Old Spice Still Smells like Old Advertising
I have been watching the Old Spice phenomenon with interest and admiration so don’t get me wrong; it will set the bar for great, creative work in advertising but is it a high point for social media? I don’t think so.
The campaign, with its barrage of rapid-response YouTube videos distributed through Twitter, is modern advertising done extremely well; it acknowledges (and capitalizes on the fact) that we live in a world suffused with social tools, but it isn’t exemplary of them or the fullest expression of their potential. It is still essentially a high-polish, broadcast campaign (technically one might better call it “transmedia“). In fact, I would contend that this is exactly why the campaign has been so successful in bridging the gap from its origins as a television commercial. They maintained the formula of high production standards that marked the original. They kept the responses exclusive, selectively engaging people that would keep them “on brand” while maintaining a steady stream of high-quality content.
At the end of the day, the breathless analysis of Old Spice as the zenith of social media leaves one to wonder what the commentariat think social media is, and whom it is actually for.
I once read that in the 1960’s comics and counterculture figures began using profanity in part because they felt that the use of such language precluded their message/movement from being co-opted. They were, of course, temporarily right and permanently wrong. It took a bit longer but nearly every song of that age has found its way into an advertisement. Its slogans have been re-engineered to suit – and peace, harmony (“I’d like to give the world a Coke”) and even songs critiquing material pursuits (Janis Joplin for Mercedes-Benz ) have been stripped of their original intent and attached to one product or other.
So it goes with the social media land grab currently underway as every major corporation rushes to stake a claim on our attention and our loyalty. They are co-opting a medium whose fundamental and radical proposition is a promotion of interpersonal connection, many-to-many communication, and the privilege of social norms over business norms.
Further, the discourse that informs the way we define social media in practice is being shaped by an army of consultants whose personal stake in this game is deeply tied to the clients that they serve. More often these are big corporations. Thus the analysis of BP all too often focused on how BP could help itself during the crisis rather than how society at large might better use these tools to come to grips with corporate malfeasance. The conversations about Nestle’s “failure” focused on prescriptions that supported the consultant’s value proposition more than the real-world context that surrounded the Nestle incident. On a much more benign level the analysis of Old Spice would lead you to believe that it is the pinnacle of social media– when in my opinion it rises just above a clever extension of a broadcast message.
The transformative nature of social media lies in the fact that it enables a more equitable distribution of power, ingenuity and creativity. The sea change that comes from realizing this potential is not about technology or marketing. It certainly (from my point of view) isn’t about how corporations can profit or dominate. It is all about how a major shift in our own sense of identity (we are all now authors and authorities), social norms and a new mode of production might give us a better world. It’s greatest exemplars then are drawn from the grass roots, the marginalized, the entrepreneurial, the unintended and even the seemingly trivial.
Yes, let’s celebrate some interesting corporate case studies. But let’s keep our eyes on the bigger prize and promise of social media. Doing so is part of making sure that promise is realized.
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- Old Spice and the Return of Ad-Power: Are “Transformats” the Future of Marketing? (designmind.frogdesign.com)
- Old Spice: The Archetype of a Successful Social Media Campaign (Mashable)