Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Old Spice Empathises With Young People

Old Spice is a great example of exactly how to rebrand.

We all know the fun ad series with Isaiah Mustafa and Terry Crews, the humour, the style in those spots. How it rebuilt Old Spice’s brand, made it cool, made it viral.

(Man, I forgot how good those ads are. I used to imitate them with my friends all the time.)

But there’s more to it than that.

It’s easily forgotten now that Old Spice wasn’t just declining – it was near dead. It was on the verge of being dismantled, delisted and discontinued. This was a product for your granddad; its user base was not just leaving the market but shuffling off this mortal coil. And there was no suggestion that anyone was coming in to replace them.

Wieden + Kennedy knew that the brand needed a shake-up. The core value of that reboot though was empathy, in two very different ways.

Firstly, there was a keen sense of empathy in the rebuilding of the Old Spice brand. They moved from the past to being emblematic of modern manhood: cool, attractive and confident, but also self-aware and self-deprecating when necessary.

(Somehow this manages to be the definition of both coolness and self-deprecation.)

No pretention. Just a strong, expressive voice which spoke to people in the modern world. Sounds a lot more human and relatable than most brands.

The reinvention of Old Spice wasn’t just a nice coat of paint. It was strategic. It staked a claim on modern cool, on something we could identify with, recognising that the world was starting to move away from the Lynx/Axe style of all-out testosterone and quasi-sexism.

(Not that I have anything against Lynx. It takes rare cunning to appear to be marketing towards cool twenty-something guys when you’re really targeting nervous fourteen-year-olds.)

As much as anything it was a recognition that male grooming, like beer, is now a market that is more about attitude than product. Whether or not you like this shift, to make a brand choice in body wash is to make a statement about yourself. It’s a way to declare the lifestyle and character you identify with.  

And W+K and Old Spice saw that there was a clear space going unclaimed, and a lot of young men going unrepresented. They identified, they empathised, and they built a brand and a character around that space – The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.

And on that note, on to part two.

The second way that Old Spice has used empathy has been in stripping back the distance between the brand and its audience. Frank Rose covers this in a great article on brand empathy; “the idea was to give people a way to connect with Isaiah Mustafa, the man who’d become ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’”.

The building of the Mustafa character as not just a mascot, but a figure that interacted and engaged with the audience in near real-time (via Twitter and YouTube) was a huge step in creating genuine empathy for a brand with its potential customers.

And 34 million viewers online in that first week are not to be sniffed at; the response films as a whole had one of the biggest viewerships of the year on YouTube. With every response, every funny answer and clever line, Old Spice wasn’t just innovating – they were connecting with people on a one to one, personal level.

So, what’s the takeaway learning from this?

It’s nothing complicated.

(I always say that though to be fair. And then I carry on for another hundred words*.)

The key idea goes back to a point I’ve made before: people pay attention when they feel you’re talking to them individually – not just to the crowd they’re in. When it feels like you actually get them.

By starting a stream of Twitter conversations, and accompanying YouTube clips, Old Spice literally was talking to people individually. And funnily enough, people went crazy for it.

It’s a simple formula.

First you make your brand seem relatable and engaging.

Then you actually actively engage with your audience.

Then – you profit.

(I mean, you would hope.)

(*86 words, actually.)

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