BOOTLEG FILES 435: “The Mr. Whipple Charmin Commercials” (1964-85 series of television advertisements for Charmin toilet paper).
LAST SEEN: Many commercials are on YouTube.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Never released as a fully anthology for home entertainment viewing.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Oh, please, don’t squeeze the DVD label!
When it comes to marketing, some consumer products are easier to promote than others. For example, shampoo brands can easily be promoted with a model sporting a thick head of hair, while pantyhose can be sold via leggy models in mini-skirts. In both cases, it is very easy to show the product in use. However, this doesn’t quite work when it comes to the marketing of toilet paper.
So, how can you promote a product without being able to show it in use? In 1964, Procter & Gamble solved that problem with a television commercial in which a beleaguered grocery store manager scolds female shoppers for squeezing packages of Charmin toilet paper (referred to with the euphemism “bathroom tissue”). The commercial created a sensation that would stretch two decades and 504 different commercials that provided endless variations on the same single joke.
The charm of these commercials was the recurring central character of Mr. Whipple, the grocery store manager whose time was apparently monopolized by ladies who could not get enough of the “squeezably soft” packages of Charmin. Dressed in a white store manager’s jacket, Mr. Whipple (his first name was George, but that was rarely used) found the decorum of his retail establishment constantly disrupted by women who would gather around an endcap display of Charmin. The endcap would be topped with a sign that read “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin,” but the women blithely ignored the warning while digging their fingers and pressing their palms deep into the sides of the Charmin package. Some women would run their nostrils across the top of the package and offer praise to the product’s olfactory-pleasing abilities. While this grocery store rapture was going on, the women would comment in borderline-orgasm tones on the irresistible nature of the item and their seemingly uncontrollable urge to handle the package. Yeah, and you thought “Fifty Shades of Gray” was kinky?
Inevitably, Mr. Whipple would emerge and exert his authority on the situation – usually by abruptly removing the Charmin from the hands of a naughty squeezer. While berating the women for going crazy with their handling of the product, Mr. Whipple would quickly become hypnotized by the same force that drove the women to the endcap. The shoppers would lightly laugh at the manager’s seeming hypocrisy and declare, “Mr. Whipple, please don’t squeeze the Charmin!”
Over the years, Mr. Whipple’s war against Charmin squeezers would become something of a Sisyphean labor. He would employ a variety of gimmicks and devices – a two-way spy mirror, a security guard, a body double, even an opera singer who thundered anti-squeezing pleas in Wagnerian force – but, alas, the siren song of the Charmin package would captivate everyone who came within walking distance of the toilet paper display.
Obviously, one can get a lot of mileage by the endless milking of a limited joke – hell, Seth MacFarlane made a career out of that. But Mr. Whipple and the Charmin commercials took this to extraordinary lengths. By 1978, a TV Guide survey found Mr. Whipple to be the third best-known man in America, topped only by former President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham. So why did this campaign succeed so brilliantly?
The creative force behind the campaign was John Chervokas, an executive at the advertising agency Benton & Bowles who invented the Mr. Whipple character and the “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” tagline. But a great deal of the success was due to Mr. Whipple – actually, actor Dick Wilson. Born in England as Riccardo DiGuglielmo, he was raised in Canada and served with distinction in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. Moving to Hollywood in the 1950s, Wilson enjoyed a niche career playing small character parts on TV sitcoms and in forgettable films.
But Mr. Whipple was a true feat of acting strength. Wilson embodied the ultimate in hypocritical authority – a fussbudget who thrives on spoiling other people’s taboo fun, but who has no problem engaging in the same forbidden activities. When Wilson’s Mr. Whipple sighs, “I love to sneak a squeeze on the sly,” he makes his lament sound like the cry of a penitent that has yet to whip the sin from his soul. Ultimately, Mr. Whipple has the same feet of clay as the rest of us – which makes him a truly lovable fool.
At the peak of his career with Charmin, Wilson was earning $300,000 annually plus a lifetime’s supply of toilet paper – while the production on the commercials took a mere 12 days out of the year. In an interview with a Canadian newspaper, Wilson acknowledged that his claim to fame was, at best, slightly odd. “I’ve done 38 pictures and nobody remembers any of them, but they all remember me selling toilet paper,” he said.
By the 1980s, changes were made to the Charmin campaign. A rival grocer that encouraged ladies to squeeze the Charmin was introduced, much to Mr. Whipple’s bottom-line despair. Mr. Whipple would eventually see the error of his ways and go the extra mile to encourage shoppers to squeeze the Charmin. But the fun eventually petered out and Mr. Whipple was finally retired in 1985, although Wilson was brought back for a few more commercials in 1999. When the actor passed away in 2007, Procter & Gamble aired a special commercial that paid tribute to his performances.
Many of the Mr. Whipple commercials can be found on YouTube, and some of them offer unexpected surprises: a young Teri Garr turns up as a Charmin-obsessed shopper, while the sublime character actress Kathleen Freeman finds herself converted from skeptic to squeezer in milliseconds. Harlem Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon appeared in one commercial to perform basketball-style tricks with the package. There is even a rare Spanish-language commercial, with Mr. Whipple startling a pair of Latina shoppers by demanding, “Por favor, no aprete el Charmin!”
Oddly enough, none of the 504 commercials with Mr. Whipple ever explicitly stated the product’s intended use. But years later, the connection between Mr. Whipple and what he was actually offering to customers found its way into the street vernacular with the phrase “Mr. Whipple” becoming synonymous with a dishonest online seller – in other words, an ass-wipe.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg material, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg DVDs is perfectly legal. Go figure!
Posted on July 6, 2012 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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