Bounty’s Latest Mission: Clean Up America’s Schools

There’s been plenty of talk of late about “cleaning up” America’s schools. Finally, someone is doing something about it, albeit in a literal way.

Procter & Gamble’s Bounty paper towel brand this week begins a campaign touting the “clean” benefits of its products that includes a philanthropic, celebrity-backed push to make the nation’s classrooms more presentable.

The latter is set to launch with an event in Washington on April 20. Mary J. Blige, Russell Simmons and Gabrielle Union will help kick off the nationwide, classroom cleaning effort.

The campaign, called “Make a Clean Difference,” gathers approximately 1,000 volunteers in 30 schools across 10 U.S. cities for a day of cleaning, Bounty-style. Volunteer organization HandsOn Network and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation are also assisting with the push.

The new  initiative taps into consumers’ desires for corporate social responsibility, cause-related community efforts and an insight that cleaner schools make for brighter—and happier—learning, P&G said.

Though “clean” is an implied benefit of most paper towel brands, this is the first time Bounty has played up the attribute in its advertising. Previously, Bounty’s marketing touted the brand’s durability and absorbency when tackling messes, said Bounty brand manager Dave Lee. For instance, an outdoor campaign last year in New York featured giant cups that appeared to be spilling coffee on the sidewalk and huge melting popsicles next to a sign stating that Bounty “makes small work of BIG spills.”

Bounty’s new emphasis comes as the brand recognizes that consumers want “first and foremost, a confident clean they can trust, [especially] when it comes to surfaces that their families encounter daily,” Lee said. In the classroom cleaning context, that means that parents can say “‘yes to the mess’ in the name of creativity and learning,” he added.

In rolling out its “clean” message, Bounty turned to TV, digital, in-store and social media. A television spot launching this week shows a bride-to-be catching her newly made wedding dress just as another woman is about to lay it out on the kitchen counter. She breathes a sigh of relief, however, upon discovering the surface is spotless, thanks to Bounty. “Just because a counter looks clean doesn’t mean it is clean. But with one sheet of new Bounty, you’ll have confidence in your clean,” the voiceover says.

Interactive media expands the theme. One digital execution shows a dog “sock puppet” with green and black button eyes wiping his mouth down a shiny surface counter because it’s dirt free.

Agencies involved in the campaign include Publicis, Lapiz, The Integer Group and Bridge Worldwide. MS&L and Carat handled PR and media-buying duties.

P&G, which spent $64 million advertising Bounty last year, sans online, per Nielsen, said it’s the biggest PR campaign in the brand’s history. The launch also aims to promote a series of product initiatives implemented across the line in February.

Bounty Basic towels, for instance, boast “an improved texture when [they’re] wet.” Bounty Extra Soft “feels and cleans like a cloth and also has a new emboss pattern.” And, Bounty napkins now come in a “smoother feel” and with “consumer-winning prints,” per P&G press materials.

Such innovation is an attempt by P&G to provide a salient product feature when compared to store brand competitors. Overall dollar sales for paper towels rose 2.4 percent for the 52 weeks ended March 21, according to SymphonyIRI Group, which does not track Walmart sales. Bounty’s sales jumped 5.7 percent versus 8.5 percent for private label.

For whatever reason, consumers are also having fewer online discussions about the category. In 2009, paper towel brands like Bounty, Viva and Kleenex received 7 percent more volume buzz than they did so far this year, per Zeta Interactive, a New York interactive marketing agency which analyzes consumers’ online conversations. But consumers, at moment, appear to be more interested in household cleaning products, said the firm’s CEO, Al DiGuido.

By linking a product in a low-interest category to prominent consumer concerns like cleanliness and the state of the nation’s education system, Bounty’s new campaign aims to create some positive talk. Research showed that 25 percent of U.S. schools have “at least one on-site building that is in less than adequate condition,” P&G’s Lee said.

The campaign’s goal is to “provide clean learning environments to unlock curiosity and creativity in tomorrow’s leaders—our country’s youth,” he said.

In doing so, Bounty is tapping into a “higher-order benefit” in paper towel category advertising, said Andrew Benett, global CEO of Arnold Worldwide. Benett, whose agency was not involved in the campaign, has worked on paper towel campaigns before.

“It’s moving up the ladder toward what is a more emotional and rational benefit for them to own,” he said.