This Obscure Product Gained Viral TikTok Fame and Soared to $125 Million in Sales — But ‘Steering the Cult’ Can Be ‘a Little Scary’

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Niamh Kavanagh
Niamh Kavanagh is a social media and digital marketing expert, CMO of Dream Machine Foundation, and storyteller with a purpose. She grew Dream Machine to 8M followers and edited videos that raised $750K for charity, earning attention from Oprah, Steve Harvey, and Khloe Kardashian.

In 2018, The Pink Stuff was a relatively unknown cleaning product with a niche market, produced by Star Brands for only a few hours each month at a factory near Birmingham, England.

That changed when Sophie Hinchliffe, an Essex, England-based hairdresser with a penchant for cleanliness, began sharing her home cleaning routine on her Instagram account, @mrshinchhome — eventually, soaring demand landed The Pink Stuff in 30,000 retailers worldwide, The New York Times reported.

Related: 5 Tips to Help Curious Marketers Get Started on TikTok

Hinchliffe’s practical and friendly cleaning advice, featuring The Pink Stuff, resonated with her audience on Instagram. Her followers, now 4.8 million strong, tuned in to watch grime disappear under the guidance of their relatable “scrubber in chief.” And although Hinchliffe never made the jump to TikTok, Pink Stuff-related videos did and have been viewed more than 2 billion times, according to Star Brands.

@myaa.nic Realistic bathroom clean ASMR #DoritosTriangleTryout #realisticcleaning #cleaningtiktok #cleantok #floorscrub #thepinkstuff #thepinkstuffcleaning #fullbathroomclean #realisticcleanwithme #showerscrub #cleaningasmr #spongesqueezingasmr #scrubbingasmr ♬ original sound – Myaa.nic

Customers eagerly awaited restocks, and soon Star Brands had to significantly ramp up production. Operations expanded to running three lines all day, doubling the workforce, and pushing international sales to new heights. Today, The Pink Stuff is sold in 55 countries and is available at major retailers like Walmart, Home Depot, and Amazon, where it retails for $4.99, with annual sales quadrupling since 2018 to about $125 million, per the NYT.

The Pink Stuff joined an ever-growing list of products that have gained popularity on social media for their ability to offer viewers a “life hack,” often one that most people didn’t even know they needed, such as desktop vacuum cleaners, car trash cans, or a stainless steel watermelon slicer, all of which found an audience on the platform, per Good Housekeeping.

However, brands that rely on virality as their sole marketing strategy might find themselves in a tough spot when the novelty wears off and viewers move to the next big thing. Henrik Pade, a managing director at Star Brands, admitted to the NYT that The Pink Stuff’s virality is “a little scary” because there isn’t much control over messaging.

Related: TikTok Is the New Normal. 5 Reasons to Add TikTok to Your Content Marketing Strategy

Marina Cooley, a marketing professor at Emory University, told the outlet that brands should focus on loyalty for a more sustainable approach.

“It doesn’t sound like there’s an adult in the room, steering the cult,” she said of Star Brands. “There needs to be someone dictating a communication strategy — working with influencers, working with retailers.”

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