One of the old rules of the Internet is that pageviews are currency. When trying to make money on the open Internet, money is scarce and thinly spread. The Internet is an attention economy with a huge glut of things to look at. Treating human attention as a resource is older than the Internet and has long been applied to advertising, but the Internet is the best medium to arise so far measure its effects. We can count pageviews. Chris Anderson’s book Free: The future of a radical price (NY Times review) is the biggest recent exploration of attention as currency on the Internet (as a side affect of the phenomenon of downward price pressure on idea goods). In my thesis at the U of O, I claimed that a good reputation gained by people enjoying free access to content (attention) enabled business models that could make people real money. (See section 4.8-4.9)
Advertising is the old school game of trying to get people to buy stuff by showing them free stuff. It evolved from a primarily informational medium to incorporate elements of entertainment, like character and story. Now the Old Spice Guy may represent the future of advertising. Old Spice and their ad agency developed a character, played by Isaiah Mustafa, and made a couple traditional, though somewhat stream-of-consciousness style TV commercials (youtube playlist). The revolutionary part of the campaign occurred over a few days this week, as Proctor & Gamble gave the advertising team freedom to respond live to comments coming in through a slate of social media channels. They produced over 180 short video responses in marathon reading/writing/filming sessions in Portland, OR. No advertising campaign has before responded live and in-character in real time like this.
What does the Old Spice Guy phenomenon need to do to be successful for the brand?
The Old Spice Guy got a lot of attention by the numbers. (Some stats via NewTeeVee). Isaiah Mustafa appeared on the Today show and got continuing coverage on big Internet news site The Huffington Post. And among the blogs, Old Spice was covered widely on topics from social media to new media to Perez Hilton‘s celebrity gossip blog. Old Spice’s twitter account surged.
How much of this attention will translate into body wash sales? I asked a couple consumers who purchased Old Spice body wash yesterday if they had heard of the commercials and youtube phenomenon. Neither had heard anything. Now that the video campaign appears to be over, I wonder if the wave of discussion will be sustained enough to spread knowledge of the campaign any further. I’m writing about it today, but will bloggers still be talking tomorrow? And most importantly for Proctor & Gamble, will the people who had fun with the Old Spice Guy online go out and buy the product? At least we can tell that a lot more people are thinking about body wash today than they were last week. I’ve spent the last hour devoted to analyzing the feelings around body wash. We’ll see if I go buy some. The snazzy new bottles haven’t rolled out to my area yet though, and that might be a factor too.
What does the Old Spice Guy advertising model need to do to be successful? Could the Old Spice model spread to all the world’s products?
I think the key to the Old Spice commercials was that Proctor & Gamble hired good people and gave them the freedom to respond to the community in real-time. This move is going to speed up the advertising space, as other brands struggle to catch up to the pulse of viral media and personally connect to people out there. They seeded the campaign with the mass-market TV ads, but in the end, the social marketing strategy of the rest of the campaign lowered costs–their views on Youtube didn’t cost them any additional TV placement and got them a huge Internet attention quotient–millions of views a day.
The analysis on Nieman Journalism Lab’s blog emphasized that “The process of the videos, here, matters as much as the product.” The ability to watch a dialogue unfold in real-time between a brand and community, even if it’s just a gag complete with prop fish, is a new possibility for advertising. The Nieman analysis pointed out that the ads’ production felt authentic. Authentic engagement with a brand is a high goal to hope for in the advertising world, increasingly hard to achieve with a TV commercial. Though with Isaiah Mustafa’s comedic character, it’s unlikely that engagement with the brand could be authentic about something serious. Though maybe Proctor & Gamble will take Alyssa Millano up on her challenge to donate to Gulf oil spill relief?
Other brands will try these techniques with varying degrees of success. They will have to put new spins on it, or the souring appearance of copycat will suck the wind out from their attempts. (In my thesis, section 4.7, I discussed how judging the originality of an idea is a social gut reaction, and unfavorable judgment can severely undercut the authenticity of its experience.) I don’t think anybody else is going to be able to pull off the “prop fish, swan dive, I’m on a horse” style. Old Spice’s success is a high water mark for now, but there will be future successes. I wonder how the model can translate to smaller brands, who don’t have a national presence, for example. If the founder of Dave’s Killer Bread, a local brand I like, were to replicate the real-time character advertiser approach, it may be a good idea to craft the character around something unique, like his music. I’m also excited by the prospects for authentic brand engagement to not be so fluffy, while retaining the humor, though I wonder if companies will want to provide this kind of platform to talk about serious issues, like environmental responsibility, instead of making those who want to bring those issues up create and hype their own venue.
On a final note, Old Spice Guy left us a tool to remix and extend the meme: make your own answering machine message. (Though because I’m a free culture wonk, I noticed that there is no explicit license of copyrighted material to do what feels natural: to remix the character’s voice into your own personal greeter.)