The Old Spice brand has been pretty much untouchable this year. Their latest marketing offering – ‘the man your man could smell like’ – has to be one of the best US ad campaigns of 2010. It all started back in February with an ad featuring the former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa (written about here in an earlier post by Guy Grimsley). Chiselled torso on show, Mustafa explained to “ladies” how if only “your man” used Old Spice they would smell, look, feel, become as perfect as Mustafa himself.
It was an immediate cult sensation. Emmy-nominations soon followed. So too did a great little spin-off execution which saw the ad’s protagonist respond to questions posted on Twitter and Facebook with close to 200 different 30-second video clips. Today, 6 months down the line, you can even download personalised Old Spice answerphone messages. Needless to say, Isaiah Musatfa is Hollywood’s hottest new property.
It is exactly because of this success, because of the reverence with which Old Spice is held among its core target of early twenties blokes, that it is surprising to see the brand has had its fingers burnt over the last few weeks. The mini-uproar surrounds Old Spice’s involvement with another frat-pack American powerhouse brand: Madden. The American Football computer game is a national obsession, giving gamers ultimate control over tactics, training, transfers: in short, it’s the closest you’ll get to the real thing.
Last month it was leaked that the latest version of Madden, to be released this summer, would include a new Old Spice sponsored feature giving every player a ‘Swagger’ rating. This rating will have little bearing on the actual game play, baring the fact that a player with high ‘Swagger’ is more likely to celebrate elaborately having scored a touchdown. The news was greeted with incredulity and anger by fans who protested that the new rating was pointless and simply added up to some bare-faced marketing opportunism from Old Spice.
The incident is a minor one, of course; the uproar will soon die down leaving Old Spice largely unscathed. What is fascinating, however, is the two marketing truths the episode has exposed, or rather reinforced. The first point, while obvious, is worth restating: don’t make the lazy assumption that just because another brand has the same broad target consumer as you it can be leveraged to reinforce your own offering. Slapping the Old Spice logo somewhere in a Madden game won’t inherently reinforce Old Spice’s standing among twenty-something ‘wanabe manly-men’. Secondly, and just as telling: consumers are savvy, all the savvier in a time when scepticism and disillusionment with big business is at record levels in America. Old Spice’s ‘Swagger’ gimmick bought with it no benefit. The ‘rating’ did not change game play. It just gave Old Spice an excuse to be seen in Madden. To consumers it was a con, a swizz, and has been exposed as such on the blogosphere.
Old Spice remains one of 2010’s marketing success stories. What this internet-driven saga has shown is even the hottest brands can get it wrong – if they show a little too much Swagger.