Germophobia is no laughing matter, but over the last few years comedian Howie Mandel (most recently known as a judge on the TV show “America’s Got Talent”) has used plenty of humor to cope with his very real fears.

His lovable personality has won the hearts of people who have watched his struggle — even on live TV —  and generated public awareness about this condition that also affects so many others.

So this fall when American Standard prepared to launch its new ActiClean toilet with its innovative “clean” features, Mandel seemed like a natural fit as its spokesman. He jumped on board and has spent the past few months filming videos, TV ads and making appearances to promote this new product.

James Walsh, vice president-chinaware and commercial products for LIXIL Water Technology Americas, the business unit under which American Standard operates, has been with the company for 31 years and led the development team for the ActiClean HET Right Height toilet.

“Howie was a natural fit for us and the campaign around our ActiClean launch,” he says. “He’s been fantastic and has gone beyond our expectations. Howie has done a number of satellite media tours launching ActiClean, went with our team to our New York City showroom to spotlight ActiClean and is headlining a national contest we’re in the midst of. Howie will be bringing a new ActiClean to a lucky consumer’s home and presenting it to them as the grand-prize winner. We have a few more surprises planned with Howie, so stay tuned.”

Mandel shared some heartfelt words with the American Standard team recently when he visited their New Jersey offices.

“I have one of your ActiCleans in my home. You have no idea how you’ve changed my life,” he said during the visit. “And you don’t have to be a germaphobe to appreciate the ActiClean features. I mean, any normal person doesn’t want their hands in a toilet.”

Jeannette Long, vice president of marketing communications, praises Mandel’s efforts. “Howie Mandel’s well-known obsession with cleanliness is so synergistic with the goal of our ActiClean self-cleaning toilet,” she says. “He has represented our brand with such authenticity and that is very important to us. It is a core value of the American Standard brand. We have been so pleased with the media results generated from Howie lending his face to the launch of ActiClean. He conducted 20 television interviews via a highly successful satellite media tour, discussed ActiClean on ‘Access Hollywood,’ and met with our employees and customers at an internal event that has generated immense enthusiasm among our staff. He really hit it out of the park for us.”

American Standard also uses humor in its latest national TV advertising, featuring the mad dash so many of us go through when we hear the doorbell ring, signaling the arrival of unexpected company. They’ve also kicked off a print-ad campaign and plenty of social media posts to round out the ActiClean launch campaign.

“This is not just another toilet launch for American Standard,” Walsh says. “We truly believe the sanitary market has helped improve the health of people around the world. American Standard wants to make better toilets that improve people’s quality of life.”

This dedication was first evidenced with the company’s “Be A Champion” campaign that kicked off several years ago. It was designed to bring safe sanitary conditions to underdeveloped parts of the world. The first product it introduced was a sanitary drain pan. For every Champion toilet sold in the U.S. and Canada, American Standard donated a SaTo (sanitary) drain pan to an undeveloped country that struggles with disease spread through unsanitary conditions.

“The program proved so successful that we created a separate business unit within our LIXIL global team for bringing safe sanitary conditions to underdeveloped parts of the world,” Walsh notes. “We work with agencies to ensure these pans are distributed throughout the regions we target. And now we’re looking at the African market as our next target region.”

SaTo products are designed to work with open-pit latrines and are easy to install. They use an air-tight counter-weighted trap door to prevent odors and the transmission of disease. More than 1 million units are in use in 14 under-developed countries. They started in Bangladesh and now include the Philippines, India, Uganda, Kenya and Haiti. To illustrate the impact this is having, American Standard has received several grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support the expansion of its SaTo business activities.


The process of innovation

American Standard takes product development seriously and uses a variety of consumer-validation studies, interactive focus groups of all ages, its showroom advisory council and rep advisory council to help with engineering and design efforts.

“A number of years ago, in looking at toilet market, we were trying to determine what was next,” Walsh notes. “Water consumption for toilets keeps going down, but consumers still want toilets that will flush solids and keep the bowl clean. With our new ActiClean technology, when a consumer activates the clean cycle, the toilet doesn’t flush; instead it induces a cleaning agent in the rim area. The consumer can select if they want to do a quick clean, in which case the cleanser will sit in the bowl for one minute or a deep clean, which takes 10 minutes. At the end of the selected time period, the toilet automatically purges itself by opening both valves to flush.”

The proprietary cleaning agent is sold in cartridges that will last about nine weeks, Walsh explains. Its ingredients fight limescale deposits and contain some material from soaps and detergents, which gives it a fresh scent and foamy appearance. Cartridges are easy to place into a compartment in the tank — so consumers don’t have to worry about an awkward place to have to put their hands. The cleaning mechanisms are self-contained within the tank itself, so it retains the traditional toilet design, something very important to consumers in American Standard’s focus groups groups, Walsh states.

As Walsh summed up the two-year development and launch of ActiClean, he commented: “We are addressing a common chore that most consumers don’t like doing, but feel like it’s necessary and a reflection of their home. We want to make their life easier and help buy consumers time by making their life simpler. So we gave them a self-cleaning toilet that they can activate whenever they want to use it. The response has been so successful that we’re working on expanding the platform to include even more new technology and maybe target the commercial market as well. “


This article was originally titled “Potty humor” in the December 2016 print edition of Supply House Times.