Is Old Spice’s ‘Mandroid’ a Sexist Ad Campaign or a Satire of Sexist Ads?

'The product as aphrodisiac' is one of marketing's oldest tropes

Headshot of David Griner

As Old Spice and agency Wieden + Kennedy continue to roll out ads featuring their chronically malfunctioning spokes-bot, it's hard to decide if they're succumbing to one of the most tired cliches in advertising or if they're skewering it. 

The gag, which competitor Axe spent years building its marketing around, is that using the brand's grooming products will make any man irresistible to women. Old Spice took the trope to its logical extreme, creating a mandroid who can score a hot date even when his face is falling off or he's crushing a woman's ribs with the weight of his industrial endoskeleton.

In the campaign's newest spot, the robot has made the mechanically unwise decision to lounge in a hot tub, surrounded by women so enraptured by his scent that they seem to have lost the common sense to leave a body of water that contains a sparking, error-spouting electrical device.

The campaign's ads definitely are good for a few laughs, but their portrayal of vapid women is also a departure for the brand.

A major factor in the success of Old Spice's already legendary "Man Your Man Could Smell Like" campaign was that it spoke directly to women ("Hello, ladies.") and recognized that they played a big role in household purchases like body wash and soap.

Later campaigns switched back to focusing on men, but they did so through oddly charming non sequiturs like a screaming Terry Crews or a watermelon shower basketball

But now, as it strives for a bigger slice of the lucrative male grooming category, Old Spice has dropped to the lowest common denominator: Use this product, and nothing else will matter. Women will hump you.

Turning women into mindless nymphomaniacs is the epitome of sexist advertising, but with one of the world's top agencies behind the campaign, one has to wonder if the whole thing is just a meta parody of how dumb most male-oriented advertising is. 

We asked Wieden + Kennedy whether it views the campaign as satire, though the shop deferred to the client:

"Much like all of our TV commercials, the new spots with the Old Spice robot illustrate the transformational powers of our products in the most ridiculous, over-the-top fashion," says Kate DiCarlo, Procter & Gamble's communications manager for Old Spice. "In this case, we were looking to bring to life the concept that when you use the combination of Old Spice body wash, deodorant and shampoo, the result is a manly, irresistible freshness from head to toes—regardless of your biological composition." 

In the end, it's hard to get upset about an ad campaign that's this knowingly, gloriously dumb. The gags are so well delivered and head-shakingly odd, they make other "this will make you hot" ads seem flacid by comparison.

And if that's not a definition for satirical advertising, what is? 

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."