This is a story of the rebrand of Old Spice, how their thinking changed the marketing game, and what this means for your recruitment campaigns, and even your overall employer brand.
Old Spice is a brand of male grooming products that hit the shelves back in 1938 (81 years ago). Back then, the trend was for a man’s ‘natural scent’ to be seen as the height of masculinity. The brand became synonymous with the most ‘manly’ of trades – the maritime industry. And thus, the brand association with ships was born. But it didn’t really totally take off until the Second World War. This is when Old Spice won the wartime contract for providing US Soldiers with grooming products. And instantly became the symbolism of masculinity.
Then, for almost half of a century, Old Spice was the scent of choice for many men (including my dad – oh dear – but he had been in the Navy so). Then Lynx came along and started dominating the younger segments of the market – advertising themselves not as a scent, but as a way to attract the fairer sex. By the 1990s Old Spice was seen as the brand of grandads.
In 2008 Old Spice tried to launch a new product range but was competing with a whole new set of players in the market such as Dove for Men. And Nivea had also flooded the market with their own ranges of men’s grooming products. The market was saturated, and Old Spice was still seen as the products for grandads. Old Spice needed to do something radical.
In 2010, Unilever announced it would be rolling out a huge campaign during the Super Bowl. Old Spice was looking like it was about to lose even more market share. They went to Widen + Kennedy, the iconic advertising company behind some of Honda’s best adverts.
W+K took a different approach. It looked at the data and found some surprising results. For a start, most men in relationships with women don’t actually buy their own grooming products. In fact, up to 70% of women purchase their partners hygiene products. So they shifted the target audience away from who Lynx and Dove had been targeting (young men), to the women who were actually buying their products.
The advert talked directly to women, cutting out all the sexist rubbish seen by other male toiletry adverts. They had shifted the brand to appeal to an untapped audience.
The main star was Isaiah Mustafa, a former NFL player, who’d go on to become a celebrity in his own right of the back of this campaign.
Now let’s discuss advert placement. Their budget meant they could not compete with Unilever. In 2018, a 30 second Super Bowl commercial costed at least $5million. So the idea was to target the areas and culture surrounding the Super Bowl. They launched the campaign 24 hours before the Super Bowl on YouTube and Facebook: advertising that could be directed straight to their target audience. Targeting relevant age groups, but also people who had talked about the Super Bowl online. The plan was to launch a campaign that was synonymous with the Super Bowl, without the massive cost of being associated with it.
This campaign was hugely successful – and went viral. With further organic reach pushing the advert further without additional cost. Their YouTube video received tens of millions of views – a predicted 10 times more than the number who’d had seen Unilever’s Dove advert during the Super Bowl. By May 2010, sales had increased 60%, and by July sales had more than doubled from the previous year.
After launching the campaign, they kept interacting with their fans. Over 180 videos were produced staring Mustafa, increasingly known as The Old Spice Man, answering questions from the audience. This is what kept people talking about the brand long after the main paid placement component of the campaign was over. Advertising in the social age isn’t just about broadcasting, it’s about two-way communication.
The Old Spice case study is one that is surprisingly relevant to many employer brands and recruitment campaigns we see out there today. Many employers have a very traditional and set employer brand, with long established career paths into the company. For many, it’s the way its always been done. This creates stagnation, higher competition for a limited pool candidates as other companies start working to attract the same types of people. This also risks your company workforce facing an issue of diversity.
When you have the right creative message and employer brand, you can consider swapping out expensive advertising platforms and swapping to places that generate a buzz. For example, when we ran the campaign to attract mental health nurses for an NHS Trust. We had the creative message that we knew would work on social platforms – and the results proved us right. We had created a campaign that played with the brand, generated buzz, and for less money, hired more people.
Finally, the Old Spice campaign shows that broadcasting to an audience isn’t enough. Instead people want two-way dialog with a campaign. Sometimes this might mean letting your audience lead you. But in a world of Tweets and Q&As, can your company afford not to respond to candidates for the tiny amount of money it costs in the grand scheme of things?