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Earlier this month, social media darlings around the internet were singing the praises of Old Spice, with Mashable claiming that the now infamous campaign was the "future of marketing" and that the agency involved, Wieden + Kennedy, had set a "standard marketing experts will admire and follow in the years to come."

Now, various marketing blogs and online news sources are reporting that sales have "fallen by 7%." But, with barely a week gone since Mr Old Spice conversed with "everyone" on YouTube, is it simply too early to predict ROI from the campaign?

Looking at the numbers, it seems the original analysis of the drop in sales may be flawed, given that it's somewhat premature to announce a verdict about the campaign's success or indeed, failure at this stage.

Last week, Old Spice launched a clever campaign where they made custom videos addressing individual Twitter users in one-to-one videos.

According to online video metrics specialist, Visual Measures, the campaign rapidly became "one of the fastest growing online video campaigns of all time." The results of the campaign were impressive, with 183 videos made in total, 11 million views, and over 22,000 comments in three days. 

However, only days later, BNET revealed Old Spice's dirty little secret: sales of Red Zone After Hours Bodywash had fallen by 7%: 

"But the shower-fresh brand has a dirty secret, as Brandweek notes:

'For instance, it was none other than P&G that picked up the Film Grand Prix this year for Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” TV spot from Wieden + Kennedy. There is little doubt about the viral hit’s popularity. Launched in February, the official version has racked up nearly 12.2 million YouTube views.

But sales of the featured product—Red Zone After Hours Body Wash—aren’t necessarily tracking with that consumer appeal: In the 52 weeks ended June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7 percent according to SymphonyIRI. (That amount excludes those rung up at Walmart.) P&G execs were not available to comment.' "

There's one obvious flaw in the claim above. As BNET has noted, the sales figures relate to the 52 weeks [ending] June 13". The article relates sales to the campaign that featured the nearly 200 improvised videos.

However, it's important to note that the first of the "answering your question" improvised videos (in response to @kpereira) was released through Twitter on July 13th 2010.

Therefore, the sales figures ("7% drop") simply cannot relate to the improvised videos. So what's really going on?

To understand, it's important to look at the bigger picture and understand how and when the campaign started and later developed. It's also crucial to understand the basis of the claims by BNET. 

The first Old Spice TV commercial (The Man Your Man could Smell like") was debuted in time for the Super Bowl in February 2010. The commercial was a success on YouTube, racking up nearly 12.2m views on the site according to an article written by AdWeek on July 12. The ad also won a prestigious Cannes Lions Film Grand Prix at the International Advertising Festival, as AdWeek also notes. 

Later, in late June / early July 2010, Old Spice released two new adverts, both featuring Isaiah Mustapha, once in a hot-tub, and the other involving a manly moustache and a boat

Then on Tuesday, July 13th, Mr Old Spice launched the following cryptic message to his Twitter followers: 

Mr Old Spice then proceeded to answer the questions of individual Twitter users, resulting in the social media hype machine crashing into full throttle. Just over a week later, social media authorities started to refer to the AdWeek article, quoting the 7% drop in sales. 

The problem with this is that the original AdWeek related to sales figures following the initial Old Spice commercial released in time for the Super Bowl. The article itself was focused on whether award-winning work actually makes any money for clients.

Therefore (as it was written even before the first improvised video was released), it does not take into account the impact from subsequently released campaigns, including Old Spice's latest foray into social media and online video. 

Moreover, the 7% sales drop only relates to the sales of a single product, the Red Zone After Hours Bodywash. It does not take into account the shift in sales of the overall Old Spice product range. As a Forbes article noted:

"Total sales for Old Spice body wash at supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers excluding Wal-Mart were up 7.9% in the 52-week period ending June 13, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm."

As John B notes on his blog, both articles from AdWeek and Forbes are in fact accurate. Whereas the sales of a specific bodywash (the one featured in the ad but not overtly promoted as such) fell by 7%, the overall brand has increased its sales by nearly 8%. And of course, this still does not take into account for the impact of the latest 180+ videos. 

It is also interesting to note that many of the blogs reporting the sales drop refer to Brandweek, when in fact it was AdWeek that reported the original figures. 

The social media outlets that reported this should have realised that in fact, it would simply be impossible to analyse the impact of a campaign so early on. Unlike in politics, a week in the advertising world is a relatively short amount of time, particularly to analyse sales. 

When measuring success of a social media campaign, one cannot stress enough the importance of relating metrics to business objectives.

As I've noted in the comments here, the objectives of the Old Spice campaign may have been twofold: 

  • To increase sales of Old Spice.
  • Rebrand the product for a new generation of consumers and change perceptions of an "old brand".

There are many viral campaigns that have had a direct impact in sales or have increased market share, so that's not to say a viral strategy isn't effective. For example, the Nike Chalkbot campaign coincided with a 46% jump in sales, generating $4m for Lance Armstrong's foundation, according to Adweek

In addition, the Volkswagen Fun Theory campaign resulted in "VW's overall share of the Swedish market tripling to more than 13% in the first six months of this year, and sales rose 58%, per DDB Stockholm."  

However, with regards to Old Spice, it is not only sales but also the shift in brand perception (in terms of rejuvenating Old Spice for a younger generation of consumers) that may be truly indicative of success. 

In conclusion, it seems that overall sales of Old Spice have increased "in the 52 weeks leading up to June 13", coinciding with the very first Old Spice TV commercial. However, it is simply too early to predict or analyse the impact that the online campaign has had, particularly with regards to the customised videos. 

What's clear is that when it comes to analysing the ROI of social media campaigns, it's important to avoid the hype and take results with a pinch of salt. And, what may be successful or popular with people working within social media or digital marketing may not necessarily translate into brand recognition or sales when it comes to actual consumers in the real world. 

So, success or failure, Mr Old Spice guy? Only time will tell. 

What do you think about the impact of the Old Spice campaign? Please let us know in the comments. 

Image credit: Old Spice campaign on YouTube

Aliya Zaidi

Published 23 July, 2010 by Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi is Research Manager at Econsultancy. Follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn or Google+.

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Comments (10)

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Ask 100 companies how much they would pay to have as much outreach as this campaign created and you will be talking serious money. Maybe they anticipated such a global trend, maybe they didn't, but regardless of the first sales figures showing a decline; the long term brand equity Old Spice has thus created from this campaign, opposed to it's previously 'stereotyped' brand will be viewed as priceless.

almost 7 years ago


Jonathan Salem Baskin

It seems to me that if we didn't work so hard to find proof that social 'works' -- inventing metrics, arguing for an ever-longer or broader view, and even changing the very purpose of why we spend marketing money -- we'd have an easier time understanding it. Sales do matter, not just eventually but absolutely, and the fact that we have to close one eye and squint the other to make the connection back to social is no more legitimate than when our predecessors tried to claim that TV adverts that had no relevance, utility, or substantive meaning were still somehow 'good' for the brand. Methinks we're just working too hard to prove what we want to believe. Surely, social interaction is a core component to product awareness, understanding, and purchase. Proof of said merits shouldn't be so difficult to find unless, gasp, they're not there.

almost 7 years ago



Regardless of the sales, the campaign itself is just astonishing. I am, being a 24 year old guy, probably the target audience and I have been blown away. I loved every single video of the campaign and I guess me and my friends watched almost every one of them. I do agree with Luca, stating that the brand's image is definitely changing and I guess you can't really put dollars on that. And as the targeted audience, I'd definitely buy the body wash at least to try it (but since I'm living in The Netherlands I won't be able to...). All I can say is that I love Old Spice for creating such an inspiring social media campaign!

almost 7 years ago



By pretty much every metric (with the exception of sales which as you point out it is too early to tell) the campaign was a huge success. The question becomes how do small and mid size companies do something similar without the budget of Old Spice. Here is one idea, http://bit.ly/bCxs72.

almost 7 years ago



It seems clear from what you say that the situation is completely the other way around than being portrayed elsewhere. The novel viral campaign obviously did not result in falling sales for the body wash product the previous year! Rather, falling sales (seen by management for a long time) resulted in the need for an massive and aggressive rebranding campaign to counter the impact of "cool" people like Axe. Not enough has been said about previous Axe marketing and its affect. I am sure @OldSpice man studied them in detail.

almost 7 years ago


Michelle Allison

Great post, very interesting to see the analysis behind the figures (not my strong point!). I agree with something Johnathan said, people spend too much time trying to prove the worth of social media with monetary return. ROI is important, but its hard to put a figure on the enormous amount of positive PR this campaign has created - goodwill and receptiveness to the Old Spice brand must be at an all time high. This type of great PR and word of mouth proves its own worth in the long run - you dont need to put a figure on it.



almost 7 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi


While I agree that there are other measurements of the success of a campaign, such as goodwill and brand value, I don't agree that you don't need to put a figure on the effect of PR and word-of-mouth. All marketing channels need to have some accountability in order to justify investing in them in the first place. And this is even more paramount in a recessionary climate when budgets are strained even further. 

Ultimately, PR is a business exercise and so, success must be translated into business figures through rigorous analysis. It's all very well creating buzz, but there must be some positive effect in terms of business metrics in the long-term. 

It may be difficult to absolutely 100% "prove" ROI, but it's still possible to provide strong evidence that a campaign delivered ROI. For example, the Nike Chalkbot campaign coincided with a jump in sales, and while maybe, you can't say 100% for sure that this is attributable to their social media efforts, the evidence suggests this is highly likely, given the focus of the campaign and the timing of the jump in sales. 

And, yes, it may not be possible to do this so early on after a campaign, but sales, revenue or other KPIs must be monitored over time to analyse trends and see the long-term impact of a campaign. Ultimately, if the campaign does not result in more people buying Old Spice, then the question is, why do it in the first place? As Jonathan points out "Sales do matter, not just eventually but absolutely".

almost 7 years ago


Tess Alps

Speaking as the UK TV marketing body, what I find amazing is that people  - and the advertisers too sometimes - can trip the YouTube and online numbers off ther tongues very easily, but can't tell you the equivalent views from linear TV.

This ad had a big TV campaign in the US starting in February with a Superbowl spot.  A standard TV campaign with a reach of about 80% of the population and a frequency of 5 views would result in 1.23 billion 'views'  from TV.  The subsequent social media activity is a brilliant extension of the campaign capitalising on the inspiration that the TV ad provoked, but the 'numbers' are in a different league.

You couldn't reliably calculate the ROI of just one component of this campaign anyway, and all our research tells us that the TV camapign will still be paying back in 2 or 3 years' time.  We should be celebrating how these things work together, not make absurd overclaims for one tactic.

almost 7 years ago

Aliya Zaidi

Aliya Zaidi, - at Mrs Aliya Zaidi

Thanks for commenting, Tess. It's really insightful to get the perspective of someone who works within TV, and I completely agree that we need to employ a multichannel approach and understand how different channels work together in an integrated strategy.

I also think we need to start applying some of the techniques and metrics from traditional offline channels to measure and benchmark the contribution of online media. 

almost 7 years ago


Tess Alps

Chris, I have some sympathy for online advertising which is always expected to generate 'engagement' or, what people really mean, which is a click. But "as ye sew, so shall ye reap". Online was too quick to talk about ROI on the basis of last click wins; not only does it fail to credit offline media's contribution to that action but also a great deal of online display. I dispute online's 'accountability' claims - it's an illusion - and it's not much better with online conversion attribution analytics. 'Countability' more like. But I really don't want to sound like I'm having a go at online advertising. I love search and social media particularly, for how well they work with and amplify TV. I think calling BARB 'guesswork' is a bit rich; it's the most robust and best-funded media research in the world. You can't rely on server data when it comes to TV viewing, because viewing is shared; even UKOM have had to resort to a panel system. But at Thinkbox, while we deal with consumption and exposure figures of course, we are much more interested in effectiveness. Because TV doesn't have a built in return path we rely on integrated econometrics to get the credit we deserve, which we often don't get from specialist agencies, whether direct or 'digital'. The DMA came out with research earlier this year that found the addition of TV makes online advertising 175% more effective (and DM 142% more effective). With social media, it's very much a case of what's cause and what's effect. Can't go on too much more here. Get in touch if you want to continue the debate.

almost 7 years ago

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