Old Spice’s popular viral videos have been winning the company accolades all summer — including an Emmy nod this week. Now it looks as if something a little more powerful contributed to the company’s strong sales figures this year: coupon offers.

As soon as Old Spice stopped offering coupons for the products touted in the viral “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ads, the company’s sales bounce disappeared. If Wieden + Kennedy’s lauded creative can’t move product, the campaign could serve as a warning to those seeking viral video glory online.

Wieden’s original “I’m on a horse” TV spot spawned a cottage industry of videos starring Isaiah Mustafa. And all of those ads have been popular. In addition to the millions of views, the campaign has performed well in every digital metric. According to Mediabistro last week:

“The campaign has received 1.5
billion impressions since its launch in February, including 130 million
video views. Twitter followers are up 3200%, according to McBeth.
Google searches are up 2200%. Facebook interactions are up 800-1000%.
And traffic to the Old Spice Web site is up 350-500%.”

And though it wasn’t clear at first whether Old Spice was actually selling more product, that changed as the summer went on. In July, Nielsen noted overall sales for Old
Spice body-wash products were up 11% since the year prior; up 27% in the last six months; 55% in the last three months;
and in July when the viral response videos went up and two new TV spots aired, sales jumped 107%.

But according to AdAge today, sales of Old Spice products are actually down this month. And while the ad campaign continues to be popular online, there is one change in Procter & Gamble’s approach. The numbers suggest that it was couponing — not creative — that contributed to the growing sales numbers. 

Scanner data
from SymphonyIRI shows Old Spice body wash sales clocked in at $5.2 million for the month that ended Aug. 8. That’s an increase of 30% from a year ago, but down 30-33%
from the prior two periods. While Old Spice’s videos starring Isaiah Mustafa saw the most views in that period, the coupon offers had stopped.

Writes AdAge:

“The prior eight weeks got more impact from two sets of buy-one, get-one-free coupons
for Old Spice. The last such coupon expired July 31, leaving Mr.
Mustafa and his social-media buds to do the heavy lifting themselves
the final eight days ended Aug. 8, apparently resulting in the
slowdown.”

This weekend, Old Spice is planning to start a new round of product coupons, which are likely to contribute to higher sales for August. But it’s an interesting dilemma. It seems consumers are willing to purchase Old Spice’s new products when they’re at a steep discount.

The company paired its offers with deals at retailers at companies like CVS, Target and Duane Reade. As AdAge notes, one particular CVS offer gave customers $8 cash back for a $4 purchase, meaning they’re actually paid to buy Old Spice products.

Of course, the popular ads starring Mustafa could encourage people to use their coupons.
But the fact that sales drop so steeply when coupons are removed from
the equation implies “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign could be a lot more costly than it appears when considering overall sales figures.