Can The Shirtless Old Spice Guy pull off a marketing miracle?

Unless you’ve been in a cave this week, it would have been hard to avoid the splendid, amazing and entertaining Old Spice media blitz, which includes brilliant ads and one of the best social media campaigns in the young history of the channel.

“Hello Ladies,” says the oh-so-manly Old Spice guy. “Does your man look like me?  No.  Can he smell like me? Yes.”

While the hilarious Old Spice ads have been an Internet hit on their own for months (5.5 million views), everything changed this week.

As TNW reports, the Old Spice social media team had secretly been collecting people’s – and especially celebrity – questions and responses across Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo Answers, and were preparing for this week’s all-day-video-shoot where Shirtless Old Spice Guy (Isaiah Mustafa) would provide video responses. This included providing a proxy wedding proposal (that was accepted!).

Literally, an over-night marketing legend was created (here’s a link to some of the stats).

I don’t need to re-hash the details of the campaign.  Instead I’d like to point out that this is an extremely rare example of a brand attempting to entirely re-invent itself.  To accomplish that, you need it all — vision, guts, brilliance, execution, and a lot of advertising money.

There have been plenty of others who have tried to go down this perilous path and failed (remember “it’s not your father’s Oldsmobile?”).  This drive to resuscitate Old Spice may go down as one of the most ballsy moves in marketing history.

Despite numerous attempts at an updated image, OldSpice was still languishing behind edgier brands like Axe. Wouldn’t you have liked to have been a fly on the wall when the ad agency (Wieden+Kennedy) made this pitch: “While the  historical Old Spice customer is an ulta-conservative white male in his mid-50s, we would like our new spokesperson to be a half-naked black man flaunting his manliness to women under 40.”  Sure, the social media is genius. But what I admire most is that they may have finally taken a quantum-leap toward achieving this:
Old Spice … the pungent, stinging stuff my DAD used to splash on his face each morning, is now a trending topic on Twitter, not to mention riding the top of Digg, Reddit and a ton of mainstream news stories. The story is all the more remarkable because of how awful Old Spice ads have been in recent years. Remember the “centaur” ad during the Super Bowl?

Another break-through aspect of this campaign is how a blue-chip brand truly integrated a multi-million-dollar mainstream advertising campaign with the social web.  Even recent successes like the wildly-successful Nike World Cup mini-movie seemed to occupy a special niche as a pure social media play.  Can you think of another high-profile example where the TV spokesperson is really interacting and responding to people on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube? This may be the start of real integration.

This social media campaign has built tremendous momentum in just a few days. Will this actually sell body wash?  What will happen to the brand’s core demographic?  Will we witness a true marketing miracle? Will the Old Spice Guy suffer from (ahem) over-exposure?

And now it appears that the social media onslaught has just as quickly some to an end. Today, the “Guy,” chainsaw in hand, says in a final tweet and video “like all great things this too must end.”  And then he catches a giant fish that falls from nowhere.

So what will happen next in this campaign? Some guesses:

  • Customer contributions to their own home-made shower commercials
  • Shirtless guy cameo appearances in real TV shows
  • Humorous , longer YouTube productions with how-to tips on how to be manly

What do you think?  I hope you’ll join me in appreciating this really special marketing campaign and tell me what you think about it in the comment section.

By the way, this blog post is dedicated to Arminda Lindsay (@AllArminda). Why?  Because she asked me to. You should know by now that I am basically the {grow} community’s personal blogger … kind of your word valet.   And Arminda wanted me to write about a half-naked black man.  So I did.

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  • it’s genius.

    funny.. inventive.. and the rebranding is very effective.. I don’t even think my DAD (73) wears the stuff anymore.. but I’ll bet my 15 year old picks it up next time he needs bodywash…

  • Mark

    @Beth — Wouldn’t that be ironic! I never used the stuff. But maybe it skips a generation! Thanks for the comment.

  • @Mark, the value proposition here is spectacular when you think about how daring they’ve been and that’ve actually achieved so much. To actually get eyeballs on something so, er, pungent is amazing.

    But I really wonder how much this has got to do with social media? As the impact of TV declines and businesses look to YouTube as a channel, aren’t we witnessing traditional advertising practice simply shift to a new channel: online TV?

    Yes, social media is a part of word of mouth, but isn’t the key branding here taking place “on TV” – albeit online TV.

    As an aside, I actully tried some Old Spice in the store 2 weeks ago because it made me think of my father. After the inital joy at the memory I spent the rest of the trip to the mall trying to escape the smell. I had to take a shower to get rid of it when I got home!

  • Mark

    @Jon — Oh you have me laughing today! There is probably no more vivid association with my father than Old Spice. I think he must have had a closet full of Old Spice Father’s Day gift packs.

    Yes, I agree with your comment about TV and I think it also emphasizes a point that you and I have both been making in our blogs — the need to entertain and the rising expectations for production values. The days of the blurry YouTube video being acceptable are over.

    Thanks so much for your valuable insights, Jon.

  • Victoria

    Great write-up! I’m looking forward to hearing if their demographic did indeed shift. I can tell you it did at my house – I have an impressionable young boy who loved the TV campaign (he hasn’t seen the online stuff) and he bought Old Spice vs. Axe the other day. @vkearns

  • Great topic, very timely. I’m personally a big fan of what Old Spice has done because I am a very big advocate for the intelligent use of social media to further a marketing campaign and this has been spot-on from day one. I believe this will be studied as one of the first great successes of social media marketing.

    But new media aside, one things Old Spice has done very very well is knowing who their new audience truly was. With the Oldsmobile campaign that you mentioned, it was a long shot from left field to attempt to capture another group’s attention. What Old Spice did was to sit down and truly understand who is buying body wash and sprays for men, which is mostly women. I don’t mean that to sound sexist, I’m sure there is research to back me up. So what did Old Spice do? They created a campaign that would appeal to the 35+ women sector AND everyone else that might happen to see it.

    Genius. It’s really a testament to what a good strategy and one week can do for a brand.

  • What W+K has done here is really quite fascinating and a one-in-a-million sort of success. They created a campaign that forces you to say to others “Have you seen this?!” I mean, we can’t just go around qouting this guy without our friends understanding where the quotes are from, so we have to tell them about it. The YouTube project just further fed the fire.

    If anything, this will at the very least improve awareness of Old Spice among the younger target deomgraphics, which will in turn likely shift perception of the brand. Who of us is not kicking himself for not coming up with this earlier?

  • Mark

    @Victoria — well, there’s one data point! Thanks!

    @Joey — This is a superb point that I didn’t have the space to talk about in a short post: the importance of research. You bet they did their homework before laying out the big bucks for this campaign! Absolutely critical. And I agree this will be an amazing case study.

    @Eric — I agree it is one-in-a-million in that every factor I described above came together perfectly. The other notable thing about this is that I have seen NO negative buzz. Usually even the best campaign has some group of people thinking it’s stupid but the execution of the campaign seems to be brilliant. Thanks for your very timely commentary!

  • Josh

    @Jon I think the difference between traditional media just shifting to online TV is the interactivity of this campaign. Traditional TV ads are rarely if ever addressing one person. I’d say yes we are seeing mainstream brands doing what they have done (TV) but this campaign is a pretty big paradigm shift from traditional media even though it’s the same medium so to speak.

    @Mark I too am curious as to how much it will drive sales. I’ve been a big fan of the original commercial (so big in fact we visited a museum that had a boat exhibit and my two year old climbed on and said “look away look back I’m on a boat”) but when I went to the store to buy body wash I got Dial, because it was the cheapest. Maybe I’m unique but when it comes to body wash as a guy I’m more cheap then brand loyal.

  • Mark

    @Josh — Interesting. I use Gillette body wash because that’s what my wife just bought on sale. I guess I’m manly enough for her as it is!

    By the way, whatever happened to soap? How did that thing happen?

    Thanks for the contribution Josh!

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  • Hi Mark,

    Instead of making a thoughtful comment on your post, I will instead point out a common phrase you used which makes me laugh each time I see it. A “quantum leap” is commonly thought to be a giant step change, but where the term originated in physics, it is the SMALLEST POSSIBLE change in the universe!

    Keep up the good work!


  • I recall my old former boss, a certain John Hegarty saying that cool, as in levi´s, and cool, was knowing when to leave the party, just at the right time.

    Might be very cool now, but it still stinks.

  • Jessica

    He is amazing. I’m also loving the videos that @OldSpise is posting from his mother’s basement.

  • Naturally, I have to chime in to this discussion!

    THANK YOU for the lovely dedication. It’s always good to have a word valet at your service – especially when I want to hear more about a half-naked black man.

  • Hi Mark, enjoyed your post! I wonder if Old Spice still smells the same as it always did? From the sound of Jon Buscall’s experience I’d assume yes? I haven’t been in the vicinity of that odor (can’t quite call it an aroma) in years. But it’s strongly imprinted on my olfactory memory, and it really did quite reek. I wonder if Old Spice is planning to tone it down and update it for more modern tastes? Or are they going to rely on the super powers of Isaiah Mustafa to convince consumers they want to smell like that?

  • Mark

    I’m not even sure Old Spice still makes that old white bottle of whatever it was. Shirtless Guy is selling body wash. Maybe people aren’t noticing that? Ha! I’m sure it smells quite manly.

  • Pingback: The Old Spice campaign’s special sauce: a real-time social media production team | John McCrory()

  • Carrie Bond

    So will Old Spice give Axe the ax? And can a remake of Jean Nate, my grandmother’s favorite, be far behind?

  • Mark

    Oh gosh, Jean Nate? I think they were a sponsor for Lawrence Welk : ) Most of my readers are going “huh?”

  • Now I’m afraid to admit I know what Jean Nate is. My older sister used it. 😉

  • Mark

    That is too funny.

  • Mark, I really love the way your put so much thought into your posts. The detail you deliver really helps everyone understand the perspective. Yes, I think this is a really interesting attempt at changing the positioning of a stodgy old brand. What I’m hoping you’ll do is subsequently follow up with the results. If this works, it will be an amazing testament to effective use of Social Media. If it doesn’t, that also delivers some important messages everyone can learn from. Since Proctor and Gamble is a huge user of Social Media in general, I’m sure they’ll be able to track this to the penny.

  • Great analysis as always, Mark. I’d be surprised if the younger demographic didn’t respond to “hey chicks want me to smell like this.”

    And, my first boyfriend wore Old Spice. Thankfully my dad didn’t!

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  • Hi Mark,

    I love this campaign! And I too am a child of an Old Spice user.

    I am not sure how it will drive sales, but the splash it is causing online is undeniable (did you see Alyssa Milano’s video response?)

    My co-worker and I had a good time pulling together some data on the social responses the other day (one of the benefits of working for a marketing software company– I get to play around with this type of data).

    We just did an update… So far Old Spice has seen:

    – 5400% increase in Twitter followers since 1/1/2010
    – YouTube subscribers up by 1000%
    – 28,000 RT of the terms oldspice and old spice

    If any of you data geeks would like to see the results you can find them here:

    @carrie, I’d like to see Old Spice give Axe the Axe. I certainly prefer the Old Spice advertising. 🙂

  • Mark

    @Steve — I’m sure there will be some amazing stats on this — but will they be available? One of the problems holding social media back is a lack of case studies, especially in B2B. Companies aren’t sharing … and why would they? If they paid for a campaign, why would they broadcast the results to competitors? Thanks for stopping by!

    @Jenn – We’ll see where it goes from here! Thanks for the comment!

    @Else — You rock! The numbers geeks (like me) are rejoicing! Thank you!!

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  • For anyone interested, NPR ran a story on the Old Spice guy campaign this afternoon during “All Things Considered.” They even interviewed Mustafa! Here’s the link:

  • Mark

    I checked it out. A nice story. Thanks Arminda!

  • >a half-naked black man flaunting his manliness to women under 40.

    Don’t forget a similar, arguably less appealing campaign from the same brand: the Old Spice B.O. Buster series ( It looks as though Old Spice tried this, thought better of it, then tried the Mustafa series.

    >So what will happen next in this campaign?

    It will evaporate shortly. This is social media.

  • Mark

    @John — Do you really think it will evaporate? I think they have a tiger by the tail and will keep driving it. Let’s meet back here in a couple of months and see! Thanks so much for the comment.

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