Old Spice Ran a Baffling Ad, Entirely in French, on the Grammys. This Subtitled Version Explains All

Brand director Janine Miletic tells us about the bold move

Old Spice
Headshot of Tim Nudd

If you were watching the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, you saw an Old Spice ad that was very weird indeed, even for the notoriously quirky Procter & Gamble brand.

The 60-second spot was entirely in French, and there were no subtitles. This made the plot very cryptic for non-French speakers.

All we could tell was that a woman, after sniffing a red-sweatered man holding Captain body wash (part of the brand’s new Red Collection), suddenly became distraught and wandered around a picturesque seaside town yelling “Old Spice!” All her friends joined her in a desperate chorus, before she finally reconnected with Red Sweater guy and all seemed to be well again.

“We make scents for men,” said the onscreen copy.

The ad didn’t make sense, though. Luckily, we have the subtitled version below, which explains what was happening. And the story line turns out to be even more absurd than you might have imagined.

Even if you didn’t see the version that aired on the Grammy’s, you can imagine how confounding it was. (The subtitled version hit Old Spice’s social channels right after the TV spot aired, but the brand has no plans to post the one without subtitles online, preferring to keep it mysterious—if you saw it on Grammys, you experienced a fun and disorienting minute of weirdness that others won’t.)

It is, of course, a very bold move to use a pricey 60 seconds on a major award-show broadcast to tell a story most of your viewing audience won’t understand. But Old Spice was up for the stunt, from agency Wieden + Kennedy, hoping it would generate lots of curiosity and chatter on social media. (It also surely helped calm nerves that the brand name is uttered over and over in the spot.)

“It felt like the right time to do something bold and different for the brand,” Janine Miletic, Old Spice brand director at P&G, told us late last week. “When we first explored the idea for ‘Red Sweater,’ it was clearly the kind of spot that needed a moment like the Grammy Awards. We wanted to show up in a really unexpected way on a night when there’s already a lot of built-in conversation on social media channels.”

The spot was in French because it’s a parody of fancy fragrance ads.

“We have some of the world’s most renowned perfumers on our team, as evidenced by the new Red Collection,” says Miletic. “Old Spice is poking fun at some tropes found in cologne ads and shattering the belief that premium scents only come in fancy bottles with fancy price tags from fancy fragrance houses in France.”

"For this particular idea, it needed a communal moment where we knew a lot of people would be watching together."
—Janine Miletic, Old Spice brand director at P&G

Old Spice is using social, search and other targeted media to make the subtitled version easy to find. Miletic admits those viewers who only see the Grammys version, and never see the subtitled version, “might miss some of the humor … but we think the introduction of our Captain hero and brand come through clearly.”

This is Old Spice’s first-ever commercial on the Grammys, and it made sense to have a splashy debut.

“In general, we’re always trying to create culture rather than follow,” says Miletic. “For this particular idea, it needed a communal moment where we knew a lot of people would be watching together, so we could insert ourselves in the most unusual way possible.”

It’s also different for Old Spice to focus on a female protagonist—so much of its advertising from the past decade has starred “Old Spice guys,” from Isaiah Mustafa to Terry Crews.

“We love that this ad comes from the point of view of a woman,” Miletic says. “We know that women play a huge role in our brand and in the lives of the men who use our products, so we wanted to have an ad that women could respond well to in addition to men.”

Old Spice says a second spot in the campaign, “Marco Love-O,” launches next month—raising the possibility that it might be a Super Bowl ad. But the brand won’t confirm that one way or another.

“We could tell you, but only in French,” Miletic jokes. “Let’s just say that we are definitely not done having fun in this fancy fragrance world.

Old Spice usually prefers to advertise around the Super Bowl, rather than on it. Many people mistakenly believe that “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” aired on the Super Bowl in 2010, but in fact, while it broke on TV the same weekend, it wasn’t on the game.

The brand did air a Super Bowl ad in 2013, but only in Juneau, Alaska, for its Wolfthorn and Hawkridge scents. Last year, it broke the “Don’t Smell Yourself Short” campaign on YouTube right before the Super Bowl, targeting its core demographic of young men who are always multiscreening with TV and their smartphones.

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.