The Old Spice ads, starring former NFL wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa as The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, might just have been the most popular viral ad campaign ever created. The original ad has picked up over 15 million views on YouTube, the follow-up just over 11 million, and according to Visible Measures, a firm that tracks the popularity of online video, the real-time responses generated almost 6 million views in 24 hours, beating even President Obama’s victory speech, President Bush’s shoe-dodging, and Susan Boyle’s singing. The staff at ad agency Wieden + Kennedy have set a standard and a model that other social media marketers — large and small — will try to follow. Most will come up short, but the ads contain a number of key ingredients that can be incorporated into even the most budget-conscious of viral ads.
That might not be apparent in the original ad which began with Isaiah standing in a bathroom, showed him on a boat and ended with him sitting on a horse, all apparently in one take. In an interview, Craig Allen and Eric Kallman of Wieden + Kennedy, explain how that ad took three days to shoot. The bathroom was placed on a set and hoisted away by a crane, and a specially-constructed dolly moved Isaiah invisibly from the ship onto the horse as he talked to the camera. CGI was only used to turn a shell into diamonds and the diamonds into a bottle of Old Spice.
Seven Minutes for Every Video
The real-time responses too looked simple but a photograph of the studio on ReadWriteWeb shows just how complex the production was. There’s a team of staff, banks of monitors (apparently showing Twitter), a teleprompter and a host of professional gear beyond the budgets of most one-man businesses. Two social media experts were tracking responses, and a technical expert had built a workflow that identified the best questions, passed them onto the copywriters and allowed the film to be edited and uploaded quickly. The 180-odd videos that the team produced took an average of about seven minutes each to create, something that could only have been done with a super-efficient and well-prepared team.
Wieden + Kennedy haven’t spoken about the workflow they created, but that’s something that could have been done without too much expertise. Dashboards like Hootsuite allow multiple users to manage one Twitter account, broadcast messages across social media platforms and monitor mentions. Old Spice’s Twitter timeline consists mostly of short sentences and links to YouTube, rather than interactions with other twitterers, and tracking the comments on YouTube and Facebook could even have been done with manual refreshes rather than an API.
What was most impressive about the response videos though was the speed and number of films that the team created, and the variety of social media sites — from Reddit to 4Chan — that they interacted with. Again, that wouldn’t have been something that required great technical skills but it did require a breadth of social media knowledge that few people possess.
And that knowledge was deep as well as wide. Talking to ReadWriteWeb, Iain Tait, Global Interactive Creative Director at Wieden, explained how his team chose the messages they responded to and what they did with them:
We’re looking at who’s written those comments, what their influence is and what comments have the most potential for helping us create new content. The social media guys and script writers are collaborating to make that call in real time. We have people shooting and we’re editing it as it happens. Then the social media guys are looking at how to get that back out around the web…in real time.
So a number of factors were going being considered as the replies came in, including not just how the scriptwriters might answer the questions but the “influence” of the commenter, something that would have been measured by the number of followers they have, the number of messages they receive or the size of their YouTube audience. It explains why so many of the videos were addressed to celebrities with large followings like Demi Moore and Alyssa Milano, whose interactions alerted other people on the Web to the ads and helped to spread the message.
Getting the Content Right
The technical side then is simple enough to replicate. A smaller budget — or no budget at all — might mean fewer videos shot in a day, a longer turnaround, less engagement with smaller social media sites, and clips that are less slick than Old Spice’s but the mechanics of tracking responses and choosing replies to questioners with the greatest influence is straightforward enough. To make your own ads, you wouldn’t need more than the following equipment:
- 1 Charming actor
- 1 Witty scriptwriter
- 1 Efficient director
- 1 Social media expert
- 1 Video camera and lighting equipment
- 1 Editing suite
- 3 Computers (one each for video editing/uploading, social media monitoring, and scriptwriting)
- 1 Hootsuite (or Brizzly) account
- 1 Tabbed browser open to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and any other social media site you intend to engage.
Much harder to get right is the replies themselves. Although they’re selling a man’s product, the ads are aimed at both men and women. Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Old Spice, knew their market and they knew that while men use Old Spice, it’s women who buy it for them. Throughout the ads Isaiah Mustafa refers to products that smell like lavender and daffodils as the competition, communicating to men that Old Spice is a product for them, while telling women that if they buy Old Spice, their boyfriends would at least smell like the star of the ads even if they can’t look like him.
To engage with that audience though, they needed to get the character right, and even Wieden + Kennedy had got that one wrong in the past. Other Old Spice ads, starring Terry Crews, went heavy on an attempt to include power in the brand but lighter on the irony. They were creative enough to win some popularity but didn’t do as well as Isaiah Mustafa’s self-awareness and self-parody.
But it wasn’t just that these Old Spice ads were absurdly funny, they also fitted the product’s notion of manliness, sophistication and confidence. They took an essential part of the brand and satirized it, allowing the audience to feel clever enough to see beyond the marketing message while still absorbing that message.
To make your own Old Spice ads then, you’ll need first to create an ad with a character that users show they like — and you might need to create more than one ad before you hit on the right one. You’ll need to set up monitoring systems across social media sites so that you can gather responses and choose the responders with the most influence. You’ll need to have a studio — however makeshift — ready to film the replies, edit them and upload them. And most importantly, you’ll need to have a really witty scriptwriter who can mock your product without damaging the brand.
If you can get all those together, then you too can make your own Old Spice ads.