The greatest social-media marketing campaign of all time
Thu, Jul 15 2010

By Jonathan Oxer

If you're even slightly interested in online marketing (and if you're in business, you should be!) then it's worth paying close attention to a little bit of drama unfolding online right at this moment. Old Spice is currently conducting what will undoubtedly go down in the annals of marketing folklore as one of the best social media campaigns of all time.

The story begins much as you expect: an established brand has a fading image associated with an older generation, and wants to revitalise themselves for a younger market. So they hire a marketing company to create a brilliant TV ad, which they also put on YouTube. The ad itself is very cleverly done and attracts a lot of attention when people email their friends about it.

Ho hum. Sounds familiar. It's a course that many companies have taken over the last couple of years, and there have been some great examples: the "evil Ka" ads, the "Extreme Sheep Herding" video, and many others. Those ads were obviously designed to go viral and they did, to great effect.

And that's where Old Spice started their campaign, but the brilliance is that they didn't end it there. First they created the now-famous "I'm on a horse" TV ad starring ex NFL player Isaiah Mustafa, and if you haven't seen it yet you should go and watch it right now before reading on.

You have to watch that ad a few times to follow everything that's going on, and part of the brilliance of it is that it's *not* done with computer graphics. The only effects added in post-production were the diamonds spilling from his hand and the Old Spice bottle rising out of it. Everything else was done with cranes and pulleys and clever sets that morph while out of camera shot. The whole ad is one continuous take, and it took them 3 days of trying over and over again until they got it right.

The combination of the clever scripting, surprising visuals, great casting, and the "I'm on a horse" punchline are enough to make it a brilliant ad. They could have left it there, cracked open a few bottles of champagne, and patted themselves on the back for a job well done. With that effort they would have created as successful an online media campaign as anyone before them.

But this is where the genius kicks in.

What they did next is monitor social media for mentions of the ad and begin to participate directly in the online conversion *as* the Old Spice Guy, maintaining the persona defined in the ad. They created profiles on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and other social media platforms, then started responding to tweets and YouTube comments with short videos specifically directed at the commenter!

To maintain continuity with the TV ad they set up the bathroom portion of the set that was the backdrop for the opening sequence of the ad, and filmed Isaiah responding in-character with a series of 20 to 40 second segments that are pushed up to YouTube right after they are recorded. In the first 12 hours of this phase of the campaign (which here in Australia was from late Tuesday night through to Wednesday morning) they filmed over 120 short video clips in direct response to online comments, with each video going up on YouTube within minutes of being filmed.

There was a break during the day yesterday (hey, even Isaiah has to sleep sometime) and then it resumed overnight, and over the last few hours they've been maintaining a rate of producing one new video about every 6 minutes on average.

This is astounding stuff, but it gets even better.

What they have cleverly done is respond to a mixture of comments from both random Internet users and to high-profile individuals and media outlets such as Ellen Degeneris, Alyssa Milano, Demi Moore, GQ magazine, and Gizmodo.

This has two effects. Firstly the responses to random Internet users gives the feeling that Old Spice Guy is accessible - he's not being snobby and only responding to celebrities, there's a feeling that if *you* tweet him a question there's a good chance you'll get a response. So there's emotional buy-in from the mass market, viewers feel like he's just one of them. Some of the videos have been quite off-the-wall: one viewer even sent Old Spice Guy a message asking him to perform a marriage proposal on his behalf, which Old Spice Guy duly did - and it was confirmed a couple of hours later that the response was "yes".

Secondly the responses to high-profile individuals provides those individuals with personalised content that they in turn promote to their networks: the "I got a response from Old Spice Guy!" effect. This greatly broadens the reach of the campaign to quickly encompass not just the immediate audience but also everyone who any of those celebrities can influence.

The overall result has been something like the perfect storm. A combination of factors and influences all worked together to amplify each other and produce an impact that I'm sure is worlds beyond anything that the marketing agency could have hoped for in their wildest dreams.

In the first 12 hours of the social media response element of the campaign the Old Spice channel on YouTube hit 55 million viewers, making it the most viewed corporate YouTube channel of all time. And that number just keeps on climbing.

Want to see more? Check out the Old Spice channel on YouTube and see some of the responses he's posted.