Thursday, July 15th, 2010

What I Learned From Watching 180 Deodorant Commercials

OSGPeople have been wondering for a long time what comes after anti-marketing marketing. When commercials began to target the people who hated commercials-these attempts were almost indistinguishable from SNL spoofs-it seemed like we'd reached the final frontier. Then there were stealth viral vids and customized social media ads straight out of Minority Report. But it wasn't until this week that somebody finally put it all together. I won't insult the effectiveness of this campaign by pretending you don't know what I'm talking about.

It all started with a Super Bowl commercial, one that has since gone on to rack up, on Youtube alone, over 13 million views. Old Spice used sharp humor, a snappy pace and a post-modern self-awareness designed for maximum appeal to… pretty much everybody. While the chiseled, shirtless Old Spice Guy is ostensibly addressing female viewers, the tagline of the ad campaign is "Smell like a man, man." (It's the perfect mixed address: as with many other Procter & Gamble products, the marketers know that a significant portion of "men's products" are chosen and physically purchased by women.) More commercials soon followed, including the completely bananas "Flex" spot, which goes full meta when the commercial itself is (briefly) not allowed to end.

After that, Old Spice's Twitter feed began responding to random people who mentioned these commercials. Although these responses could be funny at times, this level of engagement was not particularly remarkable in 2010, a time when TurboTax and Jet Blue and Chase bank do the same. But then, at around clock-in time this Tuesday morning, a couple of teasing dispatches went out. "Today could be just like the other 364 days you log onto Twitter. Or maybe the Old Spice man shows up @OldSpice," read the first one. Then: "The Old Spice man/guy on a horse is everywhere today, and he's just getting started." That's when the videos started showing up: brief 15- to 45-second ads featuring the OSG, shirtless as ever, standing in his bathroom-only now he was addressing specific individuals.

At first, the personalized replies were directed at people like Kevin Pereira, host of channel G4's Attack of the Show, who had said kind things about the most recent Old Spice spot, and who'd had the pitchman himself, Isaiah Mustafa, on the show as a guest.

It started getting weird when a second video, made for Olympic athlete Apolo Anton Ohno, emerged; it thanked the athlete for thanking the OSG for the morning's first video.

Then videos began hitting random commenters on Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook. They went to bloggers, celebrities, people that social media marketers would classify as "social media mavens." The speed was impressive. For example, Twitter user @CaitieKendall made a comment at 12:06 p.m. on Tuesday asking the OSG to say her name, and her ad showed up online at 12:57 p.m. The planning must have been terrific: when you personalize videos to Guy Kawasaki, Digg founder Kevin Rose (twice), and the co-creator of Twitter, then you're clearly not messing around. The fact that Old Spice bothered to purchase a Promoted Tweet spot on the Trending Topics, as an insurance plan, no doubt, was completely redundant; advertising like this was publicity unto the advertising itself.

On the celebrity front, the OSG shouted out Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Seacrest and Geroge Stephanopoulos. He also hit on Christina Applegate and Alyssa Milano, and whacked a piñata with a fish for Demi Moore. He actually seemed to have a special thing for Alysa Milano, sending her the most videos of anyone during the whole ordeal (four), and even sending her actual, non-virtual flowers. Any reasonable person would be right to ask whether these celebrities were in on the campaign and played along. Maybe that did happen, but it's just as easy to picture Christina Applegate genuinely being a fan of funny TV ads, and sending out a tweet hoping for a response. When brand meets brand!

Rewarding people for spreading your message is the new name of the marketing game. It's so easy to make a commercial pitchman "famous" now that even the actually famous, who are presumably less easy to impress than mere mortals, what with all the Hollywood coke orgies-well, to have them also want to be rewarded in the same way as "regular people" is unprecedented. And the ads were absolutely about "rewards." After one Youtube commenter suggested that these ads should win an award, the OSG suggested that the commenter himself should win an award for "the Best Man on the Internet Who Likes My Old Spice Spots On the Internet". (Then he pulled out a trophy and promised to engrave it.) In a video addressed to actor David Blue on Twitter, Isaiah thanks David for spreading the word about Old Spice commercials on Twitter. It can't get more self-aware and post-anti-marketing than that. (Or can it?)

I watched all 180 of the Old Spice commercials that were made. Here are some highlights:

• One dude asked his girlfriend to marry him via the OSG, a move which will likely prove hilariously short-sighted, but is still more original than a Yankee game jumbo-tron.

• Someone on Twitter promised to name his first-born child after the OSG in exchange for a personalized video, and he got exactly that: a video addressed to his future son.

• In one of the stranger moments, the OSG held up a random crown and a jewel-encrusted scepter, while intoning just the words "random crown" and "jewel-encrusted scepter", in a video addressed to "anonymous," which has so far been viewed 400,000 times.

• Some guy who posted the grammatically questionable Youtube comment "Best thing I've ever seen since long time," got his name written in "the book of enchanting, successful people who are winning in life."

• A YouTube commenter was mocked for how many letters he used to spell "ha ha."

• In one nicely played move, in response to random Twitter user @part_number, who pointed out that these video responses are even crazier than Burger King's Subservient Chicken ads, the OSG responds that he does remember that chicken, and it was delicious. You got served, etc., BK.

• A response to a tweet from Gillette makes a point of preemptively denying that there is any cross-promotion between Old Spice and Gillette, thus beating the cynic to the punch.

The fact that this all culminated in a video addressed to the OSG actor Isaiah Mustafa himself is perfect. Gabe Delahaye at Videogum, who also received a personalized video earlier in the day, accurately summed it up as the moment when the internet exploded. Old Spice then took this meta-angle just a little too far in the direction of cheesy when OSG responded to Hayley Mustafa, Isaiah's daughter, who wrote on Twitter to ask why Isaiah looks like her dad (ugh.)

But the absolute last we heard from OSG, at least until he makes the inevitable talk show rounds through next week and we all get as sick of him as I am at this moment (you have no idea), came at 3 a.m., with an amusing sign off. In it, Isaiah is seen wearing a plethora of ribbons and medals and holding a chainsaw, talking about riding his "jet ski lion" into the sunset.

Here is some hard data on who these videos were made for:

Celebrities addressed: 16

Bloggers addressed: 28

Reddit users : 9

Youtube commenters: 26

Facebook users: 24

Twitter users: 61

Yahoo Answers: 4

Media gurus: 7

"The Internet": 3

Isaiah Mustafa, himself: 1

Hayley Mustafa: 1

In an insipid, fawning interview Wednesday night, ABC's John Berman asked Isaiah Mustafa questions as though this were all something he'd hatched in his spare time. "Explain to me this Old Spice Guy sensation, which you have created," he asks. Mustafa is an actor and former NFL wide receiver, and, like previous Old Spice pitchman, Bruce Campbell, he is an excellent emblem of hiply embraced manliness. But much of the credit for the success of… whatever all this was might conceivably go to advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy. (Regarding which: ahem.)

The way we are advertised to shows what corporations think of us, and most corporations clearly don't think too much of their audience. I saw a billboard for Nesquik the other day that showed a bottle of the product and the line: "Stop and Drink the Nesquik." It had to be pointed out to me that this was a play on the phrase "stop and smell the roses."

But the Old Spice advertising blitz this week was impeccably orchestrated. It was the first wave of something we've never seen before. Since people are opting out of advertising on TV and the Internet and across the media spectrum, it was clear that something was going to have to give. Now, for better or for worse, something has.

Joe Berkowitz is wondering if he smells the way he should.

49 Comments / Post A Comment

scroll_lock (#4,122)

Joe, you seem more like a Hai Karate or Canoe kind of guy.

Art Yucko (#1,321)

Art Brut.

GiovanniGF (#224)

This is all well and good, but it remains to be seen how it affects sales of Old Spice.

jfruh (#713)

I know, right? I'd love to see the lovingly prepared prospectus on how those metrics are going to be quantified!

Patrick M (#404)

Hand to god, as soon as I'm done with the 40-pack of whatever it is I bought at CostCo, I am planning to be 10% more likely to consider Old Spice.

deepomega (#1,720)

Sometimes media arrives on the scene that feels like it's slipped backwards through time from some future reality. You watch it and it's obvious that this is what you will be seeing everywhere in five years.

synchronia (#3,755)

Halfway through reading this post, I told my boyfriend I'm never getting married unless OSG does the proposal. Then I saw the last video and was pretty sad.

hockeymom (#143)

Please, please do NOT let the Axe Body Spray people get wind of this.

panchomill (#1,187)

They can get wind of anything as long as they always remain downwind.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Can he get the Tidy Bowl Man to give me some privacy?

Multiphasic (#411)

No, but I'm sure he can convince the Scrubbing Bubbles to proverbially get your back.

barnhouse (#1,326)

He seems to have been based on that lovely Uncola 7-Up man, kind of.

Daniel Sargeant (#3,989)

The one addressed to Anonymous was playing with some of the in-jokes found deep in the black heart of 4chan. Which is a pretty ballsy move.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Bravo for making it through all of those. And great viral campaign but will it make brand champions of anyone? Unlikely. It will move product for a short period as consumers make "gag buys" and few maybe buy it for the product itself. But in the long term? A year from now will anyone care about Old Spice? Remember the Budwesier Wasssup? campaign? Remember when everyone everyday said that? Some people still do! Bud sales fell during that whole campaign.

This old spice campaign is ingenious and funny and entertaining and witty as hell. I love watching them. But it smells of the kind of award-winning (Wasssup? won a bunch of awards for Omnicom) po-mo winky-winky stuff made by "creatives" who like to think that their job is to entertain instead of sell things.

Everyone, The Awl included, are meta-analyzing these campaigns. Red write has a breakdown of how they're being made (which has been sent to me by no fewer than 10 people), talking about how "smart" the team at W+K is, about how talented the actor is…

Nobody is talking about the product itself.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Old Spice stinks. And that guy in the peacoat brained me with a bottle of it.

Yeah, some of this strikes me as too insidery. Is Old Spice's target market really the average consumer/user of social media? Or would this smack of liberal-coastal-media-elitist, and turn off the real addressable market for Old Spice products?

Why can't the TV spots stand on their own?

BadUncle (#153)

@Abe: P&G brand managers don't take a dump without a plan for moving product by metrics. And they're not known for taking chances with an ad budget, since their performance evaluations will be tied to the gain or loss of a single point of market share. So i'd be very surprised if sales weren't significantly rising since Bruce Campbell's ads, and sharply ticking upward this year. Of course, there's no causal relationship between advertising and sales, as wel all know…

mle (#1,292)

I wonder about actual units sold as well. Although, I was thinking the campaign was more of a rebrand, kind of like when cable networks change their logo/font/color palette/etc. in order to attract a different audience or "refresh" their image. before the ads came out I thought old spice had one scent and they made aftershave and deodorant, now I know their product line is a lot more varied. Will I buy it? No, but I also won't buy Axe products, I'm not the target demographic. Have they increased their brand recognition? Yes, and if that is what they were going for, then, success.

deepomega (#1,720)

Yeah I mean before the ads, Old Spice was inarguably the deodorant old men. Now, it's got a totally new brand for itself. And that's because their ads have been very on-message, and focused on conveying a new identity in a way that (e.g.) Wassup was not.

jfruh (#713)

(From the thing Abe linked to):

"We're looking at who's written those comments, what their influence is and what comments have the most potential for helping us create new content. The social media guys and script writers are collaborating to make that call in real time. We have people shooting and we're editing it as it happens."

That's actually kind of depressing. There are "social media experts" assessing each incoming message for potential buzz? I was kind of hoping all the creative types were just standing around the studio, high on something, giggling and saying "Oh, shit! This dude wants him to propose to her! Do it! Do it!"

the Loud Coast (#1,362)

I think advertizing became such an huge industry in the last couple decades because ad people are so good at selling themselves, and really inflating the percieved value of intangible things like Brand Recognition. Im not saying Brand Recognition dosent exist, I'm just saying that its hard to pin down to a concrete metric like sales. If a campaign dosent immediately help sales, a good ad salesmen can just talk a lot about how the brand will benefit in the long run etc… and still justify his or her pricy services.

Abe Sauer (#148)

For the 52-week period ending in mid June, Old Spice sales were down 7 percent. Now, that doesn't really mean that much since the period before the superbowl could be throwing that all off etc etc. But it does mean Old Spice isn't flying off the shelves. More info is needed before anything conclusive can be said. However, my experience so far from people I know is "Great commercials. But I'm still not buying it." The problem seems to be that Old Spice has made a commercial for some other product's demographic. I mean, what are the product attributes here? It smells like humor? Axe marketing, while dumb, makes sense, "Use this and get chicks."

The legendary ad man Claude Hopkins said "Don't lessen respect for yourself or your article by attempting frivolity. People do not patronize a clown." And that's true. What "brand" is Old Spice creating for itself here? The body care product for people who find "body care products" preposterous? It's like Ford mocking the whole market for trucks and then expecting to sell a bunch of trucks.

BardCollege (#2,307)

"I sell Products, not advertising" -Don Draper

BardCollege (#2,307)

Ugh, that was supposed to go on your above comment.

Toonces (#5,170)

It may seem confusing today-a bunch of erratic messaging, a widely cast net of "targets"-but at the end of the day, OSG is still manly and dripping with sex appeal. So, the end result, regardless of what OSG says is "If you want to be like me, or if you want your girl to think you're even remotely like me, buy OS."

I'm guessing this resonates with the somewhat insecure-prone internet generation (15-25) and, if P&G is willing to commit to the new mascot, will lead to brand loyalists, male and female, well into their 30s and 40s.

The rapid-fire approach is merely the internet equivalent of "street creed". Which is most evident in the ode to 4chan. This group is single-handedly responsible for the "cultural" shifts in internet thought of the target demo, and they're the most cynic, belligerent group of influencers out there. OSG seems to have won them over, which is an advertisers wet dream, and means adoption into the "underground". God, did I just type that?

Anyways, a "brand shift" like this is something that pays off in the long run, something that admittedly metrics won't find for the next 2 or 3 years.

Full disclosure: I bought the body wash once last year. It's um, not that great. It's been sitting in my shower just… spicing things up. OSG does not change my opinion about it. BUT- if I used it, and some hot person talked to me about it, this gives me ammo to finagle sex out of it. So there's that.

@Abe: For the 52-week period ending in mid June, Old Spice sales were down 7 percent. Now, that doesn't really mean that much since the period before the superbowl could be throwing that all off etc etc.

Yes, but what was it for, say, June YOY? That might be a better metric for the success/failure of the campaign.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@Clarence: Well, figures (that I can access) are not in yet for June YOY. So we'll see. BUT, during that same 52 week period, men's body wash products actually increased in sales, so it wasn't a condition of slow econ dragging down the whole sector. Again, that's not a total picture, but it isn't optimistic.

@Toonces: You may be right but I just don;t believe it right now. The momentum and too-smart-for-itself vibe feels impossible to maintain over the kind of period required to build a true string brand. In fact, after the 180 videos, i've already seen the first comments of "Yeah, ok, but this is starting to get a little old." They're not the majority, but it's starting. Where does the brand go from here? Sure, it got people's attention, but now how do you convince buyers (like yourself) to buy two or more of those tubes a MONTH?

Abe Sauer (#148)

The last thing I'll say about these old spice ads is that they remind me of an interview with David Foster Wallace where he said that living amongst such "smart, jaded, sophisticated people" whose creative output traffics in "irony" and extreme self-consciousness, cool people that one desperately wants to fit in with, can be "corrosive to the soul."

keisertroll (#1,117)

I'd play the 1996 Arizona State team in NCAA Football, but that'd mean I'd play both Old Spice Guy ad Pat Tillman.

Matt (#26)

The Crystal Pepsi ad is still better.

BadUncle (#153)

But much of the credit for the success of… whatever all this was might conceivably go to advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy.

"Much of?" I hope you're being facetious, Joe. The writer(s?) deserve a standing ovation for being sharp and hilarious for hours.

He gives them credit for their work in this interview

garge (#736)

@OldSpiceGuy, I will give you my Awl commenter account AND exchange my terre de hermes for OS if you parlay this 'thing' into a campaign to get people to donate their hair to the Gulf spill.

Can't tell if this was mentioned at any point, but the "Flex" spots were directed by Tim & Eric.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

You're not a British Sterling dude?!

scroll_lock (#4,122)

^at Art, obvs.

evilfred (#2,351)

The old Subservient Chicken site for Burger King (I think?) was similar in that for a few weeks the chicken added new responses and people made new requests.

sigerson (#179)

Chance of me switching from Mitchum to freakin' Old Spice? ZERO.

Multiphasic (#411)

And uselessly enough for them, I already use Old Spice, because only they and Speed Stick can be relied on to make a deodorant that's not an antiperspirant. And Speed Stick just seems to be yelling "WHOOSH!" at me, and, y'know… shut up, deodorant.

Multiphasic (#411)

Of course, that order now applies to Old Spice as well, so, um, stuff.

This is like something me and my friends would've dreamt up when we were 11. Sure, we were advanced for 11 but we were still 11.

erikonymous (#3,231)

Does this mean Kurzweil is right? Is this the "singularity"?

Ribs (#2,690)

Oh to be a jacked, deep-voiced African-American, a jacked, deep-voiced African American and nothing more!

NoUMasterChief (#6,088)

Mr. Berkowitz, you wrote this in the piece above: In an insipid, fawning interview Wednesday night, ABC's John Berman asked Isaiah Mustafa questions as though this were all something he'd hatched in his spare time.

I take issue with this assumption, later on in the ABC segment Mr. Berman and Mr. Mustafa have an exchange where Mr. Mustafa shares credit for the current Old Spice phenomenon with his colleagues from Wieden + Kennedy. Mr. Berman then acknowledges that Wieden + Kennedy have produced Nike ads too.

So Mr. Berkowitz, how can you possibly charge that Mr. Berman insinuated that Mr. Mustafa came up with the entire Old Spice campaign in his spare time?

That snarky swipe was at best not necessary and at worst, it was ill informed.

And as for your charge that the ABC segment was insipid: Mr. Berman has an exchange with Mr. Mustafa about the "schtick" his Old Spice character projects. Mr. Mustafa adds that it's a "big schtick."

If that is insipid to you Mr. Berkowitz, I wonder what could possibly be produced on video to supply the amount of flavor you are looking for?

Joe Berkowitz (#5,534)

Mr. Chief, I never insinuated that Mustafa accepted the credit for making these commercials. John Berman did ask the exact lame question that I put in quote marks. He may have just been being "cute" by asking in such a way as to imply he's unaware of the advertising mechanism, but that kinda turned me off. I'm glad somebody enjoyed the interview, though!

Patrick M (#404)

from Wikipedia: "He has expressed interest in playing the comic book superhero Luke Cage".
OH MAN LET'S DO THIS. Jessica Lee Rose could be Iron Fist.

VidCrayzee (#6,101)

So here is a takeaway for those that wonder how they can do something similar without the huge investment of time and money, Of course you still need to be witty.

David (#192)

Results: "In the past 18 months, Old Spice has inched by Gillette Co.'s Right Guard to become the nation's leading deodorant and antiperspirant for men, with 20% of the $1 billion market, according to ACNielsen Corp." (Businessweek)

Who caused this result? How did they do it? (the ad agency, getting buyers to act on the message):

scrooge (#2,697)

It's not really meta yet. You'll know it's meta when Old Spice starts selling advertising time targeting people who watch the Old Spice ads. A potential infinite recursion.

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