Lessons from Old Spice Man’s Social Web Ubiquity

If you’ve been unplugged from your favorite social network the past few days, you might have missed one of the most impressive social web campaigns in recent memory. If you’ve been active on Twitter or Facebook, I’m not sure how you could have missed this: Procter & Gamble launched an amazing social campaign to promote their Old Spice body washes.

Combating the notion that body wash is only for ladies and recognizing market research shows that women purchase as much as 70% of the shower gel for men in their households, P&G’s partner agency Wieden & Kennedy based in Portland, Oregon launched the TV campaign in February called “Smell Like a Man, Man.” The commercials feature actor Isaiah Mustafa speaking directly to women of the household while portraying an over-the-top manly man that does not alienate or belittle men, but reaffirms that it’s okay (and even desirable) to be a masculine man.

The original commercial became an Internet phenomenon, already gaining more than 13 million views on YouTube. The Old Spice Man returned a couple weeks ago with a new commercial, and this time popular social networks were seeded with solicitations for users to submit questions for the Old Spice Man.

In the past few days, the Old Spice Man has posted an amazing 184 video responses to the Old Spice YouTube channel. Most of the responses are 30-60 seconds long, and are directed at various individual questions and comments on a variety of social networks. Some are directed at celebrities like Demi Moore and George Stephanopoulos, some at influencers in the digital world like Digg founder Kevin Rose and Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis, and many more at average unknown internet Joes.

These short videos have become amazingly popular, flooding Facebook and Twitter with shared links and retweets, and gaining much more attention as a collective whole than they ever could on their own (although they have individually gained between 25,000 and 340,000 unique views). The real victory is that for at least two days, the entire Internet has been talking about the Old Spice brand.

So what makes this campaign so successful, and what lessons can be extended to your own social campaigns? Here are a few of my observations:

  • Respond in Real Time: Social interaction via web exists in the here and now – often something is “old news” in these contexts within a matter of hours. Although the Old Spice Man responses weren’t completely instantaneous, having a professionally created video response from a commercial spokesperson the same day your question was posted is pretty impressive. If nothing else, a quick response communicates one important thing: your brand is listening.
  • Engage the Influencers: By responding to and engaging with some of the most influential people in social web, the Old Spice brand quickly became the talk of the Internet. When you engage influencers, they influence others on your behalf. The campaign even went so far as to send real-life flowers to actress Alyssa Milano after a back-and-forth exchange on YouTube. Your target audience may not always be the whole of the Internet like Procter & Gamble, but targeting key influencers in your niche market can help your message spread to your audience quicker.
  • Give Community Managers Freedom to Speak for the Brand: If the Old Spice Man video writers had needed to get corporate approval for every video script, there is absolutely no way they could have generated 84 personalized videos in 11 hours on Tuesday (an average of one video every 7 minutes not counting breaks). By trusting those managing your social web presence to speak freely on behalf of the brand, it is much easier for them to respond to individuals quickly and directly – resulting in greater impact for your brand.
  • Give the Audience Freedom to Extend the Brand: In response to a popular request on Reddit, the Old Spice Man provided users with the tools to create voicemail messages using his voice, and users used it to create an online voicemail generator. This extended the Old Spice brand to the personal voicemails of their audience, a place they themselves never targeted. By giving the audience access to some of your brand assets, they may extend your message to locations you yourself may have had difficulty reaching.
  • Engage the Audience on a Personal Level: Although the sheer volume of requests from the audience for replies far exceeded Old Spice Man’s ability to respond to each of them, his very public responses to individual people (and not just celebrities) made the entire audience feel like they too could get a response. When your audience feels like your brand cares about them personally, they too will personally care about your brand.

The campaign wrapped up Wednesday evening with two response videos that expressed the personal connection that defined the campaign: a touching personal message to Mustafah’s own daugher, and a final farewell specifically thanking all of those who submitted questions and comments that time did not allow responses to.

In less than three days, the 184 YouTube response videos garnered more than 5.2 million views (where the Old Spice channel was the most popular on the site), grew the Old Spice twitter account from around 5,000 followers to over 66,000, and grew the Old Spice Facebook page to more than 592,000 fans.

How can you leverage these same concepts on a scale your brand can afford to grow your own web audience?