Here's a question: Do Old Spice's blithely bizarre viral-bait ads and clips actually move product? I don't ask this rhetorically; I ask it hoping that the answer is a firm, unassailable, quantifiable-with-data-and-pie-charts-and-retweetifications-and-whatnot yes. I ask it as an unabashed admirer of the skill with which Old Spice obliterated all traces of its Grandpa-brand past, one who prays the ads spur enough sales and goodwill to ensure that its marketing minions will never be asked to rein themselves in.
But I also ask it as a guy who prefers not to smell like the NYC-bound lanes of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Saturday night. For all I know, Old Spice boasts the feral pong of a ready-to-mate raccoon, or the cube of limburger cheese I stashed in a friend's car as part of a series of pranks that quickly got out of hand. For all the love that's been showered on Old Spice's marketing, at some point it'd be sweet if the manufacturer would facilitate a sniff test, because no reasonable dude will switch deodorant allegiances without taking a whiff. Is there a sampling protocol? There oughta be.
All of this is just aimless chatter in advance of the expected proclamation that, yeah, the most recent Old Spice offering, "Muscle Music," is every bit the absurdist delight that its predecessors were. In it, ex-jock/actor/Old Spice ad mainstay Terry Crews is hooked up via sensors and levers to a techno-fied one-man-band apparatus and asked to make beautiful, beautiful noise. He delivers, punctuating his cymbal-cueing gyrations with fearsome glares, nonsensical hollering and requests for "flame sax." As it turns out, Crews' abs and pecs are more capable of creating a catchy, melodic tune than the Black Eyed Peas. Who knew?
"Muscle Music" is nutzo and anarchic, in all the best ways. I watched it five or six times to make sure I didn't miss anything; amid the cacophony, you might not catch the mallet-struck tambourine or the aluminum-foil eyes on the massive papier-mâché sculpture of Crews' head. And that's before it ends and viewers are prompted to create their own muscle music, using the keyboard to trigger a range of sounds. If you're trying this at home, be sure to hit the 'a,' comma and left-bracket keys. Hats, sausage and animals are involved. Man, I'd sure like access to whatever industrial-grade pharmaceuticals the individuals who dreamed this up were using.
Of course, it's anyone's guess what would motivate a marketer -- any marketer, even one with Old Spice's longstanding gonzo-humor bona fides -- to attempt to sell a product or build/reinforce a brand this way. And like the last 300 Old Spice spots, the clip has as much to do with odor protection as it does with copper smelting or trees.
So maybe we should just applaud Old Spice for dispensing with the pretense of product-plugging and choosing instead to pursue young, non-brand-allied males with the relentlessness of a T-800. There's something honest and refreshing about that. "Buy us because you like us" is underrated as the cornerstone of a marketing philosophy. Does it actually work? Here's hoping.