Collaborative Storytelling, Virality, and the New Old Spice

My dad is thirty years older than me (and 23 years older than my boyfriend and 34 years older than my little brother). This uninteresting factoid is relevant, I swear. When I was growing up I remember quite vividly the aroma of Old Spice aftershave emanating from my dad’s black and gray shaving kit. I also remember Tastations, Dream Phone, and the Macarena. Yet somehow the Macarena hasn’t made the transition from childhood memories to my day-to-day in 2013.

So why is it that my boyfriend opts for Old Spice’s innovative shampoo-body wash and when I visit my younger brother I notice that familiar logo sitting on the ledge in his shower? How did Old Spice overcome the test of time?

The short answer is the man your man could smell like.

The longer answer is collaborative storytelling and the viral capabilities of an engaging story through the powers of social media.

The statistics on the viral Old Spice campaign were staggering. David Waterhouse outlines some highlights in an article for Unruly Media:

  • More people watched the Old Spice video in 24 hours than those who watched Obama’s presidential victory speech;
  • Total video views reached 40 million in a week;
  • Campaign impressions: 1.4 billion;
  • Between the campaign launch and August 2010, Old Spice bodywash sales increased 27%; in the last three months (May-July 2010) up 55%; and in the last month (July 2010) up 107%. (Waterhouse, 2012)

Waterhouse cites it as an excellent example of collaborative storytelling as a means to ramp up audience engagement via social video. The multiplatform video appealed to the population’s inherent desire for comedic relief (“Entertain me! Amuse me! Make me laugh!”) and with the ease in which virality takes shape, the-man-your-man-could-smell-like rejuvenated a 79 year old brand.

Research by TechValidate found 81% described video as extremely or very important in engaging customers (Limelight Networks, 2013). Old Spice couldn’t disagree after the success of this video-based campaign. The man-your-man-could-smell-like video captivates the audience’s attention and whether people share the video and talk about it because they are amused or because, like Pete Smithy, they think the ads “come off as completely stupid. [A]nd [I] mean the lowest common denominator type of humour”. (Smithy, n.d.) The audience is still talking and, in a public-driven realm like social media, getting people talking is half the battle.

The campaign tells a story and engages the audience. The narrator is talking to me. He’s the man my man could smell like (and he’s on a horse). Unlike many low-end attempts by narrators in commercials to communicate directly with the audience (“blowout deals” at furniture stores and car dealerships come to mind), this narrator is an unconventional success. The man-your-man-could-smell-like is not addressing the direct consumer. Instead he passively aggressively tells the consumer this is what he needs to smell like, which can only be done through the consumption of this seemingly timeless product.

The agency that created the campaign (Wieden+Kennedy) cited it as the fastest-growing and most popular interactive campaign in history (Waterhouse, 2012). Considering the 40 million views in a single week, that doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. So what lesson can be taken from this? How do you get someone to consume your product? And not stop there, but also have it consumed by the next generation.

A product that transcends the test of time starts and ends with an engaging story. Tell a captivating story that gets the audience talking. An engaged audience sells your brand for you. The brand your brand could smell like. On a horse.


Limelight Networks. (2013). New Survey Reveals Criticality of Video in Driving Audience Engagement and Conversion [Press Release]. Retrieved from

Old Spice. (February 4 2010). Old Spice | The Man Your Man Could Smell Like [Video file]. Retrieved from

Smithy, P. (n.d.). Who else hates those annoying old spice commercials? Retrieved August 28, 2013, from

Waterhouse, D. (October 23 2012). 3 Ways Brands Can Ramp Up Their Audience Engagement Through Social Video. Retrieved August 28, 2013, from



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