July 21, 2010

Follow-up: Is Old Spice’s viral campaign a failure?

NOTE: This post is old, and is probably on different subject matter than my current writing. It is possible the information is outdated or my opinions have changed. -- Josh Klein, May 28, 2012

Some news outlets are reporting on a story that despite Proctor & Gamble’s success in attracting attention for their Old Spice brand body wash with a beloved viral campaign, sales are down. [WARCTIME | BNET]

I wrote about how good I think the campaign is, so I want to take a moment to debunk these reports.

Here is how WARC puts it:

Procter & Gamble picked up the Film Grand Prix at Cannes 2010 for Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” execution from Wieden & Kennedy.

While there is little doubt about the viral hit’s popularity – the official version has racked up 12.2 million impressions on YouTube - sales of Red Zone After Hours Body Wash have fallen by 7%.

Look, I’m not one to assume media attention, viral success, and industry awards are indicative of the ROI of a marketing campaign, but there are a few things happening here that are getting brushed under the rug.

First, this is an awareness campaign. There is sort of a weak call to action (“buy Red Zone After Hours Body Wash”), but I didn’t even notice which product was being pitched, just that it was Old Spice. Awareness campaigns don’t help you meet your quarterly sales figures; they shift the perception of your brand over years.

Second, sales of consumer packaged goods (CPG) have a huge number of other determining factors to their sales success besides the attention they garner through advertising. For instance, we don’t know anything about their retail distribution relationships or shelf placement.

Except the bizarrely overlooked footnote that says sales are down 7% excluding Walmart. Um, what?

Anyway, I’m going to be that guy who quotes himself:

The key to remember is that their product – deodorant – is a commodity; you may prefer one kind or another based on smell or how they feel, but Old Spice vs. Gillette does not have the substantive difference in “features” one finds in, say, Apple vs. Microsoft.

Their business works through brand awareness and loyalty, not social media word of mouth. They’re an old fashioned kind of business.

Commodities are sold through long term brand awareness and smart retail distribution. But being in an old fashioned business doesn’t mean you have to stick to old fashion marketing. P&G’s viral campaign probably cost them a fraction to create compared to their regular media buy, and it was undoubtedly a positive campaign for generating buzz.

We just need to have appropriate expectations for what specific marketing tactics can achieve. Enough of this social media sensationalism.

Come on, let’s use some common sense: people don’t buy a deodorant brand when they see a cool commercial for it; they buy a deodorant brand after years of familiarity and implicit emotional connection.

If their strategy was “drive sales this quarter”, they should have done some kind of direct marketing campaign (online and in-store). If their strategy was “create brand momentum to pay off in the long term”, they shouldn’t back down when they don’t see instant results from a smart new campaign.

I still say, “well done.”

Addendum: Britton from W+K points me to a Forbes article that has sales figures that include Walmart; up 16.7% in the 52-week period ending June 13. Naturally.