It’s been more than 30 years since Charles “Mean Joe” Greene hobbled toward a fictional locker room, accepted a Coca-Cola from a warm-hearted kid who showed compassion on the NFL star he idolized, and returned the favor by throwing the kid his Pittsburgh Steelers jersey.
But the leader of the “Steel Curtain” defense that won four Super Bowls can still draw a crowd, and has a way about him that makes him the perfect representative for product endorsements like he was in that 1979 Coke television commercial.
Greene has been a regular at RV events over the past year representing Dometic and its D-Line cleaning products.
For Dometic, the results of having the celebrity as a spokesman has been everything the company could have hoped for.
“Mr. Greene has been a class act,” says John Primm, director of aftermarket sales for Americas, Dometic Corp. “We couldn’t have made a better choice. As an individual and a professional, it’s just been amazing to spend time with him and to see the reaction of people from all over. He was at the RVIA show and … you could see it on their faces, just the happiness he brought to everybody. For our products and company, he was the right choice.”
The Right Fit
Greene obviously had experience with being a celebrity pitchman from his days with Coca-Cola, but he still may not have been an obvious first choice for Dometic when it wanted to launch a new marketing campaign.
“As we were working to develop the D-Line, and the picture we wanted to paint was of it being the most active product out there against dirt and odor, we came up with ‘the mean defense against dirt and odor,’” Primm explains.
“We work with an individual who has access to NFL players, and when Mr. Greene’s name came up, knowing he was the best defensive player of all time made him a perfect match for the brand,” he adds. “Additionally, there’s the element of how professional he is and how well-spoken he is. As great of a player as he was and all the things he’s accomplished, he’s extremely modest and very good with people.”
In an exclusive interview with RV PRO, Greene describes how he decides which opportunities to pursue when it comes to endorsements. He credits his agent, Ricky Clemons, with putting him in contact with Dometic.
“He brought my attention to Dometic and gave me some insight into what they were doing and who they were,” Greene says. “Over the years I've had some opportunities, but not as many now as early in my career."
“But what I always did was look at the company I was involved with, because the strength of their company would give me strength. I didn’t want to be involved with anyone or any product that I thought would lessen my image,” he adds. “With this, I thought Dometic – being a stalwart in what they do and the business they’re in – would be a great match for me. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring some attention to what they’re doing with their new line, the D-Line.”
D-Line features a number of cleaning products that tackle both the inside and the outside of an RV. The products include its premium holding tank treatment, its roof sealer and roof cleaner, its Wash ’n Wax product, its bowl cleaner and tank treatment, and its Ultra Enviro-Soft Toilet Paper.
Greene says he familiarized himself with some of the products to help him in his job representing Dometic.
“I wanted to use some of the toilet bowl cleaner at my house, but my wife wouldn’t let me do that – even though it was safe for the house,” he says with a laugh.
An experience with RVing during his NFL days helped Greene realize that a partnership with Dometic could be a good match. He says that in the 1970s, he and his wife bought a 26-foot motorhome and used it for vacations.
“We went on a vacation from Dallas, Texas, to San Diego and up the coast of California up to Big Sur and back through the Painted Desert and all that,” he says. “It was about 10 days. It was a big group – me and my wife and my brother and my mother and three small kids. That was a great experience. I would definitely recommend that.”
One thing that has made itself abundantly clear to Dometic and to Greene during their association is that Pittsburgh Steeler fans haven’t forgotten the glory days. And they appear to be everywhere.
Whether it’s at a trade event like the RVIA’s Louisville show, or consumer gatherings like The Family Motor Coach Association, or the annual Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association show in the heart of Steeler country in Hershey, Pa., people flock to the Dometic booth to meet Greene.
“So many of them ask me: ‘Where’s the kid that was in the Coke commercial with you? Where’s the jersey? Can I have your jersey?’” he says. “It’s reflecting a lot back on the commercial and specific events, like when we played the (Cleveland) Browns. In particular, in Hershey, there were comments about playing the Bengals and playing the Browns.
“I’ve met some people who have photos of me when I was much younger. They tell me of experiences they had with me and with the football team when they were up at St. Vincent’s and Latrobe, where we used to hold training camps. It was great. The majority of them, naturally, I couldn’t remember, but if they showed me pictures I could relate and that would click my memory pretty good.”
And although it’s the chance to meet the Hall of Famer that brings in the crowds, Dometic also sees the benefits from Greene’s appearances.
“Many fans come out to these shows dressed head to toe in Steelers gear,” says Kristin Durham, marketing merchandising manager for Dometic Corp. “I’m talking hats, shirts, socks, gloves. Anything you can think of. And they love it. (Fans would) come up to Dometic representatives and say, ‘Thank you so much for allowing me to meet my hero.’”
“They don’t call it the Pittsburgh Nation for nothing,” Greene says with a laugh. “Those guys are all over the place. They make themselves known. I’ve been removed from the playing field for over 30 years and those people still recognize me and they honor me with their presence and with their smiles and their graciousness. It’s a wonderful thing. I must admit that after all these years I do enjoy that. I think it is serving a purpose for Dometic.”
Those fans will have even more reason to celebrate with Greene when they next cross paths.
On Nov. 2, the Steelers retired Greene’s No. 75 jersey before their game with the Baltimore Ravens. Greene is the first player from the Super Bowl teams to have his jersey retired and only the second in team history. (Defensive lineman Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 was retired in 1964.)
“It is a great feeling – one-of-kind … not really believing it’s happening,” Greene says. “I’m really overjoyed by all of the positive things that have happened for me by being a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1969.”
“That’s a milestone that doesn’t happen in the Steeler organization,” Primm says.
After finishing his collegiate career at North Texas State University, the NFL was definitely in Greene’s sights. But the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t exactly on his radar. The team had been pretty miserable throughout the 1960s, and finished the 1968 season with a record of 2-11-1.
In 1969, the Steelers won only one game, but Greene was named the defensive rookie of the year. Things slowly began to improve for the team.
Greene gives much credit to team founder Art Rooney and his son, Dan, for sticking with Coach Chuck Noll through the tough times and giving him time to build the team that won four Super Bowls from 1974 to 1979.
“Without being a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s so many wonderful things that have happened to me and my family that never would have happened,” he says. “There’s no way I ever would have enjoyed such a wonderful time in life.”
Still in the Public Eye
His experiences with the Steelers during his playing days also means Greene is still a viable public representative, even though he hasn’t made a tackle since the early 1980s.
Greene says being a spokesman isn’t something he enters into lightly. He says that in deciding whether or not to represent a product, he considers the company’s favorability, visibility, likeability and character.
He says a person considering being a celebrity spokesman must enjoy being around people and being able to socialize while representing the company and the product well.
“It can be one-sided. That’s why you’re being hired – to bring visibility and hopefully move the product forward, move knowledge of the product and sales of the product,” he says.
Although his iconic Coke commercial was his first big endorsement success, Greene says he and other members of the Steelers did local product spots in the Pittsburgh area. Some of those, he says, came off “hokey”, but he learned to be a professional through the process.
“The job was always in my vision not so much for me, but equally important for the product and the company that you’re representing,” he says. “You want to come off in a good light.”
Primm says that level of commitment is exactly the kind of trait companies should look for when considering hiring a celebrity spokesperson.
“You need to look at their image in their profession, whether it’s a movie star or a football player or baseball player or whatever. You need to align that image not only with the marketing campaign and program you’re wanting to do, but also take into account their personality and their interaction with people,” he says.
“We take a lot of pride in the product we have on the market. Therefore, we wanted that individual to be of that same makeup and demeanor. Not only did we take into account his image on the football field, but also the great things he’s done off the football field.”
If the reaction Dometic sees at Greene’s appearances is any indication, the partnership has worked well for both parties.
“Mr. Greene was their hero in football. He was the guy a lot of these fans looked up to,” Durham says. “They fell in love with football because of Mr. Greene. His fans have now become Dometic fans. … He will stand there for two hours and talk to them and take time to reminisce. It’s been awesome.”
-Travis O. Pryor
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