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