That Pine Sol Sista: The “Intensity” Campaign is a Straight Up Winner

I keep thinking: whoever thought this ad campaign up was really inspired. Because it turns that sh*t upside down as to who should be mopping in whose house. And then the romantic theme is hilarious. I’m not laughing at her; I’m laughing at the whole set-up. A take-off on Hitchcock’s film Notorious? All I can say is, keep going guys.

And then the white guy couldn’t take being left by his woman. This is the original, the one without the voice-over in the final cut which is being shown on TV, in which you can hear Handsome White Guy saying he can’t live without her and he’ll try anything to get her back. This is the newest ad, and it is far shorter than the one above, but it’s still great. Check it out.

And the Pine Sol Lady is a big, beautiful San Francisco woman named Diane Amos. She’s been the representative of the Clorox Company’s product since 1993. But Amos comes with an interesting story, as the San Francisco Chronicle related in 2002:

Indeed, Amos brings a uniquely San Francisco-style history to her job pitching cleansers to middle America. Two years after she was born in Indianapolis, Amos’ father divorced her mother, Pearl Amos, who raised Amos and her sister, Becky, now 39, alone.

When Amos was 7, her mother met and fell in love with a woman who also had two kids. The couple and the four kids moved to San Francisco to avoid the dangers faced by gay men and lesbians in Indiana 30 years ago.

“Being in a mixed-race relationship would have gotten them killed,” says Amos, referring to her mother and her mother’s Jewish partner, who were teachers. “The (Ku Klux) Klan was big there. They were both educators. They would have been fired.”

As a child, Amos didn’t know what “lesbian” meant, but she knew her mother was enjoying life again.

“It had been crazy all the time,” she says. “Now, she was singing and happy. ” (Pearl Amos died of complications from breast cancer in 1993, but not before seeing the first of her daughter’s Pine-Sol ads.)

The family settled in San Francisco, first on Fulton Street near Masonic and eventually on 33rd Avenue in the Richmond. Amos attended Notre Dame Elementary School, a Catholic girls school in the Mission. She then went to Lafayette Elementary School, Presidio Middle School and Washington High School.

Having two moms presented few obstacles when it came to having friends over, she says.

“In the early ’70s, women who were divorced were accepted,” she says. “So women living together as roommates were accepted. People didn’t even think it was a lesbian thing.”

Amos is married to James Medellin, who is a musician, writer, and voice-over professional. They have two children and live in San Francisco. She has used her unique experiences in her stand-up act, particularly with Olivia Cruises, which caters to the lesbian community and at other entertainment and lecture venues.
Of Medellin, she says, “James is very romantic. He wrote my one-woman show Balancing Act, which sold out every night for six weeks in San Francisco. He really had to give of himself, his time and his energy. It was incredibly romantic and made us closer. James is a great dad.”

Thing is, I felt that the previous ads that Amos did for Pine Sol were more problematic than they are now. She just looked like a large, safe, nonthreatening black woman giving out cleaning tips for mopping floors. She never looked like just another housewife to me. Just another big sista. “Housewife”: that’s for the Barbara Billingsley, pearls-around-her-neck type. Now she doesn’t look like a housewife either. Behind all that ordinary is a lot of sexy. A woman. Not a sexless servant or an Aunt Jemima type. A woman.

Some don’t necessarily cotton to the new ads. Shannon Hassett who blogs at Death and Taxes has a few takes on what she thinks is really going on.

I get that the company’s target market is clearly going to be largely composed of women, and I understand that almost all products cater to a specific gender and age range when creating advertising. In fact, 16 years ago, choosing Diane Amos as your spokeswoman was almost certainly revolutionary in its own right. As Amos herself acknowledged, “I’m pretty much everything a commercial actress isn’t supposed to be: [I’m] large, I have braids and I’m black.”

And 16 years ago, a woman’s fantasy very well could have been a man and a mop. It still might be — but think about how much more powerful it would have been had Amos returned home from a day at the office, walked into her bedroom (still located in that ocean side mansion) and found her (still) attractive, gainfully employed husband mopping the floor, just as he does every Monday after work. Chances are it remains a fantasy for many, but one that makes it seem a lot less painfully clear on the part of Clorox that women will forever be the sole Pine-Sol purchasers of the household.

In an article the New York Times ran on the commercial in November, Hank Mercier, a brand manager, claimed that the goal was to mimic perfume ads and their borderline rococo notions of romance. “Diane comes home and she is overcome with the scent of Pine-Sol and then that plays the rest of the way out with the gentleman mopping. [We] certainly made the choice to have it be a man and fulfill a fantasy, but it’s not a comment on the societal pattern of men cleaning in the house.”

While Amos certainly makes a point of inhaling the scent of the product when entering the room, to equate a commercial for cleaning products with that of perfume is problematic at best. Perfume ads may deserve their share of criticism, but to use the same marketing techniques for a product such as Pine-Sol produces entirely different implications. Perfume is made solely for women; men have their own version and the ads to go with it. It is part of the female beauty regimen, which means it is ostensibly something we use for ourselves. When you put Pine-Sol in that context, cleaning has suddenly become one of the small things women do for no one but themselves. We make it our own: We will wear the same scent our entire lives or switch by the season; catch a certain scent and be reminded of a friend; equate certain memories with the perfume we wore (and still cringe when we see those few drops of Tommy Girl leftover from middle school).

So we are now to hold Pine-Sol in that number, something personal and quite possibly a meaningful part of our day to day? It is a choice to wear perfume; cleaning is a necessity. But who cleans is no longer the one woman task of yesteryear, and it’s about time companies like Clorox started acknowledging as much. Housework does not mean woman’s work, and it would be nice if Ms. Amos — mother of two and successful actress and comedian — was given a hand by the mopping man of her dreams more than once every 16 years.

Oh, man. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Pepper Miller was far more scathing and to the point in Advertising Age:

In earlier campaigns, many Black consumers perceived the Pine Sol Lady, portrayed by Diane Amos, a pretty, full-figured woman, as a “mammy-type servant.” Pine Sol began telling Amos’ personal story in separate print campaigns and this recent spot was created in part to stifle those criticisms.

But “Intensity,” created by DDB, San Francisco, still doesn’t work because Black viewers now see that “mammy” has been swapped for “Mandingo,” a stereotype that represents the negative sexual and subservient image of Black men.

Um…what is getting girlfriend going in each of these ads is that each man is doing the mopping in order to attract and keep her around. I mean perfume may attract a man, but perhaps some men need to use a particular kind of bait for a certain woman. I mean, she drives miles trying to find where that scent is going to lead her in the first ad. This specific scent. And it’s not the scent of who he is, but what he is doing. In the second ad, Amos looks distracted, a bird in a gilded cage, until Handsome White Guy unscrews the top… And she ain’t going away tonight to meet up with Brother Man.

I’d sure like to see Handsome White Guy and Brother Man duke this one out. Now that would really get the theorists going…

The scent and its freshness is equally attractive to men as well as women, as indicated in an earlier Pine Sol ad in which a white castaway on a raft in the middle of the ocean smells the Pine Sol wafting hundreds of feet below as a sailor swabs the deck of a submarine. (And Amos appears out of nowhere on an inflatable to say her catch-phrase.) So if you use Pine Sol, you know that the joint is clean–and someone is near–or getting there. If they aren’t, there’s something wrong.

What’s really interesting though is that while Brother Man has stripped to the waist so we can see his six-pack, Handsome White Guy keeps his shirt on, but his tie is askew. Whassup with that? Equal opportunity here! Maybe it’s because he hasn’t mopped the entire room yet…

However, women do report that the sight of guys cleaning turns them on. Imagine what that might do for black women. Especially if a sista is dating, and she’s coming over to her lover’s apartment for dinner. And she finds that it’s not the usual bachelor’s pad, with underwear in the hallway and only beer, and uncovered Chinese or pizza in the fridge. And no, he’s not gay. The place is fairly neat and clean, which means that the man can take care of himself, thank you, and that she really doesn’t have to take over to be the little wifey for him, and do his laundry for starters:

In a post about the spots on, Todd Wasserman likened the ads to the 2007 book, Porn for Women, which featured photographs of men — fully clothed, it turned out — performing housework like vacuuming and doing laundry. (“I was surprised to discover that I really was turned on by these pics,” Christina O’Toole wrote in a customer review on

“We all would like our husbands to mop,” Ms. Amos said in a telephone interview from her home in San Francisco. “This says that real men mop, and it breaks it down to: It can be fun, it can be sexy, and women like it clean.”

Tom McNulty, author of Clean Like a Man: Housekeeping for Men, which instructs men in the basics of housework — about changing sheets, for example, “Don’t wait until you can actually see that your bedding needs washing” — is impressed with the new ads.

“It’s great,” said Mr. McNulty, who is incorporating recent studies that suggest men’s contribution to housework improves couples’ sex lives into Clean Like a Man 2: The Relationship Edition, a sequel. “This agency really is ahead of the curve, because I think women do have a fantasy about men cleaning.”

It’s more that we wish that more men would help with the housework, and not expect that we are there to do it solely for them, while they read the paper and watch the 5:30 news as the kids try to tear down the house for the 25th time as supper is cooking on the stove. Some recent studies are reflecting that change, especially during this Great Recession when women are bringing in what bacon they can scrounge for, while husbands or significant others can’t get a job and are forced to contribute in some way. Those contributions include taking the kids to school, getting groceries and cooking meals. And cleaning the kitchen and sweeping and mopping the floors.

I just hope that it becomes a lifelong contribution and commitment, beyond just something to do for the moment, for many.

Anyway, what do you think?

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~ by blksista on May 7, 2010.

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