One of the modern Holy Grails of advertising is to translate a successful TV campaign into a monster viral Internet phenom. Working with their client Procter and Gamble, the advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy opened the ark with its online work for Old Spice. The campaign is simple: The manly star from the TV spots responds to queries on Twitter via humorous 30-second YouTube videos that are being watched and re-tweeted with abandon. I spoke to Wieden's global interactive creative director Iain Tait about how they choose which tweets actor Isaiah Mustafa replies to, why they are using YouTube, and what it's like to produce nearly 100 spots a day.
Mark Borden: How did the Old Spice online campaign come about?
Iain Tait: We had this character who is not only loved by ladies, but equally loved by guys. A woman's man that was okay for men to love. And we realized there were no edges to where he could exist.
Why did you choose to respond to Twitter tweets using video and why employ YouTube versus a dedicated Old Spice site?
By locking the campaign into any proprietary place would have just severely limited the exposure it would get and diminish it. This whole idea of responding to people and being very smart about who we decided to respond to, and in what manner, that wouldn't have worked if we hadn't done it in a format like YouTube where we are able to embed it. People are very familiar with the ways of sharing it, liking it, and favoring it, and just the fact that it can go everywhere very quickly was a huge positive.
We knew it couldn't be just responding to tweets in words, that wouldn't have felt so special and had been done before. The fact that we were able to do this in video feels appropriate in relation to the prior TV ads.
It's not just responding to tweets, it's looking at the environment right now. YouTube is the place where people share video. Twitter is the place where—celebrities dying or whatever it is—those things blow up so quickly. We know we can only run this thing for a short time so Twitter felt like the place to create the explosion.
It's keeping the allure and mystique of this guy alive. Finding that balance between exposing him to the world, (not literally), without overexposing him is really important.
Obviously it doesn't have the same level of high production value as the TV ads, but just enough to make it feel like it ties into everything people have seen before. The production level is key there. If we had done it in a really low budget way, it would have been horrible.
It's not just those guys. It's great that you're hearing from those people, we sort of knew that would happen. But we've gone literally up and down the levels of people from those with millions of followers down to people with hardly any followers.
And that's a really important part of the mix.
One of the unique things taking place in the studio is we have a team of social media people, we have the Old Spice community manager, we have a social media strategist, a couple of technical people, and a producer. And we've built an application that scans the Internet looking for mentions and allows us to look at the influence of those people and also what they've said. They're working in collaboration with the creative team that are there to pick out the messages that: 1. Have creative opportunity to produce amazing content; or 2. Have the ability to then embed themselves in an interesting or virally-relevant community.
It's not just picking people with huge followings, it's a really interesting combination.
Do you guys have a working definition of what influence is?
For different products, there are different types of influence that are all very different. For something like this—which is so mass appeal—I think influence can come from anywhere.
There's been lot's of stuff recently about how celebrities have huge followings, but actually their level of influence is quite limited.
That said, we don't have a concrete definition. We looked at how we can go to whatever the right definition of influence is and we've kind of nailed people who exist in all of them. From celebrities like Alyssa Milano to being incorporated into 4chan, which is perhaps the weirdest most anarchistic community that exists out there. To have managed to do that without them jumping on top of it and hating it—we've had more likes for the video that has gone out on 4Chan than anything else.
We've reached Mashable and TechCrunch and those places which have credible amounts of influence in the online community. I think really we've been quite clever in trying to, not knowing the right answer, but making sure we tick all the boxes where the right answer is.
Who writes the spots?
We're actually keen not to lift the curtain on that right now. One of the things that is quite nice is that people are speculating. People are wondering, on the very naïve end, if it's an intern there with a video camera and a guy just delivering the lines. On the other hand people are going, you must have a huge army of copywriters to produce so much so quickly.
I'd kind of like to keep that curtain up for now.
It is fair to say that the team involved in writing the TV spots are at the core of it. That's why that level of authenticity and great humor we've seen in the TV ads has come through very strongly online.
[MB: After catching some flak for this, Tait revealed the names in a concerto-like post and Wieden sent over a .PDF. The creative directors and copywriters are: Eric Baldwin, Jason Bagley, Eric Kallman and Craig Allen. Here's the full creative credit list.]
You manage to have such a quick turnaround. How do you execute at such a high speed?
We could be destroying our own business here, right? We've made nearly 100 commercials in a day (laughs).
Again, we've built an incredible system which takes the comments and highlights the ones we want to respond to and feeds them through to an auto cue (I'm lifting the curtain here aren't I?), and it's incredibly sophisticated on one end, but quite simple on the other in that it allows the spots to be created very quickly.
But let's just say, we have a team of editors along with a team of creatives making this stuff happen in real time.
Why does the real time nature of this have such power?
Real time is what drives the Internet. New news is what everyone wants to get a hold of. Everyone is a publisher in their own way. Everyone wants to be tweeting or blogging about something that they are first to be in on. What we've done here is blur the lines between things that people don't expect to be able to be done in real time. So that's the surprise, that "Hang on, you're producing these things kind of in real time? How on earth are you doing that?" Every time one comes out and nails it again, it's seen as almost a new piece of news.
Who is that handsome fit man with the deadly stare?
Is he just sitting around in a towel all day?
I'm not going to tell you what he is wearing on his feet. That would destroy everything.
How did you gain enough trust from P&G to just be able to run with their brand in real time?
That trust base is so important. We are operating under a set of principles that we've agreed on in terms of these responses, which means that not everything needs to go through stringent sign off and legal approval.
At the same time they know that because we love this thing, we're not going to be irresponsible with it and throw it away and lose the chance to do it again.
We've found that balance which in my experience is so rare to get to with a client.
One thing you can sense if you're lucky enough to be there in the studio is that they're all having such fun doing this thing. Isaiah is loving it. Everyone who is writing it is loving it. The social media guys are loving it. And that really shines through.
If you are doing something in a social environment, you want it to feel like a place you want to be at.
It's a really strange thing, but that sense that people are having fun actually manages to transmit itself through the Internet. People gravitate toward things that feel like they're being done by people who love it. That sense that everyone involved with this is loving it is a huge factor in why this is so successful.
Why do you think social media and online influencers are so important to business right now?
One of the questions that keeps coming up is people saying, "Ok, this is great, but will it make me buy more Old Spice?" If you look at the comments that are publicly saying, "I'm going to go and try Old Spice after this, I'm going to wear more Old Spice," the groundswell of people saying that they are going to consume more Old Spice, I don't know whether that is true or not, if people are actually going to go to the pharmacy and buy Old Spice, but...
But I bet a whole load of them are going to go into the aisle and take the top off an Old Spice and smell it. People that may never have done it before. That peer recommendation and seeing that real people are actually talking about this, in a way that not only says they enjoy the entertainment, but that there are smart people in these networks making the connection between the content, the product and the experience of the product.
It's just incredibly powerful and we're only just beginning to see how powerful that can be.
Read more about The Influence Project.