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“Spice”-ing Up Advertising

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(Disclaimer: This was written on the morning of Old Spice’s Social Media Assault, right before the whole thing exploded. That’s why it is barely discussed)

By this point, you’d have to be under a very large rock for a very long time to have missed the Old Spice ads. The campaign went viral when it began and continues to garner a lot of attention with each new ad. The campaign managed to get star Isaiah Mustafa a deal with NBC. It also won the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, which is sort of like the Best Picture Oscar. Additionally, the ad was recently nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial, and will most likely win (with their momentum, none of the others can really compare). So, what makes this ad campaign so special? Why does it connect with us, and why did it go viral?

Awe-Inspiring

The New York Times ran an article that says we share things that inspire awe. It states that in order for something to inspire awe, “Its scale is large, and it requires ‘mental accommodation’ by forcing the reader to view the world in a different way.” Now let’s look at the Old Spice ads. They definitely have that “how did they do it?” quality that many viral ads have. Curiosity piques interest. However, the ads aren’t doctored. They are well-known to be authentic and shot in one sequence. It was all done without CGI or any digital funny-business. This is certainly awe inspiring, because it makes us view the world of commercials (in today’s digital age) in a different way; we’re so used to over-the-top CGI effects (thanks, Michael Bay and James Cameron) that a spectacle like these commercials (without the help of CGI) is certainly interesting. The scale of the commercials is definitely large enough: TV ads reach a huge chunk of the population.

They’re Actually Funny

I don’t know a single person who doesn’t smile every time they see the commercials. I’ve seen most of them many, many times and I still laugh. The commercials are so over-the-top ridiculous that they’re incredibly funny. They take every Fabio-esque stereotype of male masculinity (including an un-ironic love of mustaches and riding on a white horse topless) and throw it in your face. It would be annoying, but Old Spice is aware of the stereotypes and understands the ridiculous nature of them, so it is able to make fun of itself. This sort of humor connects directly with our generation; we love satire, and we love to see big corporations not take themselves so seriously.

Sharable: These ads are inherently sharable. Just from personal experience, it had a TON of morning-after watercooler buzz in real life, and it went viral on Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the internet. They’re short enough that anyone (even those of you at the office) can view it without getting into any real trouble. The Old Spice phenomenon got so big that if you didn’t know about it, you felt left out.

They Listen and Respond

Old Spice has a Twitter account (@OldSpice, naturally), and they LISTEN to us. We know this because the account tweets back at individual users. The brand has even started to respond via personalized YouTube videos. The takeaway here is that if you want to get and KEEP our attention, you have to listen to us and respond within a reasonable time. If you do, your brand will seem more personal and authentic. We like that. It also helps that the replies are pretty hilarious.

Of course, as with any cultural phenomenon, the ads have their detractors who say the campaign is good for quick laughs but may hurt the brand in the long-term. Others cite that all the awards and buzz doesn’t always translate into sales. Even if it hasn’t exactly rose sales yet, ask anyone which brand of deodorant first pops into his or her head and I would bet Old Spice is it. Many companies would kill for that top-of-mind brand recall and awareness. Whatever the case, these ads have bored a vuvuzela-sized hole in the zeitgeist and have made advertising a little more fun. Well done, Old Spice.

Update: 8/25/2010

After the social media blitzkrieg, Old Spice’s sales soared. Mustafa eventually won the Emmy, and everything about this campaign was deemed a success. There have already been a number of copycats, but none have matched up to the original. This campaign is sure to ride off on its white horse (in only a towel, of course) into the annals of advertising history.

(Photo via Urlesque)

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