History of advertising: No 191: Old Spice's 'Smell like a man, man' campaign

If there was a defining moment when advertisers started to get a proper handle on social media marketing, it was when an ex-American football star called Isaiah Mustafa was drafted in to save Old Spice from oblivion.

History of advertising: No 191: Old Spice's 'Smell like a man, man' campaign

Promising women he was "the man your man could smell like", the towelclad hunk fronted what would go on to be hailed as one of the most popularever viral campaigns.

The campaign was so different from much of the formulaic work that prevailed at the time and helped convince other mainstream advertisers that they needed to push the boundaries if they were going to connect with a younger generation of consumer who had become desensitised to the effects of traditional marketing.

What made its success all the more astonishing was that the campaign was for Old Spice, a neglected Procter & Gamble brand that had lost ground to more hip rivals such as Axe and whose very name seemed to underline how outdated it had become.

Appointed in 2006 to transform Old Spice’s fortunes, Wieden & Kennedy vowed to turn the brand’s weakness into its strength. With a 70-year heritage, surely the brand could not be better positioned to be an expert on masculinity, it reasoned.

Moreover, it discovered that women were responsible for more than 50% of bodywash purchases – an insight that defined the strategy of the first ad that debuted during the Super Bowl on 8 February 2010. W&K quickly followed up with an interactive digital campaign capitalising on the popularity of the "Old Spice Guy" in which he responded to personal video messages from his fans.

Its success went beyond the wildest dreams of agency and client with 5.9 million YouTube views on the first day alone. By the end of 2010, Old Spice had become the leading bodywash brand for US men with sales up 125%.

Things you need to know

  • The Old Spice commercial scooped the Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix in 2010. Mark Tutssel, the jury president, described it as "the perfect film".
  • More people viewed the "response" videos on the first day they ran than watched President Obama’s 2008 election-night acceptance speech.
  • Within a week of the campaign’s launch, Twitter followers of Old Spice increased by 2,700%. The number of Facebook fans rose ninefold.