What Political Campaigns and Candidates Can Learn from the Old Spice Campaign




“I’m on a horse.” If you haven’t heard that line yet, be prepared because you’re about to. The Old Spice Superbowl commercial titled “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” was a fast-paced, witty and steamy thirty-second spot that engaged both male and female viewers. In other words, it was The West Wing with less suits.



Since then, the Old Spice marketing agency, Wieden + Kennedy, has continued to play up the sexy, shirtless hero of their original ad by creating a series of YouTube videos (they made over 87 in one day) engaging with fans and answering their questions--in real time.

(As an aside: Yes, I asked Mr. Old Spice a question. No, he didn’t respond – typical man).

With over 6 million views in less than 24 hours (beating out Obama’s victory speech and the Bush shoe-ducking videos for viral views in a twenty-four hour period), this campaign is the new paradigm for marketing whatever it is you’re trying to sell (see "How Old Spice Won the Internet"). All this got me thinking about how a campaign could become so singularly popular in a short amount of time, which immediately led me to think about how the Old Spice campaign could—and no doubt, will eventually have to—translate into political marketing.

1. Show some skin.

No, I’m not suggesting any of our esteemed elected officials go shirtless on camera (except for maybe Mayor Julian Castro). But we’re living in an increasingly transparent world and your audience isn’t going to engage with just any old suit. But transparency doesn’t just mean filing your FEC reports and releasing your taxes—although that’s important, too. Transparency in this generation means it’s time to loosen up the ties, roll up your sleeves, and tag yourself in a few Facebook photos showing you cutting a rug at your daughter’s wedding. It’s not acting, it’s not a character, it’s you. It might even mean throwing out your message to talk about your son’s new French Bulldog, or your favorite type of Western novel. For all the gun-slinging and grandstanding Rick Perry does, he does have one thing down pat: letting people have a glimpse his down-home demeanor, even though that actual home is a $10,000 a month rental mansion with a Food and Wine magazine subscription. So ask yourself: What is your campaign’s version of standing in the bathroom wearing only a towel?

2. If you’re going to take, learn to give.

Old Spice started its real-time campaign yesterday by tweeting video responses to influential (as well as lesser-known) bloggers who had mentioned the campaign in earlier tweets and posts. Producing short, humorous videos and tweeting them back at bloggers instantly gave the bloggers even more material to push out on their blogs, Twitter and other social networks. If you’re looking to engage bloggers and get them to help you spread the word about a particular initiative, give them quality, personalized tools to promote your cause. Exclusive video, tailor-made badges or logos, behind-the-scenes photos – think about it. You might have the answer sitting right there in your iPhone. And, no, a press release doesn’t count. We’re not real journalists, remember?

3. Play by the rules of engagement.

You can't expect anyone other than your mom and your high school government teacher to care about your campaign right away. So stop trying to be more than who you are before you've even laid the groundwork to define yourself enough for people to care about you. Brenna Ehrlich, of Mashable, summed up the secret to success of the Old Spice campaign perfectly:
Old Spice first created a character that people — shock, shock, horror, horror — liked, and then created an immersive experience that people wanted to be a part of.
What other highly successful campaign does that sound like to you? If you aren’t saying “Barack Obama,” you should probably go back to Mark Strama’s Campaign Academy.

4. Be brave.

Making videos in real-time, with no predetermined script or subject, sounds scary and hard because it is. Do you think everyone at Proctor & Gamble, Old Spice’s parent company, was crazy about the idea? No. But they let the marketing agency do it anyway, and the results have paid off in spades. What is a bold move your campaign could be making but aren’t because you’re convinced it could cost you an election? And…how can you know it won’t cost you an election if you don’t try? Being brave doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. Figure out where the absolute boundaries are, have a plan to stay within them, and then go for it.

So go on. Let the towel drop (so to speak).
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2 Response to "What Political Campaigns and Candidates Can Learn from the Old Spice Campaign"

  • Jeb Says:

    Great points. The other lesson here is to have plenty of content for folks to link to, particularly short videos. The other recent viral example was the benefit concert at Carnegie Hall a few weeks back that featured a closing number with Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Deborah Harry, and others. Even a shaky and erratic video from the balcony was able to capture a moment that people loved to share and talk about. We've seen plenty of negative examples where the opposition has caught a candidate on video. There's no reason a campaign can't work to get their own positive moments out there.


  • Mean Rachel Says:

    Thanks Jeb. I agree - I just watched that video the other night for the first time (incredible!).

    I think the issue is that our society does enjoy the negative/self-deprecating humor, and it's very hard to make something positive go viral. Also many candidates just rely on the news and bloggers to push their would-be viral videos out, rather than putting it in the hands of their social media team.