Old Spice Man Marketing, Redux: What Went Right—and What Did Not

In this excerpt from his new book The Thank You Economy, author Gary Vaynerchuk turns a critical eye to the Old Spice Man marketing campaign. What did the brand get right? And what didn't work at all?

The Thank You EconomyUnless you were living under a rock, you probably saw at least one of the Old Spice commercials starring Isaiah Mustafa that began airing the day after the 2010 Super Bowl. With this campaign, Procter & Gamble, Old Spice's parent company, showed the world how a brand can play a kick-ass game of media Ping-Pong.

First, it started with outstanding content, spoofing every stereotype of masculinity they could come up with through clever writing and picture-perfect casting. As soon as a bare-chested Mustafa finished gliding around from one paperback-romance scenario to another, reassuring women that even if their man didn't look like him, they could smell like him if they stopped using lady-scented body wash, millions of people rewound their DVRs and watched the ad again. And again. Then they started talking about it on Facebook and Twitter and making spoof videos on YouTube.

Thanks to the TV ad, millions of people—women, especially—now felt something for Isaiah Mustafa, and were linking his manly abs to the Old Spice brand. So, five months and a second TV spot later, when P&G marketers used Twitter's promoted trend ad platform to ask Old Spice followers on Twitter and Facebook, as well as users on Reddit and Digg, to submit questions for the Old Spice Man, they replied enthusiastically. People voted for their favorite questions, and the winners received personal replies from the Man himself. Old Spice Man also initiated contact with celebrity influencers, including George Stephanopoulos, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, and Kevin Rose, who, not coincidentally, happen to have large Twitter followings. The Internet went wild as people found out they could talk directly to the man who could ride a horse backward and catch a birthday cake while sawing through a kitchen. Over the course of two days, Mustafa taped about two hundred real-time videos responding to fans' questions.

The Old Spice campaign wasn't cheap. The production values were high for video, the actor cost money, a team had to keep track of all of those mentions of Old Spice zipping around the Internet, the scripts were being written by four writers as fast as the questions came in, and the whole thing started with a multimillion-dollar TV ad buy. And yet, the company decided to spend additional money on promoted tweets, a brand-new and completely unproven Twitter advertising channel. What that indicates is that someone in the company, or at Wieden and Kennedy, the ad agency they were working with, understood one of the major Thank You Economy principles: it is worth casting a line into micro-trend ponds; they are less crowded, less noisy, and less expensive than the bigger ones in which everyone else is fishing. In the TYE, these small ponds will appear with greater and greater frequency. The likelihood is that they will dry up quickly, too. But when used properly, micro trends can provide a fresh channel by which brands can tell their story to a new audience. First-user advantage matters more now than it ever did.

Did the Campaign Work?

It depends on whom you ask. For example, sales of Old Spice Body Wash, which were already on the rise, rose sharply—by 55 percent—over the three months following the first aired TV commercial, then soared by 107 percent (a statistic that included me, because I bought my first stick of Old Spice during that time) around the time the response videos began showing, but some seem to question whether the uptick might have been due to a two-for-one coupon promotion rather than a well-integrated social media campaign. There are two things we do know to be true, though:

  1. The earned media was fierce. Practically every marketing and tech blogger, and almost every media and news outlet in the country, covered the story. The value and reach of that media coverage has to be worth far more than a bunch of full-page print ads in Maxim or Cosmo.
  2. Old Spice's YouTube channel reported more than 11 million views and over 160,000 subscribers. Eleven million impressions—not the worst number I've ever seen. And, Proctor & Gamble now has data on 160,000 people they didn't have before, and they can use that data to remarket to those consumers. How much is it going to cost them this time? Zero.

Could a smaller brand with a lesser budget have pulled off the Old Spice campaign? Yes and no. If the talent was there, absolutely. However, we can't underestimate the weight of the millions of dollars the company spent in creating opportunities for the public to form an emotional attachment to the Old Spice Man. But Old Spice could have spent twice what it did, and if the talent hadn't been as strong, nor the writing as smart, the ad would have been forgotten as soon as it had run, assuming it was even noticed at all. A brand that spent only $30,000 and got fewer fans wouldn't necessarily lose if it invested in a relationship with each fan. Followthrough counts for a lot in the Thank You Economy.

To recap how Old Spice brilliantly executed one-on-one engagement:

It established brand equity on TV with fantastic content.
Then it extended the compelling story to Facebook and Twitter
And to Digg, Reddit, and several other smaller ponds
Whose users went to the big YouTube pond to see the videos
Where they experienced a level of a brand’s personal attention and engagement that has rarely, if ever, been seen before
And then tweeted and commented like crazy about it
Which garnered coverage for the campaign on television, in print, and on radio, making Old Spice, your grandfather’s brand of deodorant, national news.

The Huge Miss

The Old Spice campaign is considered a huge social media win, one that hundreds of social media experts have praised, but here's where the story takes a bit of a surprising turn. I was sure that Old Spice planned to use the information it has on its almost 120,000 Twitter followers to start engaging with each and every one of them on a personal, meaningful level. Every one of those people should have received an email, thanking the followers for watching the videos and offering them a reason to keep checking in. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I don't think that happened. As of September 2010, almost two months after Old Spice ambushed Twitter, the Old Spice account has tweeted only twenty-three times, and not one of the tweets talks or interacts with an actual person or user of the brand. Ad Age published an article that begins "Old Spice Fades Into History . . ." If I were captain of that ship, you can bet that ten thousand tweets would have gone out since July 14, the last day of the response video portion of the campaign. To me, it looks like Old Spice is a sprinter stuck in a traditional marketing mind-set, not a marathon runner living in the Thank You Economy.

Old Spice thought when the campaign was done that they were done. Huge mistake. A social media campaign in the Thank You Economy is never done! The Thank You Economy rewards marathon runners, not sprinters. All P&G needed to do was sprinkle a little bit more pixie dust by humanizing their business and ensuring long-term relationships with their customers, but they gave up. In doing so, they turned what had all the markings of a superb social media campaign into a one-shot tactic.

Old Spice saw a major spike in sales and brand awareness, but there are plenty of brands that have done great marketing, spiked for a while, and then disappeared off the consumer radar. The brand had an opportunity to continue the conversation with all of those people who connected with them, and they squandered it. They left their customers behind, limiting the full impact the campaign could have had on the brand. I'm sure there are more than a few people who were miffed when they could no longer interact with it. Worse, though, are the many, many more who simply forgot about the brand, and about how much fun they had interacting with it. It will cost Old Spice a lot to reengage those people.

I'm in utter shock. On one hand, I am devastated to see this turn of events and want to call Old Spice and beg them to let me help get them back on track; on the other hand, they've given me a great opportunity to show you how a brand can sabotage a great social media campaign.

I was going to buy another stick of Old Spice when I used up my first one, but the wind has been knocked out of my sails. I mean, what their silence on Twitter tells me is that they're through with me. They're glad that I, and thousands of others, spent our money with them, and now they're just going to sit back on their laurels, enjoy the spike in revenue, and move on to a new campaign.

Excerpted from The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk (Harper Business). Reprinted by permission.

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  • Joel

    Although I think that Gary is one of the most forward thinking and astute commentators of the internet I think that it was a little unfair to not mention the whole series of comment videos made by Old Spice for their Twitter followers that took the time to comment and submit them questions. This definitely increased the longevity of the campaign and also helped with engagement; of course they could not do this with everybody but the fact that everybody saw that they did this with a lot of normal users as well as celebrities will have helped them to score kudos as a brand that cares. Here is our take on the matter:

  • atimoshenko

    Gary is wrong, wrong, wrong. The Old Spice commercials were funny and entertaining and were therefore worth my time to watch. Good for Old Spice.

    Even better that the people behind the campaign now decided to leave me alone. I do enjoy occasionally watching entertaining. I do not enjoy attempts to being corralled into having a "conversation" with my f*cking deodorant.

    I give companies my money, and in return they provide me with a good product sold in an enjoyable, hassle-free, and entertaining way. I have no desire for companies to demand my effort and my attention in addition to my money. Dragging unmotivated customers into extended interactions is not a good marketing strategy.

    Think about it from the point of view of the consumer. What would I enjoy?

  • michmski

    I like Carlton's point of view. Although I can see where Gary is coming from (loss of opportunity of engaged customers), what are the odds that all of those 120,000 members would have stopped paying attention once there were no more videos of (gorgeous, ripped) Isaiah? Gary's own marketing is different because he regularly updates his blog with videos, almost every other day if not sometimes every day ; P&G could have continued but they would need to find a community manager as engaged as Gary for their...deodorant. Not impossible, but certainly not easy. It's true though that they could have continued sending out small rewards on an occasional basis. Everyone loves a great marketing campaign, but for practical reasons who doesn't want to receive a coupon while they're at the super market?

    Thanks for reposting this to share :)

  • marc davison

    Gary's decision to not buy another stick of Old Spice because they didn't tweet him a thank you is a joke. His behavior highlights a shallow understanding of brand - specifically Old Spice - and places a sad but true stain on where he is leading his followers today.

    Think about who the Old Spice Man is. He's riding horses. Sailing. Fishing. Lying seductive on a piano. The dude is busy making the most out of life. His thanks comes from every spritz, pour and roll on of Old Spice that once it adheres to his body, the treasures of the life gravitate toward him.

    The Old Spice man doesn't need a tweet to feel loved. Or feel important. He already does. He's already self confident. When he applies Old Spice, that fragrance broadcasts it to the world.

    Odds are, an Old Spice man isn't tweeting all that much anyway. He's the man every ladies man would love to be. Trust that he's buying another stick of roll on regardless of wether some social media intern at Proctor and Gamble tweeted him a thank you or not.

    Gary's admission indicates two things: He's not the man your man wishes he could be and his understanding of branding and how brands must participate with it's customer is vague and shallow. Great brands thanks their customer by making them feel good through the creation of and constant flow of great products and service. Not a tweet.

  • Carlton Hoyt

    While Gary's points are very well-made and extremely observant of him, I question how much we should really criticize Old Spice for disengaging 120,000 people. After all, there's about 150 million men in the US alone, the vast majority of which wear deodorant, so what's the value of 120k? Let's do some off-the-cuff math...

    Say of those 120k followers, half were men. Old Spice was certainly reaching out to women as much if not more than men, so this is a somewhat liberal estimate if anything. Since women don't use old spice, that's 60k potential customers. For the sake of argument, let's say each would go through 1 stick of deodorant a month (I think that's how much I go through although I admittedly don't pay any attention to how much deodorant I use). So they just lost 60k sticks a month, or 720k sticks a year.

    What's P&G's profit on a stick of deodorant? I'm not the person to answer this, but let's say it's 50 cents (a stick of old spice retails for $2). That means they're theoretically losing $360k / year off the top line by not maintaining engagement. Would it have cost them $360k to continue a high-quality social engagement? It easily could have. Would that base of 120k have continued to grow and provide more value in time? Certainly.

    If it was me calling the shots, I would have continued the social engagement in expectation of increasing future value, but I don't think it's so cut-and-dry that we should chide them for not doing so.

    Differences in opinion are gladly welcomed.