Old Spice: Letting Us In, Kind Of
“I’m the man your man could smell like.”
Why would Old Spice want to let consumers in on the secret of advertising and admit that ads sell aspirations more than products? Why doesn’t this commercial make us say, “You’re right. Advertising is dumb, and I won’t be fooled into buying Old Spice or anything else and I’ll go live at Walden Pond before I spend a dollar on something this stupid.”
First of all, because Thoreau is dead. Second of all, because the ad gives the brand an appealing attitude. It’s funny and well written. I like these Old Spice guys. If I’m going to buy deodorant or body wash from anyone, I’ll buy it from these funny, cool guys. By being entertaining, the ad stays in your mind. You’ll remember it next time you’re at Duane Reade buying PowerAde and condoms, or whatever men get there.
Or your girlfriend will remember it when she’s buying diet coke and your soap—that seems to be what these advertisers are saying by directing the commercial at women.
This weekend I was visiting my family in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and I was hanging out with my little cousin Dan in his dorm at UNC. (Speaking of which, GO HEELS!) In a room for two eighteen-year-old boys, there were four bottles of Old Spice body wash. As both are single (sorry for blowing up your spot, Dan), I’m assuming they bought these themselves.
The direction at women seems to be more of a comedic crutch and cliché—men don’t know what to do or how to put themselves together, so we do it all for them, am I right, girls? —than anything based in what we here at the science factory call “truth.” It also softens the message “you will never be as good looking as I am” by turning it into “your boyfriend will never be as good looking as I am.”
The ad sets a tone for the product—and by extension, anyone who buys it. It’s funny and doesn’t make excuses. It gets what’s going on. You think, I’m funny, and I don’t make excuses. I get what’s going on. This is the body wash for me. Attitude is the product.
Smell-based products—perfume, body wash, and the eagerly anticipated smelly scotch-tape—are particularly hard to advertise earnestly, because you can’t put smell in a photo or on film. You can’t even describe it well, because many are a mixture of numerous smells, and we often do not have perfume or body wash smell criteria that we know needs to be met. An ad for a car can tell you some of the features that may be important to you—mileage, cargo space, ability to read your mind and run over people you hate. An ad listing the various smells making up a body wash would not help us get a good sense of the product. Nor does our language offer a good vocabulary for describing aromas.
True, there are those perfume ads in magazines where you lift up the flap to smell it, but then oh God you got too close, and now you have a headache from huffing Burberry Brit like you’re a subject on Intervention, and then you accidentally touched your face to the ad so now your chin, nose, and forehead reek of perfume. And that’s only magazines—TVs cannot emit odors. Technology being what it is, advertisers must rely on selling an idea rather than the product itself.
So if Old Spice is revealing how advertising really works, but they’re using this to sell you something, doesn’t it all even out and really it’s the same, since you end up buying it anyway? Aren’t they just as guilty as all other advertisers? Yes. But I can’t write them off entirely, because Old Spice smells really good, and my ex boyfriend wore it, and he was really cute, but I guess we met each other too young, and there were a lot of communication issues, specifically because he never called me when he said he would. But, I mean that was like four years ago. Point being, I like Old Spice, and I like this ad.