Wanna get laid tonight? Try picking up a Magic Eraser. At least, that’s the idea behind a new Mr. Clean ad that Procter & Gamble is spending a quarter of their annual advertising budget to push during the Super Bowl. It’s a dramatic shift for a brand icon that once offered up a muscular, bald, earringed genie in a bottle who only promised to make cleaning faster and easier, not more orgasmic.
But perhaps now that women are looking for a little more equality in their mop bucket, P&G has given Mr. Clean the Magic Mike treatment, transitioning him from grime-buster to lust-launcher.
The message of the ad for men is clear: Clean up, get laid.
In it, a casually dressed woman standing listlessly at the stove looks up to see Mr. Clean sauntering slowly toward her, a packed bucket in hand, with sexy music playing in the background. Cue the sexy times: He sensually squeezes the water out of a Magic Eraser, twirls around the stove, then glides into the bathroom to tackle the shower, flexing a bicep muscle right on time with the beat. The two then sexy-mime cleaning off soap scum on a shower door while lyrics about being “your dream, your fantasy” coo in the background. Next, she dances along seductively while watching Mr. Clean grind it out on some floor dust in tight white pants and a tight white T-shirt. All of a sudden — the record scratch.
“Sarah?” Mr. Clean suddenly interjects, breaking the spell.
In an instance, Mr. Clean has morphed into Mr. Sarah, an overweight, out-of-shape, hapless, bearded, hoodie-wearing husband with a sweet, if dopey, look on his face — wearing, yes, cargo shorts — who sheepishly exclaims, “Cleanin’ up?”
The subtext, given his accompanying shrug and general demeanor seems to be, “Hey, look, I’m doing basic household chores like you’ve been nagging me to for ages! Don’t you love me now?!”
Spoiler: She does. So much so in fact that she jumps his bones. So hard, in fact, that they flail onto the couch in what we can only assume will be the hottest, cleanest sex of their (married) lives. The line “You gotta love a man who cleans” flashes on the screen.
Let’s be clear: The ad is funny, but it’s not sexy, nor is it like the fantasy of any woman I’ve ever known. And it’s not that, in some universe, an animated, buff, bald genie dressed in all white who looks like a gay sailor, dances like a Chippendale and loves a clean floor can’t be sexy. It’s just that in this universe he isn’t—and especially not when he’s pitching the idea that a man being willing to clean the house in which he lives is so novel, so rare and so erotic to a woman that she would lose herself in an Herbal Essences–style fantasy, and be so overcome with attraction that she’d tackle you on the spot.
Haven’t we come a longer way?
Alas. Here we are.
This isn’t the first time sex has been used to entice men to do a little dusting. In 2015, Facebook exec Sheryl Sandberg co-wrote a New York Times op-ed with Adam Grant called “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.” Among the many suggestions for how to make equality part of the everyday stuff of our work and home lives, it offered helping around the house — something dubbed as “choreplay” — as not just necessary for equality, but for sexy times, too, citing 2009 research that when men help out more around the house, sex is more frequent.
Sandberg has pitched this notion before, when she wrote in Lean In that “nothing is sexier” than a man who wants to do his share in the home. “It may be counterintuitive,” writes Sandberg, “but the best way for a man to make a pass at his wife is to do the dishes.” (She also recommends the book Porn for Women, which has a bunch of pictures of good-looking men dusting.)
But it’s all missing the point, which is that transactional sex is a pretty retrograde notion, not to mention that real equality shouldn’t have a sex carrot dangled in front of it. (Gay couples don’t seem to need it). Nonetheless, P&G saw a chance to expand their audience and be part of a buzzworthy conversation. P&G exec Martin Hettich, who approved the commercial, told Ad Age that this was all a way to reach a co-ed audience, “because it’s talking about cleaning and how men and women divide up the chores,” he said. “And there’s still a way to go.”
He cites recent research that found that men think they’re pitching in equally, but aren’t. “There’s a clear disconnect between what men say they’re doing and what they’re actually doing,” Hettich said, adding that only about 17 percent of households share cleaning equally. Then, addressing the sex elephant in the room, he explained that the company wanted something attention-grabbing as a way of asking if cleaning could be “part of the appeal in a relationship.”
Well, of course it can, and in theory, there’s nothing wrong with that sentiment. The appeal of most relationships is two people throwing in equally to achieve a common goal, whatever the activity may be, and however that is divided, assuming it’s with mutual consent. Cleaning is great — men should clean more. But this ad positions itself in a time and era when women still do the lion’s share of domestic work, but get no reward other than the pride of a job well done for it. The idea that men still need something extra to do what seems incredibly basic feels retrograde, for all its desired progressiveness: Why should we have to fuck you to get you to run the dishwasher?
In an ideal world, men and women both pitch in to make their living spaces desirable because a well-cleaned space is nice, not because it means you’ll get some action. Even in an ideal marketing world, if you’re going to make cleaning sexy, at least show us an actual sexy man doing actual sexy cleaning — or something equivalent to the male Jessica Rabbit.
As of this writing, science can’t tell us if equality is a bonerkiller or bonermaker — that’s the sort of thing sorted by individual couples, not market research. Of course, it must be said: If cleaning is your sex thing, by all means, put on a French maid costume and get out a toothbrush to scrub a toilet.
But let’s be careful about suggesting that in an age where men and women have never been closer to economic and political equality, that men still need a sexual nudge to do what any decent roommate wouldn’t have to be told. It demeans us both — the biggest bonerkiller of all.