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3 things you don't know about Old Spice's success

Rob Rose
3 things you don't know about Old Spice's success Rob Rose

Hello marketers. Look at your marketing. Now at this Old Spice campaign. Now back at your marketing. Now back again. Sadly, your marketing isn't the Old Spice campaign. And guess what? Even if we want to switch to the Old Spice campaign strategy, few of us will ever have the resources for that kind of effort.

Certainly the sheer avalanche of digital bits spilled over this campaign must have the folks at Wieden + Kennedy (the agency responsible) bursting with pride. And why shouldn't they? By all accounts, this is a breakthrough campaign. The first ad -- "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," launched online and bolstered by a television campaign -- garnered more than 2 million online views in its first two weeks. By the end of spring it had approximately 11 million views and now stands at 18 million.

If for some reason you've been living under a rock for the last six months and haven't seen that one, here it is:

The success of that ad prompted the W+K team to produce a sequel to the commercial. Thus was born "The Response Campaign," where the agency produced 186 videos of Isaiah Mustafa, the "Old Spice Guy," responding to tweets and Facebook updates from social media influencers -- such as this one to George Stephanopoulos.

This is really what's been getting all the attention lately, and by all accounts this part of the campaign has been a huge success. Some additional statistics from the W+K case study:

  • 186 video responses

  • 5.9 million YouTube views on day one

  • 2,700 percent increase in Twitter followers

  • 300 percent bump in traffic to OldSpice.com

  • More than 1 billion impressions across all of the different channels

And, despite some early naysayers, the entire campaign has had a clear impact on sales. According to Nielsen data, overall sales for the body-wash products are up 11 percent over the last year. They're up 55 percent in the last quarter. And in the last month (following "The Response Campaign") sales are up 107 percent.

So, OK, life is good. The agency is happy. The client is happy (at least we hope).  But what else should we know about this campaign?

Well, in his book, "Outliers," Malcom Gladwell discusses the "10,000 hours" idea, explaining that in order to become "expert" at something, you need to put in 10,000 hours of deliberate work at it. This is often used to debunk the myth of the "overnight success."

And after a little digging, it seems clear that we need to -- ahem -- splash some cold hard reality on the "overnight viral success" that is the Old Spice campaign. It was, in truth, a three-year, expensive, and intricately structured integrated campaign that has peaked with a breakthrough performance.

So, here are three things that you probably didn't (but should) know about the campaign.

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Success certainly didn't happen overnight
The Isaiah Mustafa ad and the "Response Campaign" are the peak of this effort -- not the beginning. When W+K landed the Old Spice account in 2007, it didn't just add a bunch of irreverent television commercials and throw in a social media play. The agency introduced new products, new packaging design, and even a new logo for the brand.

And despite what you might have read (and it was surprising how many "top tier" news organizations reported this) this campaign did not start with a Super Bowl ad. "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" was launched online at the beginning of February 2010. The television media buy that accompanied it was not directed toward men, but rather television shows where men and women would be watching together. The commercial was aired on shows like "American Idol," "Lost," and the Winter Olympics.

But this wasn't some weird stroke of genius. This ad was just one in a long line of commercials and creative that the W+K team had been working on for the three years that it had the Old Spice account. As Jason Bagley, creative director at W+K, told Adweek, "We kept turning up the dial, the satire, and the ridiculousness of the category advertising."

Amazingly, when you watch the progression of creative over those three years, you can almost (almost, mind you) anticipate the breakthrough creative that "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" would be.

For example, let's start with two classic Bruce Campbell commercials from 2007. The first one is my absolute favorite, with Bruce's rendition of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf." Pay special attention to the front part of the second commercial with the swagger and quick, staccato dialogue and wordplay:

Then, there's this one from 2008. Notice the tone and the dialogue in this (and yes, there's also a horse of sorts):

Also from 2008 comes the classic Neal Patrick Harris homage to his Doogie Howser character. Again, the tone will now ring familiar.

Finally (and if I don't have you yet, I'm about to) there were these commercials from 2009 that said, "I'm A Man."

It almost feels like if you mashed them all together you'd get "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like." That's too easy, of course. It's an evolution of a creative team exploring different types of breakthrough creative -- watching some fail, some succeed, and using that insight to learn and iterate.

And, speaking of attempts that didn't work nearly as well, does anybody remember the hair on the soap from 2007?

So, the current campaign is not an overnight success, but the result of a multi-year exploration that finally got this team to the promised land: an explosive piece of creative that resonated with everyone. 

This is a key lesson for us as marketers because it's not just one lucky break. It's about a process with a lot of work -- a lot of creativity -- and a good dose of stuff that didn't work in there as well.

That brings us to our second thing that maybe we didn't know.

Old Spice made a significant investment
Much is made about how social media and viral marketing are inexpensive and how there's no media cost for YouTube videos. All true. But let's be clear; "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" was no "David After Dentist" accident. This was an extraordinarily intricate and complex campaign made up of TV spots, print advertising, and online display ads, as well as social media. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Old Spice spent approximately $54 million on media in 2006. In 2007 Nielsen estimated approximately $80 million in media spend. It's a safe assumption that the media buy for 2009 and 2010 was in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Let's be honest now -- the social media "Response Campaign" would never have worked if Isaiah Mustafa wasn't a household name by July. It was a combination of his charm, swagger, and fame, set up with the ad campaign that led to the "Response Campaign" (of course, there were appearances on Oprah and Ellen as well). 

We've got to also understand that even the production of the "Response Campaign" was not just four guys sitting around with a Flip cam. Dean McBeth, a W+K digital strategist, said, "We had two full days of real-time -- creatives, digital strategists, community managers, developers, and editors all siting in the same area at the same time."

And, not only did that team produce 186 videos in one day, but it also actually developed a complete software system that pulled in Twitter posts and Facebook status updates ranked by influencer power. 

There's no doubt that this campaign was complex, strategic, and was a significant investment

That brings us to a question:

Can it, will it, or should it last?
Is this campaign, as some have stated, "the future of all marketing and advertising"?  Well, one of the trends that will be interesting to follow over a much longer term is: Can this level of energy be sustained, or will the cost and effort ultimately prove to be too much?  Does it, or maybe more importantly, should it scale? For example, Old Spice's "Prove It" campaign, which immediately preceded W+K's work, ran in various ways for 13 years.

What if we compare the Isaiah Mustafa-centered creative (probably unfairly) to the Marlboro Man? That campaign wasn't necessarily dissimilar from this one. In 1954, filtered cigarettes were considered feminine and Marlboro was in need of a major shift in brand. When the campaign launched, sales jumped more than 3,000 percent in one year. Marlboro went from less than 1 percent market share in 1954 to the market leader in less than 20 years.

Procter & Gamble bought the Old Spice brand 20 years ago, and there's no doubt that it has updated the brand in that time. See for yourself.

So, what's the biggest difference? In those 20 years, Old Spice has been through a number of different creative explorations and at least two agencies. The Marlboro Man creative campaign lasted 45 years under one agency.

But isn't that just the way it is now? Is the "Marlboro Man" type of campaign even relevant these days? Has the marketing and advertising paradigm shift been so pronounced that those types of campaigns are anachronistic?

One thing is certain. For now, this campaign should be celebrated for the fine body of strategic advertising and marketing work that it is. It's certainly no overnight success, and it's certainly a campaign that in budget exceeds most of our grasp. I think it's too early yet to call it "the future of marketing and advertising." But it's sure fun to watch.

Oh, and I'm on a horse.

Rob Rose is chief troublemaker at Big Blue Moose.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Angi Kelley

2010, August 26

Excellent point that it's not an overnight success. In this economy people want instant gratification. Unfortunately marketing success isn't instant. And therefore, it's not cheap either.

Commenter: Kevin Conway

2010, August 26

"Living under a rock"? Yeah like we got nothing better to do? Oh Please , get a life!

Commenter: Kevin Conway

2010, August 26

"Living under a rock"? Yeah like we got nothing better to do? Oh Please , get a life!

Commenter: Kevin Conway

2010, August 26

"Living under a rock"? Yeah like we got nothing better to do? Oh Please , get a life!

Commenter: Kevin Conway

2010, August 26

"Living under a rock"? Yeah like we got nothing better to do? Oh Please , get a life!

Commenter: Kevin Conway

2010, August 26

"Living under a rock"? Yeah like we got nothing better to do? Oh Please , get a life!