Why Old Spice

There are always those notorious companies that people want to work for because their offices have hammocks, it’s owned by a celebrity, or it’s the next big start-up. I wanted to choose a brand that kept their output fresh and funny for my project analysis. While I find the world of advertising to be very interesting, I prefer humorous and comedic campaigns to some of the traditional “sex-sells” hyper sexualized concepts. As my funny bone led to me to analyze Old Spice, a company specializing in men’s personal care products, I realized the main way to sell men’s bath products is through sex and I liked that Old Spice used humor instead. Old Spice is now known for an ad campaign launched in 2010 titled “Smell Like a Man, Man” or better known as “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, a campaign garnering nearly 50 million views on this one video

Through these ad campaigns Old Spice attempts to appeal to both male and female consumers who tend to also be digitally aware consumers. Purchasers of Old Spice are likely then, to be of either gender, probably in the 18-49 demographic, and somewhere in the middle class range. These consumers have responded to the brand by boosting its online presence and forming a brand community. While Old Spice produces male hygiene commodities, their marketing tactics do not limit their consumer base to only males, but instead, works to include female buyers of their commodities as products for their men, which is very interesting for this sort of commodity industry.


Old Spice Reaches Out

Because of the way Old Spice markets itself, it has an intriguingly diverse consumer base. As a Proctor and Gamble company, Old Spice produces men’s bath products, or as their website says “Man Fresheners”. Generally, products like this target only male consumers but, for Old Spice, this single demographic was not enough. Through the start of their “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign in 2010, Old Spice aims for both male and female purchasers as their ideal potential base. As their 2010 “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign grew in popularity, the ways Old Spice connected to consumers changed.

Broadening Horizons

Sara Ashy titles her blog post “Is your boyfriend starting to smell like your grandpa?” She is one of the many consumers who immediately noticed the shift in Old Spice’s consumer base in early 2010. Before the launch of the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign, Old Spice was struggling to keep up in the growing market for men’s body wash and similar products.  To reach out to new and young consumers Old Spice decided to go viral, which, when done successfully can reach more consumers in the target demographic than any cable network could.  The company paired with Wieden + Kennedy for “Smell Like a Man, Man” and they decided that starting digital was the best way to target a wider and younger audience. In a quote for a D&AD case study, account director at W+K, Jess Monsey said, “With any young target audience you have to find new and interesting ways to engage with them, and with young men that means digital has to be part of your portfolio,” (D&AD Study). Creating a successful digital ad was the first step to attract a broad audience in the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign and Old Spice tackled the task with a notable and humorous approach.

The Old Spice Guy

As “Smell Like a Man, Man” grew in popularity, there were a series of interactive web videos where “The Old Spice Guy” would do things suggested by fans, (see videos at the bottom) though not all fans were consumers.

Celia Lury’s book, Consumer Culture, explores the concept of cultural intermediaries throughout the text as someone that can act as a translator from cultural industries to consumers who would be skilled at interpreting popular culture and consumer culture (Lury). The “Old Spice Guy”, Isaiah Mustafa became a cultural intermediary and icon almost immediately after the airing of the campaign. Aside from telling consumers how cool Old Spice made him, and could make them, he became the catalyst for the brand’s online presence. Many of the brand’s consumers engage with the brand online, however, while Old Spice created their brand page in 2009, it wasn’t until the launch of Mustafa’s campaign that the page itself went viral. It now has over 2.5 million likes. There are more than five international “Old Spice” Facebook pages with over 100,000 fans for each, and more than ten “Old Spice” pages on the site overall. The “Old Spice Guy”, Isaiah Mustafa, and even “The New Old Spice Guy”, Fabio, have individual pages (Facebook). Having an icon for the campaign made the campaign very successful. It became relevant enough to even provoke Halloween costumes (see costume 16, costume 1, costume 5) and parodies (see parody 26). The digital component of the campaign was so successful that both the online presence of the brand and the brand’s community engagement have been enduring over several years since its launch.

Old Spice’s ability to reach consumers after the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign was so impressive they added a B-List celebrity, Fabio, to the spokesperson position. Some consumers did not like the change from Mustafa so in true Old Spice fashion, the brand settled the issue by keeping Mustafa on for a “Mano a Mano in El Bano” series of videos where the two spokespeople challenged each other over the spokesperson position.

Many consumers did not understand the change in spokesperson, Mustafa was quite well recognized as the icon for the brand and Fabio seemed like a peculiar replacement. However, my next section of analysis furthers this point, from an analytical perspective, the campaign had started off with a shirtless man doing manly activities, what better way to appeal to women, which had clearly been an objective of the campaign (D&AD) than to add the most iconic shirtless man doing manly things: Fabio.

“Hello Ladies”

The sub-title of the 2010 campaign, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”, shows how Old Spice works to target more than just one consuming body. This campaign targets both the key male demographic as well as a different kind of consumer than these key male purchasers; it targets women who could purchase these commodities for “their” man. The television commercials start the monologue with “Hello Ladies…” telling us specifically whom this ad is addressing and for what purpose: “Buy this product and your man could improve to be more like me, sexy shirtless guy”. By showing women what their man could smell like, Old Spice is explaining how their product solves the problem of the way these women’s men currently smell, creating a consumer culture and attitude towards the product.  Consumer attitude, coined by Zygunt Bauman, is explored in Celia Lury’s book. She cites Bauman as saying of the consumer attitude, “It means, first perceiving life as a series of problems… thirdly, trusting that for every problem, already known or may still arise in the future, there is a solution – a special object or recipe… It means, fourthly, assuming such objects or recipes are essentially available; they may be obtained for money, and shopping is a way of obtaining them,” (Lury, 25). Lury’s explanation of consumer attitude can be explained simply to say that life is a series of solvable problems we can solve by purchasing commodities and it is our responsibility to do so if we can. For Old Spice, they invoke this attitude to sway women to consume this product because their man smells either incorrectly feminine or generally poorly and Old Spice products can fix that.

This ad shows that it is the woman’s duty to solve the problem of how her man may smell, and that Old Spice is there to be the object of solution.

It makes sense that Old Spice would start to market towards consuming women. The D&AD case study explained that women did more than 50% of the body wash purchases. The case follows with an explanation, “The challenge was how to get couples to have a conversation about body wash—a low involvement product category—and persuade women to stop buying their men women’s products… The answer was a humorous monologue during which the Old Spice Guy explains: ‘Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.’” (D&AD) Lury also finds this to be the case; in Consumer Culture, she writes about women making the home and being the main purchaser of household items. Lury writes, “…It is often noted that it is women who make up the majority of consumers, in the sense that it is women who actually purchase goods on a routine basis… women typically work at transforming the goods ands services of which men as husbands, children and other dependants are the final users,” (Lury, 43-44). Women are purchasing the majority of household products, they are the ones deciding what comes into the home and deciding how their home will affect their identities so it makes sense to market Old Spice towards the home-makers as well as the final users of the product.

The Man Your Man Might Not Smell Like

It is obvious Old Spice puts in time, money, and energy on their advertising and the costs and notions of the brand reflect that. There are very few types of consumers that Old Spice intentionally does not appeal to, however, there are demographics they put in less effort to reach and attract. While it is fairly obvious that Old Spice’s key consumers are brand conscious men, the company is not trying to attract a different male demographic: the frugal, hyper-dogmatic, male consumer. That is not to say that they try to avoid this kind of purchaser; it is that they focus on consumers that put consideration into their consumption practices and do not rely on factors like convenience, price, and function. In Douglas Holt’s Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?, Holt explores how these factors might be seen as low cultural-capital purchasing practices. Firstly, cultural capital as explained by Bordieu in Holt “consists of a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge, and practices,”  (Holt, 3). Holt then explores what separates the consuming practices of those with high cultural capital from those with low cultural capital and finds that purchasers with low cultural capital tend to appreciate functionality and practicality over abstraction and subjective tastes (Holt, 7).  By creating a brand ideology and concept around the consumption of their products, in addition to the price inflation brought on by a high advertising cost, Old Spice might not appeal to consumers searching for practicality in their products. While soap and deodorant are useful products, it is cheaper (link) to purchase Suave  than to purchase Old Spice. Yet Old Spice is still not the most expensive. So while the kind of guy who speeds through the aisles of Duane Reade, consuming generic brand soap, deodorant, toilet paper, and maybe even Nice! brand Wheat-O’s Cereal based on what might be on sale might not always purchase Old Spice, consumers of varying levels of cultural capital probably will.

Old Spice purchases must be willing to pay more for a product with a brand history or ideology behind it because of the many advertisements Old Spice pays for. As such, Old Spice targets middle to upper-middle class consumers that have the sort of resources to purchase products based on brand affability and presentation but might dissuade the kind of consumers that would use department store men’s bath products. Since Old Spice’s brand image is one of masculinity and clear difference from female products and the feminine, Old Spice consumers are probably attracted to the message of distinction. Consumers of high-brow bath products tend to be women so it seems unlikely that Old Spice would attract any similar clientele. Old Spice relies on their consumers’ desires to make a heavy distinction between masculine and feminine hygiene products. As the video suggests, “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.” They even go so far as to re-title Old Spice products “Man Fresheners”.

Why This Campaign?

As Old Spice attempted to grow, they needed a campaign that would resonate with different audiences. The “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign is so strong because it has this resonating quality. To each target audience it can carry a different meaning but saves the company money by not doing so through multiple kinds of campaigns. Michael De Certeau talks about this in his piece, Practices of Everyday Life. De Certeau explains that every individual can both add meaning, and find his or her own, in shared objects. When viewed by men, “Smell Like a Man, Man” targeted them; it told them what they could be like and what they needed to do to become that person. For women, the subtitle of the campaign made a stronger statement; “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” became the portrayal of the man their man needed to smell like, and it explained to them how to do this. De Certeau explains how one ad could connote these multiple meanings to different users very clearly. He writes “Renters make comparable changes in an apartment they furnish with their acts and memories; as do speakers, in the language into which they insert both the messages of their native tongue and, through their accent, through their own ‘turns of phrase,’ etc., their own history,” (De Certeau, 21).


Old Spice’s ability to grow and reach new consumers at a pinnacle point in the brand’s history was extraordinarily impressive. Their consumer identity became very interesting as it encompassed both male and female consumers into their target demographic. Old Spice was the first men’s personal care brand that seemed to both acknowledge and encourage the fact that women held the main purchasing power over the industry and worked in ways to appeal to them. They did that while still managing to appeal to general male consumers that purchased body washes and deodorants from stores like Walgreens over department store brands. Old Spice stayed true to the masculine identity they had always projected buy still managed to attract a new and young audience. The ways Old Spice both targeted a plethora of consumers and had the ability to reach those consumers are impressive and intriguing. The Old Spice brand has made a very interesting brand community in the following of the “Smell Like a Man, Man” campaign. The brand expanded vastly from earlier in the brand’s timeline, when it was seen as a product for older consumers. Since Old Spice began work to change their image, the shift in brand community was noticed by many, some jokingly noting the transformation from the brand your grandpa smells like to the brand your boyfriend might smell like too (Ashy). Old Spice now reflects the influx of new types of consumers, younger and digitally conscious men and women and this change can be seen across multiple platforms. Overall, the company’s consumer focus is both unique and I would argue also intrinsic to Old Spice’s recent success and notoriety.


Ashy, Sarah http://bbrcreative.com/blog/general/is-your-boyfriend-starting-to-smell-like-your-grandpa

Certeau, Michel De. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California, 1984. Print.

Holt, Douglas B. “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?” The Journal of Consumer Research 25.1 (1998): 1-25. JSTOR. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.

D&AD Case Study, http://www.dandad.org/learning/case-studies/old-spice-response-campaign