Thoughts on Old Spice

The Old Spice “Smell Like a Man, Man” has been a runaway hit, consisting of great writing, spot-on casting and enough visual magic that Rube Goldberg would be proud.

The way the campaign played out online employed solid principles of interaction: participation, alacrity and low latency; and behavioral triggers like humor and suspense.

Faris Yakob has written extensively about 4 basic principles of interaction: participation, utility, alacrity and latency. The Old Spice Twitter/You Tube mashup employs all four, encouraging anyone with a Twitter account to post an “@” reply to Isaiah Mustafa in the hopes that he’ll respond to your tweet. That’s the participation, inviting anyone in on the joke and then with You Tube, continuing the participation with comments. According to a BrandWeek article, as of July 25, the videos have been viewed more than 40 million times. UPDATE: the channel view on August 18 is more than 133 million views.

The “utility” principle also applies in the sense that Old Spice and Weiden chose to house the campaign on existing, heavily trafficked sites. Tools that are familiar and very much part of someone’s daily web patterns made it easier to find, view and share. Twitter as a broadcast tool is ideal for quickly spreading an idea from its first post into retweets and retweets of the retweet, etc. And using YouTube to house the videos destroyed any notion of exclusivity, giving both the videos and the product a sense of “everyman” accessibility. On Facebook, there is plenty of activity on the tab devoted to asking the Old Spice guy a question 558 pages of content! Simply put, Old Spice went where the eyeballs were.

Latency and Alacrity combine to make the You Tube responses one wild ride. According to the American Heritage dictionary, alacrity is: cheerful willingness; speed or quickness. Latency is the time that elapses between a stimulus (the tweet) and the response to it (the You Tube video). An interview on Fast Company with Weiden’s global creative director details how the production was pulled off but that’s a little bit like peeking behind the curtains. I don’t think the public cared how it was pulled off but simply enjoyed the magic of picking a random tweet and producing a clever response in basically real time.

Humor obviously plays well and without a clear idea of who Mustafa’s character was, the writing never would have been as good. It’s not safe like so many generic beer ads. It’s unexpected and surreal, making it more memorable. Despite its wackiness, the team notes that they felt a great responsibility and sense of ownership - this kept anything coming out of Mustafa’s mouth true to the spirit of the campaign.

I also think suspense, while not an obvious characteristic, is another reason for the campaign’s success. With the Twitter responses, there was a definite plan to reply to celebrities in the hope they’d further spread the word by linking to the videos. They targeted the mass appeal celebrities like Ellen, Alyssa Milano and Demi Moore but they also gave a proper shoutout to the geek-heavy Twitter audience with Kevin Rose (of Digg fame) and Evan Williams (Twitter founder). Of the 181 video responses, 58 of them were directed at well-known or mid-level celebrities which garnered 43% of the views. But by welcoming all questions, people weren’t sure they were going to be picked; 113 videos were responses to “regular” commenters. The behavioral trigger of scarcity made them pay attention in the hopes that their question would be answered. Pick me! Pick me!

Imitation is out there too, further implanting Old Spice in the zeitgeist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ArIj236UHs&feature=player_embedded

Most importantly, from a business perspective, did this move product? According to BrandWeek, the latest sales figures show a definite uptick, especially in the period since this campaign hit. Win.