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What Radio can learn from the Old Spice Man

Unless you broadcast from a cave, you are familiar with the Internet phenomenon that is the Old Spice Man.

Tweets from regular consumers (and not so regular consumers) were answered in what simulated real-time.  And they were answered with clever, deadpan responses and on video.

These were, of course, ads for an Old Spice product.  But while the campaign originated with an old school TV spot, it has evolved into something else altogether.  Something else that interacts directly with would-be consumers. And that something else has exploded online with millions of views or, what we call in radio, “impressions.”

But are these just any kind of impressions?  No, they are not.  And the consequences for folks in the “impressions” business are clear.

1. The concept is creative and original.  It’s not brain surgery but it illustrates both effort and preparation. It is not a slapdash narrative description of benefits and features with a phone number repeated four times

2. Social media figures into the creative process from the beginning.  It’s not an afterthought. Nor is it simply a destination for product-oriented tweets and posts.  This is not about Old Spice hosting a Facebook fan page or Twitter feed. That stuff is child’s play.

3. The video responses are personalized – they play to your ego. In radio, much emphasis is placed on cash contests, but cash is not the currency that matters most online – relevance and personalization are.  Social media is performance art, and interacting with these videos – potentially getting your own personalized response – is a performance challenge.  Play to my ego, not my pocketbook.  As one analyst wrote, the “content is created for, and curated from, the conversational tumult of the web.”

4. At their origin, these videos were prepared in real time. They were dynamic responses to dynamic inquiries.  They were not passive messages directed toward even more passive consumers.  We need to recognize that “engagement” is defined by the user, not by you and me.

5. The content is episodic. It’s not one message repeated a zillion times.  It’s a series of messages, some in sequence, repeated as many times as you click on them.

The bad news hidden in the headlines, however, is this: Sales for the product advertised by the Old Spice Guy are actually down.  So does that mean this approach is a failure?  No.  Not even if the campaign is a failure.

Most likely, the product is lost in the promotion – a problem of headline-seeking ad agencies ever since Don Draper enjoyed his first three-martini lunch.  Take the right message, the right product answering the right need, take it to the right audience, and take it to them on their terms.

Just don’t throw out the baby with Old Spice’s bath water.

Especially if the baby is wearing a towel.

(If you want the whole backstory on how the Old Spice videos are made, check this out).

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