Old Spice Argues That Real Men Smell Good
ANDREW ADAM NEWMAN
July 15, 2010
WHEN Old Spice, the 72-year-old Procter & Gamble brand, was planning a new advertising campaign for shower gel earlier this year, it faced a challenge: its research suggested women purchase as much as 70 percent of the shower gel for men in their households, but using body wash struck some men as unmanly. How could they market body wash to female purchasers and yet still cast the product as decidedly masculine to lure men away from bar soap?
The answer, a campaign called “Smell like a man, man,” arrived in February with a television commercial starring the actor Isaiah Mustafa. “Hello, ladies,” says the strapping Mr. Mustafa, standing in a towel in a bathroom, as the spot begins. “Look at your man. Now back at me. Now back at your man. Now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me, but if he stopped using ladies’ scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me.”
In the 30-second spot, by Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore., which relies on an ingeniously constructed set, the actor strolls from the bathroom to the deck of a boat and ultimately — before the camera pulls back for a final shot — Mr. Mustafa sits on a horse, proclaiming, “I’m on a horse.” The spot became an Internet sensation, drawing more than 13 million views on YouTube. (A video about how it was made, in a single shot using minimal digital effects, has itself had more than a million views.)
Now Mr. Mustafa, who the brand refers to as Old Spice Man, is back with a new commercial. He again begins, “Hello, ladies” and in one continuous shot manages to go from a dock, to rolling on a log, to walking on water, to strolling through a kitchen with a frosted cake, saying, “Do you want to be with a man who smells like he can bake you a gourmet cake in the dream kitchen he built for you with his own hands?” The spot attracted more than 6.2 million views since the brand uploaded it to YouTube on June 29.
To promote the campaign, on Tuesday and Wednesday the brand fielded questions to Old Spice Man through Twitter messages or on Facebook. Mr. Mustafa, meanwhile, stood wrapped in a towel in a bathroom set that had been constructed in a production studio near the agency in Portland, where four writers quickly scripted responses. Over two days, the brand uploaded about 185 videos, most about a minute long, to YouTube, including the actor responding to the actresses Alyssa Milano and Demi Moore and to George Stephanopoulos, the anchor of “Good Morning America,” where Mr. Mustafa subsequently was a guest on Thursday.
Perhaps the most surprising request came from Johannes S. Beals, who sent this Twitter message: “Can U Ask my girlfriend to marry me? Her name is Angela A. Hutt-Chamberlin.” In a video, Mr. Mustafa then held up a ring and asked her to make Mr. Beals “the happiest man in the world and marry him.” Less then four hours after sending the initial message over Twitter, Mr. Beals reported in another Twitter message, “SHE SAID YES!!!!”
In less than three days, the 65 response videos drew more than 5.2 million views on YouTube, where the Old Spice channel was the most viewed on Tuesday, while the brand’s Twitter followers grew to 48,000, from 3,000.
The body wash campaign “touches on a very subtle but powerful sentiment that is bubbling under the surface of American culture now, and that is that it’s O.K. to be a man,” said Rob Frankel, author of “The Revenge of Brand X.” Mr. Frankel compared the spots to those from a competing men’s brand, Axe, which is known for over-the-top commercials in which men who use the products become suddenly irresistible to scantily clad women.
“Axe turns women into scent-sniffing bimbos and nymphomaniacs and is more about, ‘Use our product and it will enhance your sex appeal,’ ” said Mr. Frankel. “But Old Spice goes to your own character, and they’re really reaffirming masculinity.”
In a posting on the Web site Jezebel shortly after the first ad was introduced in February, Irin Carmon wrote about its appeal.
“Among the reasons the ‘I’m on a horse’ ad quickly became a viral sensation — a clever script, some surreal transitions, Mustafa’s magnetism — had to be the fact that women could enjoy it without feeling like we were participating in our own diminishment,” Ms. Carmon wrote.
Old Spice spent $7.5 million advertising body wash in 2009, well under the $30 million spent by Axe body wash, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP. But in the first quarter of 2010 Old Spice advertised far more aggressively, spending $11.4 million to Axe’s $3.6 million.
Body wash sales, including women’s and unisex varieties, grew to $755 million in 2009, from $500 million in 2004, an increase of 51 percent, according to a 2009 report by Mintel, the market research firm.
“Guys have been a little slower to adopt body wash because early on they didn’t feel like it got them as clean as bar soap,” said James Moorhead, vice president of marketing at Old Spice, which introduced body wash in 2003.
Some men told marketers they were reluctant to use the nylon webbing sponges called “poufs,” which raise a lather but were off-putting because of their dainty name and appearance. In 2009 Old Spice introduced a pouf in a rubber grip and called it a Deck Scrubber.
“An experienced seaman knows the gentler sex is unlikely to board a vessel whose deck, galley and undercarriage has not been scrubbed as clean as the shiny inside part of an oyster shell,” states the package. (Axe introduced its own manly pouf, called the Detailer, in 2008.)
“It took a little time for guys to get over the pouf,” Mr. Moorhead said.
A version of this article appeared in print on July 16, 2010, on page B3 of the New York edition.