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Could 'Old Spice Guy' Mean a Coming of Age for Digital?

Everything about it, from the unofficial name of the campaign resembling a YouTube clip ('old spice guy'), to the shooting and broadcasting of more than 180 spots responding directly to social media comments (for two days straight), Wieden + Kennedy's latest for P&G just may represent online media's coming-of-age story.

Before theorizing on this campaign's overall significance, let's cover the basics. Wieden + Kennedy Portland created a popular character and campaign (The Man Your Man Could Smell Like) that was well-received on television, and wildly popular online. According to Mashable.com and VisibleMeasures, the two :30 second spots accumulated nearly 26 million views on YouTube as of Wednesday.

While 26 million video impressions at a $0 CPM is certainly impressive, it has been done several times before, as recently as last month with Nike's cinematic World Cup Spot (not surprisingly, at the same 13th Street address in Portland). Good creative is good creative; it will have legs online.

What made this unique, however, is that someone found a way to focus the best that two media vehicles have to offer, and packaged them in such a compelling way that legitimacy may finally be awarded to buzzwords like 'viral extension,' 'social media integration,' and the big kahuna of them all, 'synergy.' Furthermore, the feats that this campaign pulled off are not realistically feasible using traditional media alone, creating a clear case for the exciting and unique advertising experiences afforded by online as an extension.

The act that justifies the above statement came in what has become commonly known as 'Old Spice Responses.' The product -- more than 180 short-form videos made for the Web -- were direct responses to questions and comments received on the character's Twitter and Facebook profiles. The pieces, shot and released in close to real-time, were personalized to the individual, and spread like wildfire across the Web. A great overview of how it was done is available on Read Write Web. So how fast does wildfire spread? According to Visible Measures, (via Mashable,) nearly 5.9 million views in the first 24 hours. To put it in perspective, that's more than President Obama's victory speech, and roughly double that of Susan Boyle's breakout performance on "Britain's Got Talent."

Let's pause for a moment to contemplate what this means from a dollars and cents standpoint. In CPG, arguably the greatest proxy for in-store purchase intent is unaided recall. When you've accumulated more than 30 million ad impressions on the basis of users seeking your content out and sharing it, add on the millions of TV impressions you actually paid for, you have a serious case for top of mind awareness in the grocery aisle.

So what made it work? It really came down to three things. First, the difficult feat of creating a character that is designed to sell us things, but is still likable and has the ability to entertain. Second, opening up that character and his message to two key vehicles, television, for a forced introduction, and online video, for easily shared, repeat, and voluntary experiences. The last bit, the exciting part, is giving the character's fans access via social media, and allowing the character to respond in a way that matches the original commercial but still feels customized. Remember when you were young enough to try and crawl into the television? For some, this came very close.

The purpose of social media in advertising is to give your audience ownership of the brand. Historically, advertisers (many CPG) have understood this concept by asking consumers to create hundreds of custom commercials themselves. They are always personally relevant to the creator, but rarely compelling to a mass audience. The only notable exception has been Doritos, which I'm not sure says something about the chip, the agency, or the snacker/director. Old Spice did the exact opposite, and created hundreds of commercials that addressed individual consumers. They were still personal, and at the same time, well received by a mass audience that is typically, fickle at best, deeply insulting at worst.

So what makes this a coming of age story? Simply put, it's an early sign of marketers using Digital for what it is for, rather than trying to force the conventions of other vehicles upon it. Banners and Pre-Roll video, while necessary and effective, more embody the spirit of the print and television than online. As I mentioned above, this campaign provided the best of television (story telling, high production value), with the best of online (the organic spread of content, highly accessible two way communication), by depending upon the tools that promote meaningful advertising experiences. An experience that acknowledges the user, and above all, provides value and utility, even if it is simple entertainment.

Many advertisers are expending large sums of money, time, and energy using social media to inorganically create "viral" advertising content, which when you look at it, are simply offline commercial concepts re-configured for a smaller screen or lower expectations of production quality. What Wieden + Kennedy proved, is that if you put in the work that some advertisers forgo in hopes of viral distribution and the general acceptance of low-fi norms on the web, Online Media can become something greater than another conduit for one sided selling.

What does this campaign mean? Until sales data comes in from retailers, it is difficult to say whether the campaign it self did or did not 'work'. Going out on a limb and assuming it does sell body wash, this campaign may demonstrate that advertising in digital media is most effective when it mimics how people actually use digital media. What that holds for the future is largely dependent on whether we can rely on a stream of good ideas, or imitators and stumbled attempts, to carry the momentum forward.

Tags: online, video
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2 comments about "Could 'Old Spice Guy' Mean a Coming of Age for Digital?".
  1. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing , July 17, 2010 at 8:30 p.m.

    This is a nice story about the "inputs" but we'll likely never see the story about the "outputs" -as you refer to: the sales. But dont hold your breath. Parent P&G is under no obligation to report sales publicly of a single product,

    Let's see if it does. Let's see if this is really the future of branding.

  2. Mark Simmons from marCis interactive , July 19, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.

    Regardless of the "outputs," the impact of their campaign has tremendous implications for the future of digital media. Talk around our camp is always centered around the alignment of digital strategy across marketing channels. This campaign exemplifies the importance of, and just how successful a cohesive strategy can be.