The Genius of Old Spice Ads (Watch Video)

I can watch that Old Spice commercial from the Super Bowl over and over and over. It never gets old for me. In fact, watching it will cheer me up if I’m having a crappy day. No other commercial that I can remember blends all that craziness together and comes out with a clean product on the other side (except maybe that Ikea commercial from way back when).


But more to the point: has there ever been an ad campaign as perfectly crafted for its demographic as Old Spice’s? In keeping with my propensity for excessive hyperbole, I’m going with “no.”

Let’s review: what does Old Spice sell? Deodorant and body wash. Who is most in need of deodorant and body wash? Late-teenage/early-twentysomething year old guys. The Super Bowl commercial features a smooth-talking, muscular, vaguely chauvinistic (“it’s an oyster with two tickets to that thing you love!”) ladies’ man that seems to be implying that using Old Spice is the best way to get laid. Who’s most likely looking for the quickest, easiest way to get laid? Well, everyone, but especially late-teenage/early-twentysomething year old guys.

And – and here’s the kicker – as far as the ads are concerned, your very manhood depends on whether or not you lather yourself up in Old Spice every time you take a shower. That commercial is directed at women if you look at it literally, but it knows that men are going to be the ones watching it. The idea is: you, the man, buy the Old Spice before it hits your girlfriend that you smell like a pansy. You ferment in Swagger or Odor-Blocking Body Wash for a day, erase the smell of Tresseme or Olay or whatever you used beforehand. The next time your woman sees you and catches a whiff of your new aroma? WHOOSH! Off come the pants. Because now that you smell like a true man, you’re a man…man.

Now, I like to think of myself as a pretty level-headed guy when it comes to advertising; the only ad campaign that can consistently play me like a fiddle is Apple’s. But, Lord help me, every time I see an Old Spice commercial, even those vaguely horrifying new ones with Terry Crews, this little voice in my head perks up and tells me to stock up on Old Spice deodorant. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except Old Spice deodorant gives me a rash so bad I literally have to walk around like the Tasmanian Devil when I wear it.

Not that I’m the parameter for the entire population. Just because some commercial makes me want to buy a product I don’t like doesn’t mean everyone else has the same problem, maybe I’m just a sucker.

But, at the same time, I can’t help but think that this is still the best campaign out there right now. I’m an early twentysomething year old guy. I want girls to think I smell nice, and if it makes romancing the ladies easier for me, I’m certainly going to use all the help I can get. And, yes: I need a steady supply of deodorant. I’m 200 pounds, what do you expect? It’s a lot of weight to be hauling around every day. I just don’t need a steady supply of Old Spice, since it causes me pain to use the product. I’m gonna maintain that any ad campaign that can sell the product to someone who literally can’t use it (remember the rash) is doing something right.

But the title of this column said “Greatest Ad Campaign Ever,” which brings me to the final piece of the puzzle. The commercials are actually good. The production values are pretty fantastic, the spots are consistently funny, and the Old Spice folks usually nab some pretty big names to shill their stuff. Will Ferrell showed up in character as Jackie Moon from Semi-Pro, Neil Patrick Harris appeared as himself, and, most memorably, Bruce Campbell as a Hef-ian playboy who plucked out “Hungry Like the Wolf” on a piano, surrounded by a concubine of skimpily dressed ladies.

Will Ferrell and Neil Patrick Harris starred in Anchorman and Harold and Kumar, two movies that any and every man has memorized by the time they hit college. These are bro icons here, a twentysomething dude sees them selling a product, they’re probably gonna perk up at the commercial a bit just because. And even if none of them are in the Evil Dead cult, seeing Campbell surrounded by women can easily plant the idea in a college kid’s head that hey, maybe this Old Spice stuff will get me laid. Especially if he’s had a few; you’d be surprised the effect a commercial can have on a drunk college kid.

So: target audience, check. Proper language to communicate with said audience? Check.

There have been other good ad campaigns. There have been great ones. But Old Spice, the more that I think about it, is the best. They know how to reach us, but it’s more than that: they understand us, how we think, what we want, and the ways our brains rationalize how we go about getting it.

In this case, it’s simple: do what we say and you will become a man, but you can still gallivant around with women like a college kid. It’s a quick fix for kids on the verge of manhood. We’re scared. We want to have our cake and eat it too. With Old Spice, we can. Or at least that’s what the ads tell me. And like all good ad campaigns, they’re very, very convincing.

So screw Bob Dylan and his roads. Pass me the Swagger…man.


Follow Us