Since launching online just over a month ago, Old Spice's "Smell like a man, man" commercial has been a viral Internet sensation; the original 30-second ad had logged 4.3 million hits by late last week, making it the sixth-most watched YouTube video of the last 30 days, and it caused a nine-fold increase in monthly traffic to OldSpice.com in February.
You'd need to be barricaded in your man cave to have missed the suave fellow with the six-pack abs, towel wrapped around his waist, who steps out of the shower and brandishes a bottle of body wash.
"Hello ladies," he says. "Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man. Now back to me. Sadly, he isn't me. But if he stopped using lady-scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he's me."
That's Isaiah Mustafa, actor and former pro football player, who, in over-the-top mock earnestness, exhorts males of the species to drop the girlie goop and "smell like a man, man." One moment he's on a boat, brandishing an oyster filled with "tickets to that thing you like" the next, he's got a handful of diamonds.
The 30-second ad, packed with quirky wink-and-a-nudge humor, ends with a camera pulling back, revealing the shirtless Mustafa on horseback. He then — quite unnecessarily — tells us, "I'm on a horse."
It's a combination of witty ad copy and over-the-top delivery that, since its debut Feb. 4 on the Old Spice Facebook fan page, has spawned parodies, a Twitter #imonahorse hashtag, an online campaign to land Mustafa a "Saturday Night Live" hosting gig and even an entry in Urbandictionary.com.
But perhaps what's most notable — especially given that the 73-year-old brand's clipper ship and hoary sea captain have long made it seem like the unofficial scent of older male relatives everywhere — is who it's aimed at.
"In recent memory we haven't targeted women directly," Old Spice's brand manager James Moorhead said. "So our goal was to find a way to reach out to them. We wanted an ad that men and women would enjoy together." It's significant that it ran in theaters on Valentine's Day and that before airing on television, it was released to Old Spice's Facebook fan page "where we can tell that a quarter of the fans are female," Moorhead noted.
It would be easy to contrast it with the other 800-pound gorilla of the body wash market, Unilever's Axe brand, which, according to research firm Mintel International Group, owns the biggest share of the mass retail market (with $51.1 million in sales for the year ending last August; Old Spice High Endurance and Old Spice Red Zone accounted for $44.8 million). Especially with Axe's reputation for risqué taglines and ads filled with sexy women and props like tennis and soccer balls.
Especially when Old Spice's Facebook page also throws in a Web application called "My Perpetual Love," which, Mustafa explains in an accompanying video, offers men the opportunity to be "more like him" by e-mailing their females and tweeting their sweets a continual string of virtual love notes. (Sample: "You are the apple of my eye, not the one in my lunch. That'd be cannibalism.")
But the creative team at Portland, Ore., based Wieden + Kennedy, the ad agency that's been helping the Procter & Gamble-owned brand reach the armpits of America by aiming at the funny bone for the last three years, denies that it has Axe in particular in the cross hairs.
"There are a couple different brands out there," said Wieden + Kennedy's Eric Baldwin, one of the creative directors behind the ads. "This was more of an acknowledgement that a lot of times, it's the girlfriend or significant others that are doing the purchasing. So we thought a dual message would be effective."
Also key in reaching both sexes is leveraging the laugh factor. "Categories like deodorants and body washes tend to be what we call ‘low involvement,' " Moorhead said. "So humor is a great way to spark interest and create a deeper connection with the brand."
Wieden + Kennedy's efforts there extend far beyond the print and video ad campaigns. As Old Spice's "digital agency of record," it manages the Facebook page, Twitter feed and extremely humorous online product descriptions. Claims like: "Even if you lit yourself on fire and stood in the blast radius of a nuclear bomb, this stuff would not stop working," might not exactly pass muster with truth in advertisng laws but sure make a memorable impression.
Old Spice's Moorhead says it's too early to tell how the popularity of the new ad will translate into sales. "We feel it's got tremendous legs and that it's going to lead to strong business results," was all he'd say. But the brand doesn't appear to be resting on its scented laurels.
"We just launched a line of [antiperspirant] scents named after places you might want to go," he said. "They've got names like Matterhorn, Fiji, Denali and Cyprus."
Although no one was willing to discuss the upcoming marketing campaign for that, we have an idea that might work:
The camera focuses in on Isaiah Mustafa in the middle of a blizzard. He's wearing lederhosen and no shirt, and has a feather in his Tyrolean hat and a rope clenched in his teeth. "Hello, ladies, I'm scaling the summit of the Matterhorn.
"And I'm on a horse."