The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated

July 16th, 2010
Written by Mark

Nope. That’s not a reference to the fact that I haven’t written a post in two weeks. Although I do feel kinda invisible.

I refer to that famous quote because I believe it should be appropriated by traditional ad agencies, who after an 18-month long string of death due to social media obituaries, flew out of the grave on Tuesday when Wieden + Kennedy broke The Old Spice Man social media campaign. Check out the eye-popping stats from Mashable here.

Not sure if this is Wieden or Kennedy. Or perhaps Lee Clow shaved his beard.

Yes, there are still many questions that need to be answered, some of which we bandied about during Translator lab hours yesterday:

Is this a stunt, or a long-term sustainable means of engagement?
The last tweet from @OldSpice began “Well friends, like all great things this too must end.” Huh. That’s campaign speak to me. To me, by definition, social doesn’t end. It’s what @faris describes as constantly connected. Yeah, that’s good. I’d pose this question to @streetzapizza and @AJBombers : If you took a three-month hiatus from Twitter, would you still be as connected to your customers? (And if you did, what would it do to your sales?) The challenge for Old Spice and W+K becomes now that you found a brilliant way to make connections, what’s your plan to sustain them?

Do I laugh at this in front of my laptop, but still walk past the product on the retail shelf? The work is brilliant. Hysterical. Definitely spreadable media. (And please, for the bazillionth time, stop using the term viral video). I honestly have no idea how Isaiah Mustafa did not crack up while performing—they were doing these at a rate of one every 7 minutes.


Agencies get hired to sell things, and fired when they don’t. Okay, they get fired for a lot of crazy other reasons too, but that’s a different post. Dudes—or gals who purchase personal products for your dude—are you buying Old Spice in the near future? I loved the videos, but I will not be a purchaser. That makes me a passive endorser. Is that what brand managers are after? In checking HootSuite, I see that my former Minneapolis colleague @alangdell (who is much younger and hipper than me) just tweeted:

This Old Spice campaign is just amazingly entertaining. I still don’t want to buy it, but I’m glad someone is financing this.

W+K is doing a helluva job changing the perception of Old Spice. But to a lot of us, the product is still—well—Old Spice. Certainly time and sales figures will tell. I’m sure there will be plenty of data on that to come.

Despite those questions, this work validated one thing for me. Don’t count traditional agencies out. They will eventually adapt to the new platforms and channels. There are way too many smart people to assume they’ll never get it.

It will still take time. It may come with pouting, holding of breath, and a fair amount of bitching and moaning, (I’ve covered the subject) but eventually the sheer intellectual and creative capital of those trained in doing something one way will eventually adapt to doing it a new way. To be conversationalists. To be co-creators. To create experiences in addition to campaigns. To walk a high-wire in real-time and collaborate with other disciplines and produce amazing results.

This is a really good thing. And it makes the discussion of who will rule the modern communication roost—traditional, digital or a T.B.D. evolution of both—even more interesting.

Let the debate continue.



  1. It’s a great, well-executed concept that because of it’s established and deservedly successful foundation was able to seamlessly extend itself to another medium. Would that all things were so.

  2. Mark,

    Welcome back. You were missed. Totally agree. Took an informal Twitter survey yesterday and almost without exception, men said no way would they wear Old Spice. OK, there were a couple of exceptions, self-proclaimed “cheap” cologne wearers. So, if the “campaign” (which I agree it feels like) engages women, maybe they get a short term trial-sales spike, which is better than no love at all, and maybe a small segment will repeat. But “it’s still Old Spice.” The best idea in the world still can’t turn a proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse.

    Great point about how this is actually a good sign about traditional agencies. My money is on “TBD evolution of both”.


  3. Funny your blog post came right when I was catching up on those videos. I was thinking the same thing. The video made me think they didn’t know their target market and were looking to jump. Great videos but agree in that I don’t think alot of Old Spice users are on YouTube :)

    Enjoyed your post.

  4. Does Old Spice really need to have a conversation with me? I’d rather laugh at funny videos! I bought a stick of deodorant and a can of body spray ONLY because of the ads. Not a fan of the deodorant scent, but there are 3 more to try. Clearly, it’s a stunningly successful campaign, and we’re all still enjoying it. How fantastic is that!?

  5. Sue–Originally I was planning on a post that was only pictures (think we talked about that at the Public Market) but the topic came up in the lab and boom! Blog post. I also would place my money on the hybrid—or something we’ve never seen before.

  6. Amy-Glad you liked the post. I think they’re doing a great job trying to appeal to a new younger demo that may not be familiar with the legacy of the brand. The question ultimately is, will the hipness overcome the limitation of the product? I can’t wait to find out. :)

  7. Nick-Totally with you on enjoying the campaign. It’s fantastic. And I’m glad to hear it made you buy it. That’s what I’m looking to hear. I agree that Old Spice doesn’t have to have a conversation with you, but clearly doing 70 videos a day is not sustainable. So I’m curious to see what’s next.

  8. No offense to anybody here, but I think the negative connotations with Old Spice are mostly among older audiences. Being a child of the ’80s, I vaguely remember jokes about Old Spice cologne, but these days I really don’t have any positive or negative feelings about their brand.

    Soaps and deodorants are the kinds of products where people will stick with one brand their entire life. I’m already too old to switch, but this campaign is a great way to introduce itself to a new generation of smelly guys.

    P.S. – I still prefer the ones directed by Tim & Eric:

  9. Jeff-Very true. Being part of the “older audience” my perception is already cemented. I love what they’re doing, but it’s too late to change my buying behavior. That’s why I’m curious to see if it connects with younger smelly dudes, as you put it. Either way, it’s great, fun work using the social in a way that hasn’t been done. If it does move the sales needle, that will really be awesome.

  10. Jon-Ain’t it the truth? Funny, in a discussion at the lab the other day we were talking about how natural/organic brands should stop marketing themselves the way they do and use the hipper creative approach their big CPG brethren do.
    Missed you at the lab when I was on vacation, hope to see you back soon!

  11. And it seems like it would be even easier for them to market – less dirty secrets (brand history, additives, general unhealthiness) to hide. They don’t have the budgets for big campaigns and that’s why SM can be so useful in the right hands. And that’s where you come in…

    Missed you too. Did you see the bacon band-aids? See you next week sometime.

  12. Jon-absolutely correct. plus, social is the perfect place to activate your brand evangelists, and that is a niche where people are ready and willing to sign up.

    loved the bacon band-aids. heh. See you next week.

  13. Brilliant campaign!!! Kudos to W&K for coming up with the idea and to Procter & Gamble for approving it.

    Who’s to say that it couldn’t be a new innovative sustainable way to engage with their audience. While the initial campaign was a short one, why not keep a crew in the studio 4 hours each day developing original content?

    Agency goal #1 met: People are talking about this, a lot. They enjoy the entertainment, but they are making the connection between the content, the product and the experience of the product.

    As someone who uses axe and a mix of Thierry Mugler products everyday to avoid smelling like pizza, I can say that next time I’m at Walgreens, I will certainly open a bottle and see what the new Old Spice smells like. If the product delivers on the the brand promise, I would switch over from axe.

  14. Scott-Heh, love it. A mix of axe and Thierry Mugler products to avoid smelling like pizza. perfect. Plus, I think I know where you stand on the campaign. And you’ve had a fair amount of success yourself.
    I really would like to see them sustain this in some way. That’s why the final tweet was a bit disconcerting. Perhaps they’ll come back with something that tops this. The bar is pretty high.

  15. Mark, Talk about a post where the comments just make it better and better. My only add is that advertising is all about reach and repetition. One campaign a new generation of buyers will not make. Six or seven of these….and perhaps you begin to forget the old negative stigma and when you make your next deodorant purchase you see Old Spice and think – I want to be cool and funny like the Old Spice dude. My guess – this is not a one off. There are a series of these planned.

  16. Jimmeh-Kinda turnin’ into an online conversation, ain’t it? we can continue it offline at the lab next week. :) You are absolutely correct-if this continues, chances are I may try it. Screw it, based on the comments here, I’m buying some after I cycle home. Because I will need it today.
    btw-you sure you don’t want to do digital for a living? :)

  17. Just as all things must come to an end, all things must start somewhere. The campaign is clearly a response to the AXE work that has been dominating for the past 5 years or so. They position themselves as a way to get closer to women through the eyes of the guy. What’s interesting here is that the ads are actually DIRECTLY CALLING OUT TO WOMEN!

    Seems like someone looked at the stats that women do most purchasing. Hell, all it would take for a guy to become a long time fan and purchaser of Old Spice is something akin to the following scenario.

    1. Gal pal sees commercial.
    2. Gal buys Old Spice for guy.
    3. Guy uses OS.
    4. Gal bangs guy while thinking about Mustafa.
    5. Guy doesn’t care because, well, he’s a guy.
    6. Steps 3-5 repeat.

    That said, I’m as interested as you are in seeing how they keep this going. They’re taking Twitter by storm because they are bringing the sight and sound it so often lacks into play – on a personal level. The Alyssa Milano respons was a coup (doesn’t hurt that tons of guys as “young and hip” as me probably grew up dreaming of the sweet day they’d get to smooch Sam Micelli, “Ay, oh!”).

    I haven’t checked shelves but hopefully the retail arm of OS is doing things right to encourage trial. It’d be a shame to see on of the better campaigns in years go to waste only because they didn’t price for success.

    Appreciate the reference and the post in general. hope to see you soon.

  18. Great post and comments with different points of view, I agree with what Jeff said. I am also a child of the 80’s, more so the 90’s, and personally have no brand loyalty usually whatever is cheapest, smells good, and works is what I buy. I have tried Old Spice deodorant in the past and will try it again because of these ads. The body wash not so much since I don’t use any nor will I be using any.


  19. I loved the “look behind the curtain” that a few of the latest blog posts offered up in regard to the Old Spice campaign. I positively drooled at the idea of having that kind of production capability and responding to “customers” tweets in that way, honestly was crushed to hear that sort engine was going to stop running because frankly it struck a chord with me.
    I personally thought the concepts were fun, witty, ingenious, but most of all engaging.

    I grew up with my Dad and Old Spice man, so I do have some preconceived notions about the brand itself, though those notions weren’t necessarily negative. And yes, I did feel compelled to sample the product in some way just to see what New Old meant to regular Old.

    But Mark, to speak to your point, there’s no way I could walk away from engaging our audience @AJBombers or any of our businesses this way, No way. I think I’d lose some trust and I know I’d lose some business. Measuring and cultivating our community of customers engagement is as much a part of the sale as the actual exchange of money in our restaurants as I see it.

    I can’t wait for our next lab session to discuss what we can learn and create with this “campaign” in mind.

    Thanks for asking the important question here Mark,….Why.

  20. A few thoughts:

    1. W+K is to a traditional ad agency as a Mini Cooper is to a compact car. I would probably not even call them a traditional agency, because they have a great track record for being awesome, and that’s not traditional.

    2. This whole campaign kinds of smacks of Miller Lite’s “Dick” campaign to me. Parody product traditionally consumed by boring middle-aged men, ad people making ad people laugh, etc. It remains to be seen if the same lack of new sales also follow.

    3. In reality some things just aren’t sustainable, like keeping actor on a shower set 24/7 with an army of writers standing by.

    4. Was this a “best practices” use of Social Media? Who cares? It was fun, it was different and it lit up the blogosphere this week, and I don’t see any other old-scholl brands pulling that off. A perfect stunt, to use Mark’s word. But if they come up with a new Stunt every month or every week, at some point it could definitely start to look more like a conversation. Besides, sometimes the “ongoing conversation” model can look a little bit like a customer support live chat to me. Maybe including stuff like this on a periodic basis is part of the ideal mix.

    5. I wear Axe deodorant. Not because of the ads, but because Mrs. Blogfoot gave me some as a birthday gift years ago (long Story).

  21. Mark/Joe,
    Right, I forgot about the part where they went silent. Mistake….big mistake (that’s a line from a Pretty Woman I think). They had us at hello and then dropped us like a hot potato. *processing* (to be continued at lab hours).

  22. Yes Jim, that is a Pretty Woman line… I can tell you precisely the scene next time I see you if you would like. But I digress. :)

    Having been part of this conversation in the lab, my reaction is… I’m holding my breath to see what happens. And not even from a sales side anymore, but from a social perspective. There has been lots of commentary about them just stopping. I’m intrigued to know if they see it as such, or if they are inserting a pause, handing over the reigns, and hedging their bets that people will make it sustainable. I wonder if part of their goal was to get people to start producing content in the same manner. The production value of the videos is one thing, but the persona they utilized, and the platform for delivery (answering tweets via video) is completely and easily reproducible. I wonder how many user generated Old Spice Man videos will be made and posted. Hmmm…

    I actually think that the users making the story sustainable would be the measure of whether or not this was a successful social endeavor. I’m curious if that is/was part of the plans for this by W+K. If so, they are doing it right, and I agree “traditional” may not be as far behind as some say. If not, eh, well, we’ll see what happens.

    Speaking of the lab… who’s bringing the bacon?

  23. Andrew-Great points. Definitely, the why of this campaign is important. After getting lapped in sales by Axe, P&G went to W+K because they needed to respond. Obviously, AXE has a huge advantage as they got out of the gate with a hip campaign, and had zero baggage associated with the product (I bought it, until my cheap instincts kicked in). And yes, who does the purchasing is key (are you in research or strategy? heh). Again, time will tell. But all these comments are making me soften my stance on giving it a trial. Which is an entirely different phenomena-the discussion around the campaign in blog posts all over the place. How do you measure that?

  24. Ray-Thanks for commenting. I’m like you-cheap with no brand loyalty. I buy what’s ever in a gallon jug at Costco. :) But I may make a special trip to Target to reward the campaign.

  25. Joe-They definitely tapped in to a new way of doing social. It was incredible. This will be in textbooks for years. Or iPad textbooks. Something. But like you said, once you start something like this, you can’t walk away. (What would we all do without the lunch bell ring or twitpics of your tan lines? :) And “Measuring and cultivating our community of customers engagement is as much a part of the sale as the actual exchange of money” is a money quote, no pun intended. We may have to devote Tuesday AM lab to continue this great conversation.

  26. Luke-Those are great points. I refer to W+K as traditional in relation to an R/GA or Big Spaceship. R/GA has taken what I think are legitimate shots at CP+B in the past for doing “digital stunts.” R/GA believes in sustainable platforms (Nike+) rather than campaign style tactics. This appears to be a stunt-a fantastic stunt at that-but the fact that it occurred using social media channels makes it noteworthy, since agencies have been slow to adapt. What they do next is really key. And what you say is true—is it best practice social media? Probably not—I mean it’s a character from an ad that people were engaging with. Does that matter? Not sure, cuz it was funnier than hell and got a lot of attention. It was an innovative, brilliant use of the medium. My fear is that there will be a lot of unfunny lifeless copycats of this.

  27. Hi Mark,

    Great points!

    I see the benefits of this campaign if the target is Gen Y-ers who are simply not aware of Old Spice as a brand. People at Jigsaw laughed at me last week when I told them that until several months ago I had no idea Old Spice existed, let alone be aware of the stigma that it is a brand for “old dudes,” as someone pointed out. It is the same for many young Millennials. In this sense the campaign really increased awareness among us. However, it is a different point if Gen Y wasn’t the target of the campaign. Only sales will show the result of this campaign.

    It was a very personal and engaging stunt. But, as you said, the engagement needs to continue. What happens if another brand in the same industry does the same short-term stunt tomorrow. And another brand next week. At the end of the day those quickly built relationships will dissolve. W + K did a great job to start the conversation and initiate some engagement, but this engagement needs to continue and turn into part of the culture of Old Spice.

  28. Update: I purchased some Old Spice deodorant. For no other reason than this post. Which makes Old Spice and the agency big winners because now Mark Fairbanks is working for them for free….kinda the idea of social – right? I also took a tweetphoto during the purchase process at my local wal-mart further extending the social net. Oh, the Swagger scent is pretty nice – my wife likes it and my teenage kid says too cologne smelling. (that’s in case anyone cares about the actual products) ;)

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