The Brilliance Behind Old Spice's Quirky Commercials

by Sarah Quinn on 14 May 2014
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“Hello ladies.”

Read that line and consider, consciously, whose voice comes to mind. If you envisioned a fit, handsome spokesperson proffering body wash with the bravado of a sea captain, then you have the marketers at Old Spice to thank.

Of course, prior to that now-famous quote, it’s unlikely that Old Spice entered your mind at all. The long-dormant brand was in need of an image reinvention when its legendary Super Bowl commercial landed on eager eyes.

The campaign was unique, blending curious and risky humor with unabashed delivery and obvious sex appeal. Shortly after the commercial aired, the team at Procter & Gamble went viral with a social media campaign that solicited questions for the Old Spice Man, and answered them with quick, snappy responses.

By all accounts, the push was unconventional at best. Yet, because of its success, Old Spice is back on the map. So what made this bizarre branding experiment hit home? Simple: engagement, audience understanding, and community leverage.

Engagement, Engagement, Engagement

Open request for participation? Check. Rapid response to user input? Check. Overwhelming social media love? Check.

Admittedly, the Old Spice Man was a stroke of genius in its own right, but the real core of the long-neglected brand’s rise to prominence lay in its cattle call for YouTube content that ultimately engaged users in an unprecedented manner.

Old Spice’s cryptic announcement on Twitter, capitalizing on the buzz of its Super Bowl commercial allowed the brand to maintain user attention and move from force to force. Subsequently responding to each respondent's question with a short, snappy video clip built personal and emotional investment in the campaign.

The end result was a near overnight marriage of product and image. Of course, the hygiene provocateurs weren’t the first ones to put out a request for content. What truly reinforced the call to action was an understanding of precisely who they were talking to.

The Power of a Persona

A cursory evaluation of the phrasing and tone of Old Spice’s famous campaign reveals some fascinating insights.

To begin with, the Old Spice Man is, by design, appealing to females. His rugged confidence and shirtless physique are, of course, not without purpose. By creating a spokesperson that appeals to the opposite sex, the marketing team at Procter & Gamble successfully associate their wares with sex appeal, particularly to those for whom the scent is intended.

The problem with this approach on its own is that the products in question are actually purchased by males. This is where the Old Spice Man’s deprecating, male humor comes into play. By appealing to the insecurity of males everywhere, while simultaneously appealing to the objects of their affection (females), the brand provides a solution to a universal human problem: self-improvement.

Despite the appearance of risk involved, the entire endeavor is coordinated around a well-understood buyer persona—their weaknesses, personality, ambitions, and idiosyncrasies. The trajectory of the ads, in this light, actually seems quite obvious. Then again, the brand did receive a few notable pushes along the way….

A Community at Work

Despite the moniker attached to Beats™ by Dre, no one had any misconception that the partnership was business-related. And therein lies the problem with celebrity endorsements: their appeal is limited to the perceived sincerity of the celebrity making the endorsement. What Old Spice garnered in their social marketing push was something far more organic.

When such figureheads as Perez Hilton, Ellen Degeneres, Gizmodo, and the Chicago Blackhawks tweeted questions at the Old Spice Man, the success of the campaign was officially cemented. Not only did the campaign successfully leverage the social media following of each celebrity in turn, but the participation involved stemmed from interest alone, not paid requests or promises of reward.

At the end of the day, the Old Spice campaign landed a trifecta of audience engagement, hyper-focused targeting, and community influence that has carried the memory of the Old Spice Man to this day.

And therein lies the brilliance of Old Spice’s quirky commercials: campaign development. Any of these elements without one of the others may have deflated YouTube participation, missed the mark with the target audience, or hampered the reach of the effort. But, as P&G have now thoroughly demonstrated, a well-run, well-targeted, and well-executed campaign can bring brands, almost literally, back from the dead.

Video Marketing

Sarah Quinn

Written by Sarah Quinn

I eat, sleep and breathe great content so it kinda works out for me that I get to do this as a job. But waaaaait, I'm not one dimensional..... I also LOVE peanut butter, odd socks, running, daydreaming about time and space, corgis in top hats, afternoon tea and Chandler Bing.