Why the Old Spice Guy Commercials Are Like 1984

I’m not the first nor will I be the last to analyze the Old Spice Guy commercials on YouTube (collectively titled “Old Spice Responses”). But like with my predictions for 2010, I’ll voice my opinions.

While there is no doubting it was brilliant, it was also extremely risky. Think of all the ways this could have failed. The big one, of course, is if Isaiah Mustafa had choked and the videos were lame and the humor flat. Or he said things that some took offense to. Or the buzz built for an hour and then fizzled.

But the humor works and the buzz is something everyone who works in marketing—social media, print ads, radio spots, whatever—dreams of.

So why did the Old Spice Guy ads on YouTube work?

Everyone Loves Isaiah Mustafa

The guy is the double-threat of attractive and funny.

Women love him. (Don’t forget the latest series of Old Spice commercials began with an ad that talked to women, not men even though it’s a male product.) He’s sexy—confident, funny, in-shape, handsome and has a great voice like James Earl Jones with a touch of Tony Bennett.

But despite all of this, men don’t seem him as a threat. His humour is self-deprecating with a knowing-wink of how cheeseball he’s being. He’s that guy we all love having a beer with because he’ll say the outrageous things we wish we had the balls to say.

And his humour is over-the-top but whip-smart, without resorting to being crude. This approach will pull in an older, more successful audience who might actually shell out the bucks for a brand name.

Speed

This guy CRANKED out ads in real-time. When we tweet something or post it to YouTube or Facebook or our blog, we get a little miffed when someone hasn’t liked it or re-tweeted or left a comment within an hour. (Come on, we all do.) For this team to monitor Twitter, shoot a video and get it online without Isaiah looking tired or losing his edge is stunning.

Being Personable & Genuine

Aside from Isaiah’s humor and good looks, he connects with people. You feel like he’s talking to you. He even put himself out there by talking to his daughter (above). “You deserve it, monkey” is heartfelt, almost like a way of saying to his little girl he’s sorry he’s away from her.

Plus, these were not traditional ads. Old Spice was barely mentioned. As I have said often, online we don’t want to be pitched to. Isaiah and company understood this and provide funny content, but all the while we know we’re watching an ad for Old Spice. And we’re OK with that because the sales pitch is very, very subtle. Instead of “Buy Old Spice,” it’s “Think nice things about Old Spice.”

In the realm of social media, we all look for something genuine. We want to be our genuine selves so we post links and photos that interest us, or leave comments, or things that really reflect who we are. Though Isaiah is playing a role, he projects that sense of being genuine.

They Used YouTube

These videos could have easily gone on Old Spice’s site or TV for us to watch. But because they’re on YouTube, anyone can leave a comment, or embed it to their blog, or post on link on Facebook or Twitter. Old Spice gambled that this campaign would catch fire and put the tinder in place to make sure it became an inferno.

And since it’s the Web, you don’t have to watch in real-time. If you missed the initial outbreak, you can go to YouTube right now—or next month, or next year—to watch.

From a business perspective, it’s inexpensive. No need for lots of sets or special effects. No need to buy air time. Just a pre-made set, standard lighting and a camera shooting in 720p. (And probably some pore production assistant run ragged to find props.) Shoot, trim the edges, check the audio mix and you’re done. Upload it and shoot the next video.

Really, Really Simple Idea

I was a big fan of Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero ARG—deep, complex, immersive.

This campaign went the other way: an idea that’s dead simple. Tweet a question and watch YouTube for the reply. No specialty sites set up across the Web, no secret codes. They left the initial idea on a couple of sites to generate interest and stepped back to let it run.

This Campaign Was a Benchmark

Apple’s “1984” ad (above) comes to mind when thinking of this campaign. The “1984” ad put major motion picture level production quality into a TV spot. The Old Spice campaign really nailed how to use social media to engage.

This was risky, a brilliant concept and wonderfully executed. While this is a great example of viral marketing, it’s viral in the way Captain Tripps was viral in Stephen King’s The Stand—it wiped out everything else.

Beyond all this, the fact that I and others are talking about this campaign will lead to others talking about it—”Hey, did you hear about that Old Spice thing?” Second, third, fourth-hand word-of-mouth? I would not be surprised if articles started appearing not about this campaign, but studied how word-of-mouth and media analysis spread awareness of this campaign even further.

And yet, despite all of this analysis, has Old Spice seen an increase in sales?

Now look for abysmal, clumsy failures as others try to rip off this idea.

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