Old Spice Guy made his debut in an ad for Old Spice Red Zone body wash that was broadcast during Super Bowl XLIV, in February 2010. Starring ex-football player and actor Isaiah Mustafa, it was clear from the start that the spot, called “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” was a daring restatement of the venerable Old Spice brand.
Borrowing a bit from the popular Stay Thirsty campaign for Dos Equis beer, Old Spice Guy was a handsome but somewhat inscrutable figure who engaged in random acts of manliness, and pushed it to an absurd level. In the first spot, Old Spice Guy starts off in his shower and then smoothly transitions to a boat, where he’s holding an oyster that becomes tickets that turn into diamonds, before the camera pulls back to reveal that he’s sitting on a white horse. But the key element is his opening line — “Hello, ladies” — aiming the campaign directly at the true target audience of men’s fragrances. Old Spice Guy deftly managed a difficult stunt: being the man women want, and the man other men want to be.
Old Spice Guy soon found himself in other ridiculous but attractive situations — riding his horse backwards, or wearing a fake moustache in a rowboat — and the campaign was spun off with different actors pitching related bath and deodorant products. But it was Old Spice Guy who grabbed and held onto both public and critical attention, and “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” won the Film Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Yet Old Spice Guy was just starting to flex his well-defined pectorals.
In mid-July, he stepped out of his rowboat into the relatively untested waters of online advertising, in a campaign that was launched with little fanfare and almost no PR. Through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit, viewers were invited to send questions, comments, and fan mail to our shirtless hero. He would carefully select his favourites, and within hours he would post a video reply, standing topless in the familiar comforts of his shower.
In addition to video responses to civilian fans with names like @mindtakerr and @tanbird, he engaged with reporters, talk-show hosts (Ellen Degeneres) and actors (Rose McGowan, along with Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore). One of his first and most prominent online interactions was with former Who’s The Boss and Charmed star Alyssa Milano, with whom he developed an ongoing flirtation — he even sent her flowers. Within a week, Old Spice Guy had posted 186 video responses, which had been viewed 94 million times, while his YouTube site had become the most popular sponsored channel ever, with over 100 million followers.
For all his popularity, Old Spice Guy had the inevitable detractors, with many critics wondering how effective he was at moving product. They pointed to a study that said sales of Red Zone body wash were actually down 7% in the first half of 2010, as proof that the over-the-top manliness was something of a turnoff. But according to Nielsen data provided by Procter & Gamble at the end of July, overall sales for all Old Spice body-wash products were up 11% over the previous year, and 27% in the last six months.
Like all top performers, Old Spice Guy knows that it’s always best to leave them wanting more. And so, with online viewership just starting to tail off and the copycats (including an execrable one from Cisco Systems) already appearing, the Old Spice Guy campaign was cancelled. Isaiah Mustafa is off to make a film with Jennifer Aniston, while Old Spice Guy himself retires to an honoured spot, next to the BMW film series “The Hire” and Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, in the pantheon of social-marketing success.