On Tuesday, more than 4 million people on TikTok watched the whirlwind romance of Scrub Daddy’s smiling sponge mascot and Duo, the owl mascot of language-learning app Duolingo. The 30-second video — cross-posted to Scrub Daddy’s 1.4 million followers and Duolingo’s nearly 4 million — culminates in what can only be described as an immaculate scrub-ception, with Duo giving birth to small, green, Duo-shaped Scrub Daddy sponges.

If you haven’t spent a lot of time online, you’re probably pretty confused, but the content is a perfect embodiment of brands letting go of traditional corporate language on social media and embracing sexually charged posts, referred to as being “horny on main.”

Duolingo and Scrub Daddy did not immediately respond to The Inquirer’s request for comment on the video.

The collaboration with Duolingo was the latest installment in the prolific TikTok portfolio of Pennsauken-based Scrub Daddy, whose namesake product is an almost-mythical, all-purpose sponge that evolved from founder Aaron Krause’s idea for a hand scrubber intended for use in auto body shops. And thanks to the viral video-sharing app, the brand has been able to reach a sizable new audience it hadn’t previously tapped into through traditional marketing, Krause told The Inquirer.

“For the last two years, people were home cooking, cleaning three times a day and they have plenty of time to sit and look at videos on their phones,” Krause said. “And because of that, you know, the interest in cleaning products and sponges has gone through the roof and we’ve been right there with the engaging TikToks.”

The app had largely been written off as a dance app for kids but picked up a swath of new users during the pandemic: In the first quarter of 2020, the app had just more than 900 million global average monthly active users. By the first quarter of 2022, that nearly doubled to 1.6 billion monthly active TikTok users, according to app analytics firm Data.ai.

Scrub Daddy has also taken some chances by being “a little more edgy” on TikTok, Krause said. Last year, Scrub Daddy said it had earned about $332 million in retail sales since appearing on Shark Tank in 2012. The privately held company does not release annual revenue figures, but has said that sales are increasing at a rate of 30% a year.

“I wouldn’t have bought one if it weren’t for TikTok,” said Lillian Barkley, a journalist who lives in Washington. She credited her conversion to a CleanTok influencer who did a direct comparison with a regular sponge. “It’s basically the same as any TV product demo, but the ease of parasocial relationships through TikTok builds trust that you can’t quite get from a spokesperson.”

When it comes to TikTok’s effect on sales, Krause gained insight during what he called a “media blitz” the company launched in the Atlanta area across TV, radio, and billboards. He said when the team tried to determine whether there was an increase in sales at Scrub Daddy’s largest retail partners in the area, such as Walmart and Target, “it was so difficult to actually see if the sales went up.”

Now, Krause said he knows “immediately how many people saw [a TikTok video].” If 2 million people watch a video, 250,000 people liked it, and 3,000 commented on it, the CEO said, he can track TikTok users following the link from a video to the company’s Smile Shop to make a purchase. “I know exactly the ROI on that. You can’t get that kind of data anywhere else,” said Krause, who says he sleeps “like three hours a night” and reads every social media comment.

Brand awareness comes from more than Scrub Daddy’s own content. One of TikTok’s most notable creators at the height of the pandemic, Addison Rae, posed the question “OK, but have you ever squeezed a Scrub Daddy” to her more than 4 million Twitter followers on May 2020. The writer Isaac Fitzgerald tweeted a photo of Krause in January 2021 saying, “The guy who founded Scrub Daddy sponges has a custom Scrub Daddy sponge necklace made out of gold and I think everyone should know that.” It got more than 10,000 likes.

And the brand’s online fandom has birthed more than hybrid Duolingo-Scrub Daddy sponges. In March, Scrub Daddy took a new form when drag performer River Glass debuted an interpretation of the iconic cleaning product as a part of a “Household Himbos” series that also featured looks inspired by Mr. Clean, Fabuloso, and Scrubbing Bubbles.

Glass, who has done cosplay for more than 15 years and always enjoyed dressing up, cited Landon Cider, a Season 3 contestant on the competition show Dragula, as inspiration for becoming a performer. As for how the Scrub Daddy look came to be, Glass said that “it really just popped into my head” despite never having used the product before.

The look got the attention of Krause and the Scrub Daddy team, who sent Glass a box of products.

All the viral hype is entertaining, but behind it is still a useful product, according to such Scrub Daddy loyalists as Barkley and Cassie Urban from Colorado. Cassie Urban praised the sponge as a consistent weapon in her cleaning arsenal. “At first I thought it was a silly product, but then I fed into their marketing tactics and bought one for myself,” she said.