Three Lessons About Marketing (Not Just Social Media) From Old Spice's Successful Social Media Program

Unless you're living under a rock, you know about  P&G’s success this week in turning its popular Old Spice Guy commercial into a true social media success story. There's a lot to be learned from this program about social media, but I think it says more about marketing than about social media. Leave it to a 71-year-old brand to show us how to do 21st century marketing!

Lesson One: Paid And Earned Integration:  As my friend and Forrester peer Sean Corcoran says, "no media stands alone."  Old Spice’s social media success started with what some think of being an old and tired medium -- television.  But TV isn’t going anywhere and paid media is no less relevant in the social media era than it was in the mass media era. As the Old Spice program shows, the key to making paid media work -- really work -- is to focus on how to make it more social.  

Lesson Two: Adaptive Marketing:  Today’s best marketing is adaptive marketing.  To quote another friend and former Forrester peer, Lisa Bradner, “Today's brand marketing organizations are ill equipped to handle the world of ‘always on’ marketing in the digital age. To remain relevant, marketing leaders will embrace Adaptive Brand Marketing.”  The Old Spice social program wasn’t an idea that was part of a one-year campaign planning process but instead was envisioned and executed in rapid fashion to respond to the success of the Old Spice character and commercials. 

Lesson Three: Control:  The final lesson from this successful program is the value of giving up some control.  This program couldn’t have happened had Procter & Gamble not ceded control to consumers and to a smart team of marketing professionals.  A typical ad takes months to plan and execute -- the content is carefully created, production values are high, and many edits are required prior to the campaign launch as different executives and committees weigh in.  Compare that to the way this Old Spice campaign worked.  Consumers were asked for their input, then a team of social media pros, marketers, writers, videographers, and (of course) actor Isaiah Mustafa were sequestered to produce more than 150 different video responses over the course of two days. 

The response has been terrific.  Social networks are buzzing, resharing has been very high, and the Old Spice YouTube channel now has 75 million total upload views.  And this effort shows evidence of going even more viral -- among the people to whom Isaiah Mustafa responded was Alyssa Milano, and she’s now uploaded her own video challenging Mustafa to make a $100,000 donation to support restoration in the Gulf. 

Old Spice has demonstrated that social media works, but what this program really makes clear is just how much marketing is changing. 


But is it selling product?

Augie - this topic came up on #Kaizenblog today -- @Note_to_CMO said that Old Spice sales are off 7% YoY after 6 months of the integrated campaign. But, maybe the interactive portion (the custom video replies on Twitter, etc.) will move the needle...

Does it have to sell product to be successful?


Old Spice Success?


Great point! In the end, we're complimenting the campaign for capturing attention and time, but whether or not it worked or not is another thing altogether.

My suggestion would be that it PROBABLY should sell product to be considered a success, but we can also measure other long-term measures of marketing sucess such as attitudes, awareness, purchase intent, association, etc.

And your point is an excellent one: We don't know if this moved the sales or brand needle... yet. The proof is in the pudding, and it ain't pudding yet. It certainly would make for an excellent social media headline if sales go up now after being off YoY, wouldn't it?

Integration...sales...attitudes...decision set

More than a couple of knowledgeable folks I follow are big integrated marketing folks. They believe that everything an organization does must be in service to its revenue. This is the old output-outtake-outcome chain. There are many important steps for the customer between awareness and purchase. Our hope, with everything, is to influence that decision. They need to be aware of us, understand us, feel a sense of connection to us and take action of some kind. Then we got em!

If this campaign changes the Old Spice dynamic from "Grandpa smells like that" to "studly guy smells like that" they won't have to worry. The question is, will the 92 million Millennials who haven't yet been wedded to product catch the Old Spice wave?

I'd love to see the brand tracking studies...

P.s., PR grapples with this issue all the time. We typically can't see the direct connection to revenue -- but (like in this case) typically marketing can't either. Now social media is getting a pass. . .

Absolutely right! Why ...

Absolutely right! Why ... because social media is only as good as it's INTEGRATION into a strategic, executable, and dynamic plan. (Usually this is a marketing plan, but not always.)

"Social Steve"

No surprise we agree!

Thanks Steve. I am glad (but not surprised) that we agree.

The Importance of Resonance

I suspect that the real "Old Spice" story will be about the importance of improvisation.

Some entities, like newspapers, have asked if they are wasting money by clinging to seemingly dated printing presses. We are starting to see that the most powerful executions of social media don't take place solely in the online milieu, but bounce between traditional media to online to the real world. Like Disney theme parks, brands will need to work within existing brand iconographies to determine the safe parameters for improvisation, then encourage their ambassadors to find safe ways to play within those boundaries.


The story of social media is never just about digital social media, is it? I agree--the true value of social media isn't (just) in how many fans or followers you have, but how you create resonance. Disney is an excellent example (and one of my personal favorites). The experience of Disney movies and theme parks created social media (Word of Mouth) decades before we used the term "social media!"

What's under the hood?

Love the post and comments. Cuz in the end, if you look under the hood of this campaign (or kilt? don't you wish he'd done something in a kilt?) the campaign is only as good as the products behind it. If I were Old Spice I would have made sure (or would be now) that my offering was poised to connect with the audience engaged by this campaign. What must it feel like to create all of this energy, awareness, and goodwill and – thud – see the sales chart look like the "before" pic in an e.d. study. With the right planning – and product, it's always product! – Old Spice could have hit the magic and delivered what they promised. Will this campaign look like a gimmick (albeit a delightful one) if the product, and thus sales, don't really happen?

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