Not your usual perma-scruff ad dude, this 20s-to-30s-ish character is neatly shaved and coiffed, wearing a crisp shirt, pleated pants and semi-status-symbol watch. He stands in his orderly, yuppie-ish kitchen with its proud, top-of-the-line glass cabinets. And the man is smelling something. Nose in the refrigerator, he goes for the old Chinese-takeout container, sniffs it and tosses. He sees a hunk of cheese: same thing—it's history. Ditto for that iffy stuff in the Tupperware. Now every item in the fridge is scrutinized—duly whiffed and thrown out at increasing speed—until the guy's trash can is overflowing and the fridge is empty. But he's still peering in, bent on finding the offender.
"For a deodorant/anti-perspirant that won't fail you," says the announcer, "switch to Mitchum. Strongest ingredients. Maximum protection."
What a delightful, category-defying move. (Though many ads these days are set in kitchens, with men making journeys into the refrigerator. That interior white space seems to be the latest American frontier and a new battleground between husbands and wives.) For the clueless sniffer in the spotlight, this is the ultimate existential moment. He is in the kitchen alone, and there's no one else to take the heat. He must come to terms with his body's ripeness (pew!): le stench, c'est moi.
Such simple visual but absurdist spots are profoundly different from the rest of the category work aimed at men, which usually goes for jokey jocks and celebs. (Then there's always the extremely corny but durable dual appeal of, "Raise your hand if you're Sure.") It's doubly surprising that the work is for Mitchum, which hasn't advertised in a big way in almost a decade but by name alone still exudes a sort of premium Old Spice, extremely manly-man-with-chest-hair sort of aroma.
The last memorable Mitchum spot was in the early '90s, when the brand promoted a women's version with a flight-attendant-type gal approaching a plane with confidence, given that she has the right deodorant. Here's the kicker: She turns out to be the pilot. That switch earned kudos from the industry, which was still working the attempted feminist, I-am-superwoman-and-can-use-my-shoulder-pad-as-a-flotation-device angle.
By contrast, in the really old days, advertisers played off the opposite of confidence—the anxiety of public shame, the problems at work, the whispers of friends and family—to promote better hygiene habits. "B.O.," an expression very big in my fifth grade class, was a term invented to sell Lifebuoy soap. Likewise, Listerine's ad agency came up with the faux medical condition "halitosis." The same neurosis-inducing thinking went into the mouthwash's famous line, "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."
Light years away from that, this work has no product demos, makes no real claims and exists only in the odiferous moment, rather than showing a before and after.
In a second spot, a man sits in a soap-opera-perfect bedroom, dandling a baby, who is crying. He holds the baby at arm's length, and the crying stops. He pulls the baby closer, and screams start again. Back and forth, back and forth, the baby cries every time he gets close to the furtively aromatic dad. We then hear the same voiceover about a deodorant/anti-perspirant that won't fail you. Al though babies probably love a strongly identifiable odor in reality, the spot is wonderfully executed and funny.
There are two 15-second spots. The weaker one shows a guy on an escalator, with a crowd of people a few steps ahead of him and another crowd a few steps behind him. (If only.) The other offers the ultimate switch: A passenger climbs into a taxi and seconds later, the driver jumps out.
Overall, the campaign is smart, surprising and, best of all, armpit-free. It comes at the problem-solution thing from some inspired, wordless parallel universe. The ultimate irony, though, is that this thoroughly modern and sophisticated approach will conjure up the same old neuroses about—sniff-sniff, is it me or the cauli flower?—whether we stink.