One of the modern Holy Grails of advertising is to translate a successful TV campaign into a monster viral Internet phenom. Working with their client Procter and Gamble, the advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy opened the ark with its online work for Old Spice.
An interview with Wieden + Kennedy's Iain Tait from Fast Company.
The Team Who Made Old Spice Smell Good Again Reveals What's Behind Mustafa's Towel
BY Mark Borden Wed Jul 14, 2010
One of the modern Holy Grails of advertising is to translate a successful TV campaign into a monster viral Internet phenom. Working with their client Procter and Gamble, the advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy opened the ark with its online work for Old Spice. The campaign is simple: The manly star from the TV spots responds to queries on Twitter via humorous 30-second YouTube videos that are being watched and re-tweeted with abandon. I spoke to Wieden's global interactive creative director Iain Tait about how they choose which tweets actor Isaiah Mustafa replies to, why they are using YouTube, and what it's like to produce nearly 100 spots a day.
Mark Borden: How did the Old Spice online campaign come about?
Iain Tait: We had this character who is not only loved by ladies, but equally loved by guys. A woman's man that was okay for men to love. And we realized there were no edges to where he could exist.
Why did you choose to respond to Twitter tweets using video and why employ YouTube versus a dedicated Old Spice site?
By locking the campaign into any proprietary place would have just severely limited the exposure it would get and diminish it. This whole idea of responding to people and being very smart about who we decided to respond to, and in what manner, that wouldn't have worked if we hadn't done it in a format like YouTube where we are able to embed it. People are very familiar with the ways of sharing it, liking it, and favoring it, and just the fact that it can go everywhere very quickly was a huge positive.
We knew it couldn't be just responding to tweets in words, that wouldn't have felt so special and had been done before. The fact that we were able to do this in video feels appropriate in relation to the prior TV ads.
It's not just responding to tweets, it's looking at the environment right now. YouTube is the place where people share video. Twitter is the place where–celebrities dying or whatever it is–those things blow up so quickly. We know we can only run this thing for a short time so Twitter felt like the place to create the explosion.
It's keeping the allure and mystique of this guy alive. Finding that balance between exposing him to the world, (not literally), without overexposing him is really important.
Obviously it doesn't have the same level of high production value as the TV ads, but just enough to make it feel like it ties into everything people have seen before. The production level is key there. If we had done it in a really low budget way, it would have been horrible.
How do you choose which tweets to respond to? I see responses
have been made to Alyssa Romano, Rose McGowan, and Guy Kawasaki.
It's not just those guys. It's great that you're hearing from those
people, we sort of knew that would happen. But we've gone literally up
and down the levels of people from those with millions of followers down
to people with hardly any followers.
And that's a really
important part of the mix.
One of the unique things taking place in the studio is we have a team
of social media people, we have the Old Spice community manager, we
have a social media strategist, a couple of technical people, and a
producer. And we've built an application that scans the Internet looking
for mentions and allows us to look at the influence of those people and
also what they've said. They're working in collaboration with the
creative team that are there to pick out the messages that: 1. Have
creative opportunity to produce amazing content; or 2. Have the ability
to then embed themselves in an interesting or virally relevant
It's not just picking people with huge followings, it's a really
Do you guys have a working definition of what influence is?
For different products, there are different types of influence that
are all very different. For something like this–which is so mass
appeal–I think influence can come from anywhere.
There's been lot's of stuff recently about how celebrities have huge
followings, but actually their level of influence is quite limited.
That said, we don't have a concrete definition. We looked at how we
can go to whatever the right definition of influence is and we've kind
of nailed people who exist in all of them. From celebrities like Alyssa
Milano to being incorporated into 4chan, which is perhaps the weirdest
most anarchistic community that exists out there. To have managed to do
that without them jumping on top of it and hating it–we've had more
likes for the video that has gone out on 4Chan than anything else.
We've reached Mashable and TechCrunch and those places which have
credible amounts of influence in the online community. I think really
we've been quite clever in trying to, not knowing the right answer, but
making sure we tick all the boxes where the right answer is.
Who writes the spots?
We're actually keen not to lift the curtain on that right now. One of
the things that is quite nice is that people are speculating. People
are wondering, on the very naïve end, if it's an intern there with a
video camera and a guy just delivering the lines. On the other hand
people are going, you must have a huge army of copywriters to produce so
much so quickly.
I'd kind of like to keep that curtain up for now.
It is fair to say that the team involved in writing the TV spots are
at the core of it. That's why that level of authenticity and great humor
we've seen in the TV ads has come through very strongly online.
You manage to have such a quick turnaround. How do you
execute at such a high speed?
We could be destroying our own business here, right? We've made
nearly 100 commercials in a day (laughs).
Again, we've built an incredible system which takes the comments and
highlights the ones we want to respond to and feeds them through to an
auto cue (I'm lifting the curtain here aren't I?), and it's incredibly
sophisticated on one end, but quite simple on the other in that it
allows the spots to be created very quickly.
But let's just say, we have a team of editors along with a team of
creatives making this stuff happen in real time.
Why does the real time nature of this have such power?
Real time is what drives the Internet. New news is what everyone
wants to get a hold of. Everyone is a publisher in their own way.
Everyone wants to be tweeting or blogging about something that they are
first to be in on. What we've done here is blur the lines between things
that people don't expect to be able to be done in real time. So that's
the surprise, that "Hang on, you're producing these things kind of in
real time? How on earth are you doing that?" Every time one comes out
and nails it again, it's seen as almost a new piece of news.
Who is that handsome fit man with the deadly stare?
Is he just sitting around in a towel all day?
I'm not going to tell you what he is wearing on his feet. That would
How did you gain enough trust from P&G to just be able to
run with their brand in real time?
That trust base is so important. We are operating under a set of
principles that we've agreed on in terms of these responses, which means
that not everything needs to go through stringent sign off and legal
At the same time they know that because we love this thing, we're not
going to be irresponsible with it and throw it away and lose the chance
to do it again.
We've found that balance which in my experience is so rare to get to
with a client.
One thing you can sense if you're lucky enough to be there in the
studio is that they're all having such fun doing this thing. Isaiah is
loving it. Everyone who is writing it is loving it. The social media
guys are loving it. And that really shines through.
If you are doing something in a social environment, you want it to
feel like a place you want to be at.
It's a really strange thing, but that sense that people are having
fun actually manages to transmit itself through the Internet. People
gravitate toward things that feel like they're being done by people who
love it. That sense that everyone involved with this is loving it is a
huge factor in why this is so successful.
Why do you think social media and online influencers are so
important to business right now?
One of the questions that keeps coming up is people saying, "Ok, this
is great, but will it make me buy more Old Spice?" If you look at the
comments that are publicly saying, "I'm going to go and try Old Spice
after this, I'm going to wear more Old Spice," the groundswell of people
saying that they are going to consume more Old Spice, I don't know
whether that is true or not, if people are actually going to go to the
pharmacy and buy Old Spice, but…
But I bet a whole load of them are going to go into the aisle and
take the top off an Old Spice and smell it. People that may never have
done it before. That peer recommendation and seeing that real people are
actually talking about this, in a way that not only says they enjoy the
entertainment, but that there are smart people in these networks making
the connection between the content, the product and the experience of
It's just incredibly powerful and we're only just beginning to see
how powerful that can be.
And here's another article.
This one, from ReadWriteWeb, deals with how the campaign was actually put together in real time.
Written by Marshall Kirkpatrick / July 14, 2010 3:25 PM
How do you take the social web by storm in a day, winning over even the coldest of hearts and gaining international acclaim – with commercials?
A team of creatives, tech geeks, marketers and writers gathered in an undisclosed location in Portland, Oregon yesterday and produced 87 short comedic YouTube videos about Old Spice. In real time. They leveraged Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and blogs. They dared to touch the wild beasts of 4chan and they lived to tell the tale. Even 4chan loved it. Everybody loved it; those videos and 74 more made so far today have now been viewed more than 4 million times and counting. The team worked for 11 hours yesterday to make 87 short videos, that's just over 7 minutes per video, not accounting for any breaks taken. Then they woke up this morning and they are still making more videos right now. Here's how it's going down.
Setting the Stage
Old Spice, marketing agency Wieden + Kennedy and actor Isaiah Mustafa are collaborating on the project. The group seeded various social networks with an invitation to ask questions of Mustafa's character, a dashing shirtless man with over-the-top humor and bravado. Then all the responses were tracked and users who contributed interesting questions and/or were high-profile people on social networks are being responded to directly and by name in short, funny YouTube videos. The group has made videos in response to Digg founder Kevin Rose, TV star Alyssa Milano (now big on Twitter) and many more people, famous and not.
It is well done and it appeals to peoples' egos – but there is something more, too. It feels very personalized, even if it wasn't directed at you. Those people that got responses, and many people who didn't, have Tweeted, Facebooked and otherwise shared links to the videos back out across their social networks.
Iain Tait, Global Interactive Creative Director at Wieden, is leading the effort. "In a way there's nothing magical that we've done here," he explained by phone this afternoon. "We just brought a character to life using the social channels we all [social media geeks] use every day. But we've also taken a loved character and created new episodic content in real time."
How They Are Doing It
Tait says that the primary differentiator between this campaign and others is how closely technical and social media specialists are working with the creative team. "We brought social media experts right into the creative process," he told me. Tell that to the next person who claims that all so-called social media experts are just hot-air. Tait's own savvy no doubt played a large role in the success of the campaign as well. He's just been at Wieden for 3 months, after leaving a UK agency he co-founded 8 years ago. He was voted the Most Influential Person in the UK's New Media Age Top 100 Interactive Agencies Guide last year.
"In the room there are two social media guys and a tech guy who built a system pulling in comments from around the web all together in real time," Tait says.
"We're looking at who's written those comments, what their influence is and what comments have the most potential for helping us create new content. The social media guys and script writers are collaborating to make that call in real time. We have people shooting and we're editing it as it happens. Then the social media guys are looking at how to get that back out around the web…in real time."
The videos aren't being posted in chronological order immediately after the Tweets and comments they are in reply to. They get moved up and down a queue in a deliberate, orchestrated, if very fast way.
Tait: "Those people are having more fun than I've ever seen anyone have in a shoot like this. That's part of why it's doing so well. It's genuinely infectious, it transmits itself through the internet in a massive way."
How loved has the new campaign proven to be? 4Chan, the anonymous nihilist obscene messageboard from whence sprang memes like LOLCats and RickRolling, was the subject of what's now the 3rd most-watched of the Old Spice videos made yesterday, after the ones made for Perez Hilton and Kevin Rose. 4channers hate everything, especially people who talk about 4chan – which this savvy man in a towel did not do. But 200,000 views later, that absurd video response to "Anonymous" has received more than 4000 thumbs up from viewers and less than 100 thumbs down.