On Message: The best in new marketing, from Old Spice

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

Strange as it may seem, the much-maligned scent has scored a worldwide viral success – with sales uplift to boot

If you want to see a marketing campaign that defines the zeitgeist, unfortunately you need to look outside the world of travel, and outside the UK. Instead you need to look at the youtube clips on www.oldspice.com.

Yes, ironically, Old Spice, that dodgy fragrance which defined macho advertising in the 1970s – think bare-chested hunks, crashing waves and overblown opera – has once again spawned an iconic campaign.

But this one is as post-modern and social media-focused as the last one was brutally effective. Featuring a former American footballer Isaiah Mustafa, there are dozens of short ads in which Mustafa talks directly to the camera using every macho cliché in the book, but laden with knowing irony.

The campaign has been nothing short of a global sensation, dominating the top slots on Youtube for weeks. After the initial ad’s debut during the SuperBowl in February, other executions have spread virally around the world. The campaign now has nearly 100,000 followers on Twitter, and the Old Spice marketing team have created hundreds of tailored versions of the films for consumers who have tweeted in.

It is a brilliant piece of creative in so many ways: genuinely funny; consistent in message; and admirably dealing head-on with the heritage of a brand, which many of today’s consumers will associated with their fathers.

Unsurprisingly Old Spice is owned by the consumer goods behemoth Procter & Gamble, which has invested hugely in this campaign, if not in media spend, then at least in creativity and effort.

What was surprising however were the stories that emerged last week claiming the campaign hadn’t worked. Indeed reports in Brand Week, the American’ marketing title, claimed last Thursday that sales had actually fallen by 7%.

However, on Sunday Brand Week hastily wrote a story that claimed the campaign had been a success after all, and that sales had risen by 11%.

Either way the whole episode has reminded us that however good a social media campaign is, in terms of creativity and reach, the only true measure of success is a direct link to sales.

So what can marketers in the travel sector learn from all this? Well, first they should admire the humour, inventiveness and interactive techniques of the campaign itself. It shows that a powerful marketing campaign does not necessarily require massive production costs.

Secondly, despite the temptation to let creativity run wild, they must be clear from the start about their expectations of ROI (return on investment).

The Old Spice campaign appears to have worked in terms of sales uplift because it targets exactly the right demographic – young ‘digital native’ consumers who have some recollection of the brand from its former guises – and because it cleverly appeals to both men and women, the latter of whom P&G has identified as being in charge of the weekly shop for toiletries.

Digital media have created almost endless opportunities for improvised creativity. But a good definition of marketing is creativity focused in terms of commercial gain. Therein lies the sweet (maybe even sickly) smell of success.

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