Opinion: Man, This Man Can Sell

Look away from the man your man could smell like. Look instead at Old Spice’s Facebook page, where his ad has gotten more than 7,000 comments (and 13,000 or so “likes”). Look again, at YouTube, where it’s been viewed more than 3 million times.

The commercial features the shirtless, magnetic presence of actor Isaiah Mustafa, a former NFL wide receiver who goes big — very big — here. “Hello, ladies,” he thunders. “Look at your man. Now back at me. Now back at your man. Now back to me.”

There’s something infectious about taking crackpot orders (“Look down. Back up. Where are you? You’re on a boat”) from an over-the-top, half-naked dude who tells you how your man should smell.

Viewers seem to agree, as the Wieden + Kennedy spot has become a genuine viral media phenom in just a few weeks.

The humor is unexpected and random. (It ends with Mustafa saying, redundantly, “I’m on a horse.”) And it’s spawned parodies and consumer-generated videos. The best one was made by Emily and Matt, two middle-aged folksters who sing the copy, word for word, to the tune of John Denver’s “You Fill Up My Senses” while accompanying themselves on guitar.

It’s also fueled discussions on TV and radio talk shows. Internet tech guru Leo Laporte did a segment in which he mispronounced the agency’s name (as “Weeden”) and claimed to have seen the spot on the Super Bowl. (It wasn’t.) He was also so sure the whole thing must have been done with CGI that he bet $100 on it. (It wasn’t.)

One tiny bit was computer generated — when the product pops up in the man’s hand. But the rest — the magnificent sweep from shower to boat to horse — was all done in one camera take by director Tom Kuntz of MJZ.

And though it didn’t air on the Super Bowl, some sly media doings made it seem like it did. The ad broke the day after the Super Bowl. It aired on American Idol, the Olympics and Lost. And the agency bought some keywords on search sites to attract people who, in the Super Bowl afterglow, were looking online for funny commercials.

The spot also hit cinemas on Valentine’s Day weekend, playing before Valentine’s Day the movie and Avatar.

Still, lots of big-budget TV ads appear on major shows and in theaters and fail to develop any Internet following at all. And given the explosion in personal-care categories for men, this kind of man-humor (the tagline is “Smell like a man, man”) isn’t exactly unique in advertising these days.

So, what makes this spot so darn special?

For starters, it’s the brilliant comic writing, bizarro acting and “How did they do that?” factor (using many cranes, actually). There’s something in it for everyone.

Another difference is that it’s aimed at men and women who watch TV and movies together, and was deliberately written to appeal to women. The backstory for the category is that men who move away from bar soap to body wash do so mostly by trying out their girlfriend’s stuff in the shower. Hence the dude-smells-like-a-lady theme resonates for both guys and girls.

Also, because this is body wash and not the original Old Spice aftershave, youngish men (25-49) can use it without fear of knocking people out with eau de Grandpa.

At the same time, the spot riffs on the brand’s nautical heritage (the packaging has always featured ships) with the move to the boat, where, in one of the funniest bits, a striped sweater drops down from nowhere on to our man’s fine-smelling shoulders. There’s also the signature whistle at the end.

But the bottom line is that knockout of a monologue: “Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back at your man. Now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped using lady-scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me.” And so on.

It sounds like the patter of an old-school magician from the vaudeville days, when endless verbal distractions (“Look up, look back, nothing up my sleeve”) were what diverted the audience’s attention, so rabbits could indeed be pulled through hats.

With this spot, Wieden has performed some magic of its own. A TV spot that becomes a huge stinking Internet success? Smells like 360 to me.