2010 will go down as the year somebody got it right. By somebody we mean Wieden + Kennedy. And by got it right we mean a scalable two-way conversation, the unlimited promise of social media made real in the form of a man who might well now say: "I'm on a juggernaut."
Sure, the Old Spice Guy character originated in a TV spot, but it's his social media throngs that made him an international superstar. The lift that Old Spice got from the prolonged digital glide can be seen in not just what W+K did (and did brilliantly) in breaking the pitchman's fourth wall for real, but in the legions of imitators, spoofs and iterations as the man your man could smell like morphed into the meme your meme could spread like.
"I'm on a horse" is the first "where's the beef?" of the social age.
The eventual audience (for starters 140 million YouTube views and more than a billion PR impressions) dwarfs that for the Super Bowl (where the original spot video ran). From the shot-for-shot video spoof for Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library (the scholar you could study like) to the absurdist (and lengthy) Christmas card for First Round Capital (complete with response videos), the idea proliferated fast and continues to do so.
Of course, that iconic positioning is driven by great ideas first and foremost, followed by discipline or channel. Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran, calls W+K, "An ideas agency that essentially creates great content and has become versatile enough to distribute and react to it anywhere."
Audiences have learned to expect viral efforts from marketers and might be more callous than they once were. They'll click on the link, maybe play with the dancing chicken or chuckle at the video and then IM it to a friend and forget it. Old Spice became a conversation that goes on to this day. "I still find it a bit crazy that it took this long for the advertising industry to leverage social tools to talk back through great creative," says Corcoran, "but you have to give W+K credit for being there first."
Renny Gleeson, W+K global director of interactive strategies, says the response videos came about as the team tracked the conversations spiraling all over. "We thought, 'hey, what if he could respond to those conversations? And Bob's your uncle.'" Bob's your uncle was a whole lot of hard work, flexibility, technical know-how (those couple of hundred video responses went up fast and were targeted, after all), a shower set, an exhausted actor and brand trust.
"We like how distribution playbooks can be digitally re-written with a great idea. A bad idea won't be saved by a brilliant advocate engagement plan, an elegant mobile app or a clever search strategy, but increasingly, good ideas can fail without them," says Gleeson, "So those folks are built into our teams. What's really inspiring is that a truly amazing idea has never had greater opportunities to inspire, motivate and move product."
Gleeson doesn't attribute the fireball that Isaiah Mustafa's Old Spice Guy became to some sort of divine inspiration that struck like a lightning bolt. "We'd spent five years working with P&G's Old Spice team, taking chances together, screwing up right and scoring wins that built trust between our organizations and widened the possibilities for the brand," he says. "We could go real time because Old Spice trusted us."
Perhaps most impressive in all this was the fact that this is P&G's Old Spice we are talking about. A brand that had been all but forgotten and is now experiencing a resurgence at the hands of W+K.
Also, in the last year, Wieden became lead agency for Target, Chrysler shifted Jeep over and a very pleased P&G awarded the agency corporate branding responsibilities. And W+K continued to do groundbreaking work for legacy client Nike, creating serious buzz around the World Cup with "Write the Future" and the "Pitch Perfect" effort led by TheFader, in which artists designed soccer-themed "covers" for online mixtures corresponding to each continent in the games (the effort also included short videos about the teams and the cultures of the countries in the games). "Write the Future" starred the game's top stars in a stirring narrative made by Babel director Alejandro G. Iñarritu and premiered on Facebook.
"If you need great content and innovation they're at the top of the heap," says Corcoran.
And to stay on top of that heap W+K has created a lab of sorts. WKE (for Weiden + Kennedy Entertainment) launched in December 2009 as an independent (and at times deeply weird) content arm that was not client facing. WKE's mission is to do nothing less than "renegotiate the relationship between art, media and advertising." If individual WKE endeavors have the right audience, they become "sponsorable" (instead of the other way around).
"Content may have once been a passive consumption experience, but done well, it's the beginning of a conversation," says Gleeson. " And as conversation in the form of social media becomes a primary distribution vehicle for ideas, brand stories as experiences will grow more and more important."
Wieden's year is also proof positive of one more thing. Every agency now plays in the digital sandbox, but that doesn't mean that some sandcastles don't crumble while others stretch ever taller. Integration is a word that gets thrown around a lot in our business, but watching the Old Spice Response campaign unfold made all those decks and meetings on the topic moot," says Gleeson. "The distinctions between software and storytelling, between ideas and distribution and between disciplines - creative, media, digital, etc. - melted. They had to."