He was "the man your man could smell like." We looked away from him and were suddenly transported onto a majestic ocean liner. An outstretched hand offered us "two tickets to that thing you love," shortly before the tickets magically dissolved into diamonds. Then he was on a horse. Really.
This crazy-yet-crisp introduction to one of the most popular viral ad campaigns in history, which aired for the first time during last year's Super Bowl showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, sparked an Internet phenomenon, reaching more people than Procter & Gamble (Old Spice's parent company) could have possibly fathomed. The ad amassed 220,000 YouTube views in the few short hours after the Super Bowl, and the video continually gained about 100,000 views every few hours. Even comments on sites like 4Chan and YouTube were overwhelmingly positive. The video had gone officially viral.
Months later, when the campaign had seemingly hit its high point, marketing agency Wieden & Kennedy dreamt up one of the most memorable social media campaigns to-date: A two-day marathon of high-quality, personalized video responses to questions asked by fans on Twitter and YouTube—set up, shot, and published online in Mustafa's own bathroom.
Produced by a small team of four writers, a camera crew, and one shirtless actor, each video response maintained the humor level. Some of the best videos featured the Old Spice Guy beating a pirate piñata with an oversized fish, helping a guy propose to his girlfriend, and flirting voraciously with actress Alyssa Milano. In 48 hours, Old Spice earned nearly 11 million video views, and gained about 29,000 new Facebook fans and 58,000 new Twitter followers.
This year, Wieden + Kennedy took its campaign further by introducing a rival for The Old Spice Guy: former male supermodel Fabio. The two Old Spice titans clashed in Old Spice's Mano a Mano En El Baño, a YouTube event held on July 26, where both men submitted responses to the same posts on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and viewers could vote for their favorite Old Spice Guy response. The epic conclusion to the YouTube duel featured time travel, multiple Fabios, and intergalactic balloons.
The Old Spice Guy campaign has set the bar for how other companies and agencies can approach viral advertising, by focusing on the fans first. Old Spice has struck a perfect balance of content and advertising, but the fact of the matter is, other companies can, too. We caught up with a couple of writers behind the Old Spice campaigns and delineated their keys to success.
1. Put the focus on short, snappy video content.
A recent online video study shows that 82 percent of Internet users watch online video at an average of 5.6 hours a week. And if you have a video that wants to be seen, the best possible platform, according to comScore, is YouTube.
"It's generally a good idea to keep things short on YouTube," says Jason Bagley, creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, and a writer for the campaign. "People don't generally want to sit through long things."
The vast majority of Old Spice's videos average at slightly less than a minute per video. Unless they're inspiration- or premise-driven videos, most ads and promotions uploaded to YouTube should hit this sweet spot between a minute and 90 seconds.
"When you're putting [videos] on [YouTube], you're competing against every other YouTube video," says Craig Allen, another creator director at Wieden + Kennedy. "It's not like there's a special category for commericals."
Old Spice shot short clips out of necessity. The crew was given an average of seven minutes to find posts, and write and shoot responses in one or two takes.
"When we're doing one of these interactive experiences, we're writing them so fast and shooting them on the spot, so they just naturally come out short," Bagley says.
While most companies' marketing campaigns won't involve two-day filming marathons, having the luxury of added time shouldn't mean longer videos; keep it short, keep it simple. If the marketing campaign doesn't involve video—not sure why not, in this day and age—the ad should still be succinct and concise. Shorter ads are easier to follow, digest, and on the development side, create.
2. Pump out the content.
The old saying, "Never put all your eggs in one basket," certainly applies to marketing. Old Spice heeded this advice during its video response-heavy social media campaigns.
"[The approach is] definitely quantity over quality," Allen says. "We try to make the best things we can, and we'll get it as great as we can, but then we say, OK, next one. It's more about pumping out so many videos than it is about getting five that are absolutely perfect."
If you create quality content, chances are that people will want more. After all, more content for fans to consume means happier fans. Old Spice attacked this idea by producing as many commercial-quality video responses as possible. From Mustafa in a towel to all of the wacky props, every video response certainly felt like Old Spice went out of its way to film a commercial just for that one fan.
"Whenever a brand can give back—to give to the consumers more than it asks of them, in terms of entertainment and value—people are going to have a better feeling about that brand," Bagley says. "I think any brand can do that. At Old Spice, we always try to provide more in terms of entertainment and surprise and enjoyment to build that equity with the consumer."
3. Keep fans engaged.
Most companies engage their fans once the product is made and ready to market, but Old Spice went a step further by actually letting its fans influence every video. Fans become fanatics when their favorite brands go out of their way to invite the audiences in on the fun.
"We wanted consumers to have a chance to help incorporate some of the challenges within that story too, so some of the comments we were looking for were interesting things that we could play off each character," Bagley says.
Wieden + Kennedy knew that a successful campaign couldn't be run by the company alone; the fans were the oil to make it work and function properly. By allowing fans to drive the content within their YouTube videos, Wieden + Kennedy had an endless supply of material to Old Spice Guy-ify.
"We were creating and sending miniature TV commercials back to individual consumers that were personalized, and we were doing it on a rapid-fire basis," Bagley says. "No one expects to ask a question and then be responded to. I think that's where we broke through."
In the Old Spice Guy vs. New Old Spice Guy Fabio campaign, the creative team even let fans control the outcome of the most important part of the story: the ending.
"Just like the rest of the story, we actually took the ending from a Twitter comment from one of the fans. One of the fans suggested that Isaiah should just go back in time and talk Fabio out of doing this, so that inspired the ending," Bagley says.
4. Market everywhere at once.
"We did six to seven TV spots [with Fabio], we let those roll out with a print campaign, and then started doing some other videos with him," Allen says. "The idea was, 'Let's just put it out there. Everywhere.'"
If there's any company that effectively executes the idea of blitzkrieg marketing, it's Old Spice. When the company introduced New Old Spice Guy Fabio, Wieden + Kennedy posted simultaneous ads on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and several other sites all at once. The strategy? Get people talking.
"We worked really closely with [senior digital strategist] Dean [McBeth] and the media team to make sure that we're putting these [ads] in places that people would definitely see what's going on. We ran it heavily on TV, on the YouTube masthead, we did everything we could," Allen says. "We saw an immediate response of people: 'Why is this happening?' 'I don't like it.' 'I think it's cool.' People [were] fighting back and forth before we even started our actual interactive campaign."
Consider all of the channels for advertising, too. Having several ads across many different networks is the best way to attract as many fans as possible to your cause. By marketing all at once, the hope is that the multiple discussions on each network converge to create one giant conversation.
"The key is interacting with consumers and building a relationship that's not just putting out a TV spot every once in awhile and hoping that works," Bagley says. "At least from a creative point of view, it's much more fun to be able to play in these new mediums and keep the conversation going."
5. Trust your marketing team.
Seriously. Not every company can be as brave as Procter & Gamble. The fact is, the company took an enormous chance with Wieden + Kennedy, since the campaign's success was completely contingent upon how audiences would respond to the fast and absurd humor.
"Obviously we got the scripts and the executions approved by [Old Spice] ahead of time, but when it comes to the YouTube videos, there isn't time for an approval process," Bagley says. "With that, we just have a whole lot of mutual trust."
Often times, companies and owners will want to micromanage such important projects as marketing campaigns. Old Spice was able to balance careful monitoring with free reign, but in general, it's best for companies to let the creative departments do their thing. This way, the advertisement won't be confused by over-editing or muddled by too many voices.
"We had to make [more than] 168 videos in two days, there would've been absolutely no way to have a client approval process," Bagley says.
The client company should always watch and grade the final product before releasing it to the market, but if you want to rapidly produce content like Old Spice, you have to give your creative team have a little more of a leash to play with, and simply play the "support" role. Having the level of trust Old Spice has isn't easy to achieve, but it pays dividends.