It’s not meant to make sense, it’s _meant_ to surprise/amuse, I just see it as a dull joke at this point. The other set I linked also go along those lines.

    The ‘baby come back’ commercial run… is less strong on that front, and I think is meant to be more absurd and strongly fixed in the relationship idea, and the humor/message comes from elsewhere. See how the mariachis are played up for humor in the one I linked… but further, both that and the wetjet one you linked spends a more time after the reveal playing with the woman’s ‘disgust’ reaction. It really seems to be trying to reinforce, ‘Switch to Swiffer, and you too can feel disgusted and wronged at how bad your cleaning tools were before.’ This is in contrast to the standard cleaning ad tactic of showing you bad cleaning, then showing you good cleaning… but still trying to deliver the same message in a heteronormative (and woman-dismissing-to-cleaning-as-relationship) package.


  9. says

    I’ve seen a number of Swiffer commercials over the last couple of years, and I recall the one where it’s an older man hiring a PI and confronting his “partner” about infidelity – it was quite clever because he says things which cue the viewer to think about cheating (“on the couch, under the table… tsktsk on the windowsill… I don’t think this is working out” then the camera cuts to the feather duster). Of course, this was made bizarre because the next cut was to a woman using the Swiffer duster and putting it away (“that was GREAT.”)

    Carpet Flick had a dad and son; they spilled stuff on the floor so the dad was showing the son how to clean up quickly with the new Carpet Flick, and they start having so much fun with the thing, they start throwing all sorts of things on the floor just to clean it up. Then the mom comes home, sees them throwing yet another pile of dirt on the floor, and says, “My turn.”

    Swiffer WetJet’s first commercial was a young couple who realize that their mom is coming in that day (never mentions whose mom it is) and both of them get busy cleaning up the house with the WetJet.

    And another Swiffer commercial was a sort of candidates’ debate; a woman candidate standing at the podium pointing out the flaws of her opponent, making the opponent look like a corrupt politician (“there is a trail of dirt all over your floor”) before cutting to a sponge mop. The next clip is the woman cleaning with the Swiffer Wet Wipes and she says to it approvingly, “Justice is served.”

    But it could be that I’m in Canada; maybe our commercials are different?

  10. megs says

    The “baby come back” ads don’t bother me. The idea that the old cleaning supplies are desperate to be taken back is funny when combined with a woman who is simply going about her cleaning, which in a very short ad isn’t implied to be anything other than a sometimes chore. The juxtaposition of silly mop reality (where the mop thinks there’s a relationship) with the actual reality (where you just use a tool for cleaning, and a better tool is better) is good. It’s making fun of the old mops and not the women.
    But any of the ones implying a “relationship” between the woman and her mop are completely different. The only thought I’d waste on something I was replacing would be how best to recycle it, not bother explaining to it WHY it was being replaced. This seems to make cleaning more of an emotional thing, rather than just something you DO. It just doesn’t work for me as silly or funny.

  11. lex says

    lord…im the first to say ads are sexist, but the baby come back ads are not that. Maybe the older ads are, but not the Baby Come Back ones.The joke is the absurdity of a mop being an old boyfriend. Its a clever way to say “once you switch to our product, youll never go back to your old product again”. It’s that simple. The woman in the story is always the hero, always the smart one, always makes it clear the mop is dumb. If she fell in love with it, then you may have an argument. But these ads are obviously intended for and received by women who are confident enough to joke about sex and relationships, and who can relate to the absurdity of what men do to win them back. It’s a joke where the woman is not the fall guy, the old product is. And I’m surprised that anyone would actually believe women have relationships with their mops…its exactly that ridiculousness notion that is the joke…of course we don’t, but we do get used to/keep some tools and its hard to switch when youre used to using it for so long. its a bit of truth exaggerated into a funny commercial…and i also think theyre hysterical…

  12. says

    Lex, the very first paragraph made it clear I was indicting the campaign as a whole, not strictly the BCB ads. The link did have a BCB ad at the top, because I couldn’t find a link to one of the more offensive ads the other day. I’ve found one now and changed it so that when you click the link, you see one of the older commercials and not the BCB one which – as has already been discussed in comments – would be less offensive viewed in isolation without the meta baggage from the other commercials in the campaign.

  13. lex says

    I can live with that…..”meta baggage”, huh?

    nice….my new goal is to use that phrase this week…as i clean….

    “goddamn cat…you got so much meta baggage!”


  14. Gategrrl says

    Just be sure when you’re cleaning that your rejected satanically possessed brooms, mops and brushes are safely in the trash and don’t peek shyly out from behind a seranading band trying to woo you back.

    Where’s the conservative Moral Majority when you need them to denounce stanically animated brooms and such? They sure did that when Disney came out with Fantasia. What’s WRONG with those people! They’re slipping up!

  15. Moppy says

    Listen – I am a mop and those commercials are a little fakey. I don’t have change for a bus ride nor do I need a suitcase full of clothes. And how could I possibly hire a marachi band to seranade you. Us normal mops and brooms simply go away and do not haunt our past employers. We know when we’re not wanted.

  16. says

    Next time someone comments that we only let through comments that agree with us because we’re a bunch of “feminazis”, I’m so pointing them to the above and saying, “No, see, we’re happy to let tools post so long as they’re polite and relevant!” 😀


  1. […] women clean? Or only women care about their cleaning tools?  Or, as Jennifer Kessler argues in her post, that “women are married to our cleaning […]

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