Isaiah Mustafa, the buff, bare-chested Old Spice guy in the shower, may be the man of the moment. But it was Bruce Campbell, the B-list cult movie actor, whose droll humor introduced the world to the 73-year-old Procter & Gamble brand's cheeky new attitude in Wieden + Kennedy's "Experience is everything" campaign back in 2007.
Rather than throw out all the old, Wieden embraced the heritage of the brand, including its seafaring theme, but gave it an ironic twist to repackage it for the modern young man who might remember Dad's cologne and appreciates a satirical take on that ancient history. The Portland, Ore., agency, which won creative and media duties on the brand in 2006, kept the cursive script logo, the clipper ship from the fragrance bottle and the whistle from the jingle.
Campbell was the first of many Old Spice men. Tony Stewart did "Armpit Marketing." Will Farrell sported Old Spice in a 12-spot series as his Jackie Moon character in a cross-promotion with the movie Semi-Pro. As a former TV doctor, Neil Patrick Harris recommended Pro-Strength antiperspirant. And LL Cool J found his cool with Old Spice Swagger.
"We kept turning up the dial, the satire and the ridiculousness of the category advertising," says Jason Bagley, creative director at Wieden. "There has always been a strong sense of over-the-top masculinity. We stayed on the same general path, but continually turned the dial up."
In 2010, the brand decided to talk to both men and women, a strategic direction that led to Mustafa's "Smell like a man, man" campaign, which by mid-July had become a pop-culture sensation, with videos from the series accounting for eight of the top 11 most-popular videos on YouTube.
Eric Kallman and Craig Allen created the Old Spice superman and cast Mustafa, the former NFL player with a smooth chest and washboard abs, to tout a range of body-wash products with the wink-wink of a man every man wants to be and every woman wants. "He has just the right mix of confidence, over-the-top bravado, but doesn't take himself so seriously," says Bagley.
The charming arrogance squarely hit the 12- to 34-year-old market with a spot that broke the day after the Super Bowl and went on to win a Grand Prix at Cannes in the Film category , in which Mustafa spoke to women straight from the shower and uttered his now famous non sequitur, "I'm on a horse." The spot suggested women stock up on some manly shower stuff for their guys and reap the rewards.
"We had been talking to guys for 70 years," says James Moorhead, brand manager of Old Spice. "This campaign took a slightly different twist. We wanted to start a dialogue between men and women and boyfriends and girlfriends."
Wieden then created a real-time social-media bonanza  during the week of July 12, which had Mustafa responding to questions from Twitter and blog commentary with personalized videos that after an exhaustive three-day production ended with a collection of 186 custom messages.
The response videos, which included messages to celebrities such as Alyssa Milano and even included a marriage proposal, have received more than 40 million total views. The brand's YouTube channel has received more than 94 million views and boasts more than 120,000 subscribers.
The four main Mustafa commercials that have run since February have been watched more than 30 million times on YouTube. Old Spice now has more than 90,000 Twitter followers and more than 675,000 Facebook fans, with fan interaction climbing 800 percent, according to P&G, in the week following the real-time push.
"It's a record-breaking campaign for social media," says Matt Cutler, CMO of Visible Measures, which estimates total brand Web views to have exceeded 110 million. "It's by far the largest we've seen. It's not just approaching but surpassing the reach of traditional broadcast."
Moorhead says the campaign has received more than 1 billion media impressions. But has all the talk and online traffic translated to sales?
According to Nielsen data provided by Old Spice, overall sales for Old Spice body-wash products are up 11 percent in the last 12 months; up 27 percent in the last six months; up 55 percent in the last three months; and in the last month, with two new TV spots and the online response videos, up a whopping 107 percent. "Our business is on fire," Moorhead says. "We've seen strong results over all of our portfolio. That is the reward for the great work." (See also: "OId Spice Campaign Smells Like a Sales Success, Too." )
Data supplied by consultant Sanford C. Bernstein also show substantial lift for the Red Zone product itself, with sales in the four weeks to July 10 up 29 percent over the level in the four weeks to Feb. 20.
The agency team won't say what's next for Old Spice and Mustafa, other than they are working on another "unrelated" campaign for the brand. "You just have to keep pushing yourself to innovate," says Bagley.
See also: The Top Film Winners From Cannes 2010