I don’t often weigh in on big corporate issues, but there are some good lessons from two contrasting recent promotions. Fast Company is a well known forward-thinking business magazine. Conventional wisdom says they should have succeeded in a social campaign. P&G is the corporate behemoth behind the brand Old Spice. They should have had trouble with a social campaign. Turns out, that is exactly backwards.
The Influence Project
Fast Company Magazine launched The Influence Project, with much fanfare. It promised anyone a chance to get their photo in a future issue of the magazine by spreading a link to as many different people as possible. The more people who click on your link, the bigger your picture grows on the website. But that was the end of it. There was no other purpose than to spread the link. They could have implemented a charitable cause, awareness of an issue, delivered new content, or any other additional value, but they did not. So the project did drive lots of page views for Fast Company, and it will likely sell lots of magazines because people will want a copy of the issue with their picture in it, no matter how tiny it is.
Interestingly, many people I would consider true online influencers are NOT participating at all. As my husband observed, they are too busy doing their work. I saw a report that Mari Smith was “a leading contender” for most influential in this project. This surprises me not at all. I followed Mari on Twitter for over a year. This project is a popularity contest, and that is exactly the sort of thing I think Mari would enjoy and participate in.
My friend Amber Naslund wrote an excellent analysis of this, How Fast Company confused ego with influence.
Now let’s contrast this popularity contest with a successful participatory campaign.
Old Spice Personal Videos
Building on the success of the Old Spice “I’m on a horse” commercial, this week The Old Spice Guy arrived on Twitter (and other online channels) with a series of personal video replies to followers. They managed to do it with the same sense of humor, the same “we’re all in on this joke together” fun.
Immediately, people were willingly sharing these videos. Friends who clicked the link weren’t prodded into joining a pyramid scheme of popularity; they were just joining in on the fun.
The next wave was replies, responses and parodies made by followers. Eric Berto made a silly one with his pug dog. And @OhDoctah called out the Old Spice guy with an amazing response. (There are lots more replies out there, if you search for them.)
Then we got behind the scenes peeks, like this story from Read Write Web. Once again, we were part of the story, in on the joke. We got to see how Old Spice was working with small, non-Madiosn-Avenue marketing agency Wieden + Kennedy and actor Isaiah Mustafa. They become “One of Us,” as Chris Brogan would say.
The end result is a landmark performance. Mashable calls it an archetype for a successful campaign.
But did it sell? Stephen Denny (who is new to me) points out that sales of the specific product featured (Red Zone After Hours Body Wash) are down 7% over the 52 weeks ending June 13, 2010. That’s a month ago. It will be interesting to compare sales numbers after the end of this week. I’m betting the ROI on this will beat any comparable dollar amount of billboard purchases or naming rights on arenas.
Let’s go back to my husband’s analysis. Instantly Old Spice has gone from something your dad wore way back when, to something you’d buy. What’s the ROI on that? Consider this tweet today by @arun4:
“Wearing @oldspice. Who said social media doesn’t work?”
Fast Company’s Influence Project was all about getting others to click links to increase the size of your own picture. The Old Spice campaign was about participating and laughing together.
Even though it looked like Fast Company’s project was about us, it turned out to be all about them. The opposite is true of the Old Spice videos. What looked like another corporate message, turned out to be all about us.
At the end of this week, I find I have a higher opinion of Old Spice, and a lower opinion of Fast Company. Sometimes the corporate giants get new things right, and sometimes the fashionably hip fall on their face.
For another comparison of these two campaigns, see the article by Dan Costa in PC Magazine.
And yet, influence is an artifact of the digital media industry, a mix of increasingly desperate marketers, consultants, bloggers, PR flacks, and media hacks. The majority of people just don’t care about it. My Dad runs a tissue processing plant—guess what he thinks of my 3,000 Twitter followers? Not much.
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Once again you have written a detailed, professional article. I appreciate that you take the time and effort to quote other sources and give links. I too will be interested if the Old Spice ads increases sales.
You wrote: “As my husband observed, they are too busy doing their work.” One smart guy your husband. btw, my smart husband and I agree with him.
Becky McCray says
Thank you, Miss Dazey. It must be that small town newspaper experience. :)
Cheryl Lawson says
Great post. In the battle of social media campaigns @Oldspice wins! :)
Sean McGinnis says
Let the data tell the story. Not enough to overcome the brand image in my head. Many others agree with me. Interesting campaign and wildly successful in terms of building buzz, but did it sell. I’ll be interested to see. I hope so, but I’m also skeptical.
Becky McCray says
Thanks, Cheryl. Glad you liked it.
Sean, skepticism is healthy, in this case. We’ll all be waiting for the sales numbers before making any final conclusions.
Ken Montville says
In addition to the contrasts mentioned in the post, the Fast Company site is slow to load and difficult to navigate. They are trying to hard to be fancy schmancy, cutting edge and what happens is frustration and, ultimately, indifference.
Becky McCray says
Ken, good point. The PC Magazine article did make that point, as well. Using what already exists is easier than building something new. That doesn’t mean never build something new, but do so only when it makes sense.
David B. Thomas says
I’m also waiting to see if the campaign will sell more Old Spice. If it does, and they can tie it to this campaign, they’ll be one of the first big brands to do so. But I also wonder how many times people watching the Super Bowl see a great ad that makes them laugh and tell their friends and then say, “Yeah, but what are the sales figures?” It’s a great campaign and nearly everybody I know is talking about it. What brand wouldn’t consider that a success in itself?
Steve Garfield says
Excellent post! Retweeted!
Of course if this sort of campaign is going to be used by small businesses it can’t be the massive production that was used in this case. Few can afford that. However there is a way that small and medium size businesses can do something similar, http://bit.ly/bCxs72. Granted the production value is not the same as the Old Spice campaign but it is something that can be done for little or no money and doesn’t require a setup effort so it can be done as the spirit moves people in the daily or weekly social media marketing.
Great, Great Post, Becky. You broke it down to size. “It’s about us, not me.” Always has, Always will be.. I saw that influencer project and people were also tweeting it to me to check out. I took one look and really was surprised something like this was coming out of Fast Company. I really didn’t go into to0 much detail learning what it was about because at first glance it seemed like something which had to do with the “me” and ego as you stated above. On the other side of the coin, I must say I really did get caught up in the Old Spice Man campaign a little, I asked a few silly questions about diamonds and even told people and showed people the videos who aren’t on the internet as much as I. One thing people I think underestimate is the word of mouth that we can’t always measure in page views or “plays” alone. They sure hit it out of the planet on this one. Also, after I saw how viral this was getting, going all over everywhere past Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, I was on Twitter talking about wondering how long and how far are they gonna go before they end it and ruin a really remarkable campaign. The next day was the end. So they pretty much did everything right. Anyway, thanks for the great post. I now clearly understand the detail of the Influencer Project. Really should be a learning experience for Fast Company I hope. Have a great weekend, DG
Sheila Scarborough says
I did note that it was a small marketing agency in Portland that did the Old Spice work, not some big Madison Avenue agency in New York. The Portland agency also said that P&G set guidelines/boundaries but gave them mostly free reign to let it rip on the creativity of the video responses from the “Old Spice Guy.”
I dread the many weak, copycat ad campaigns that will follow, from products/services that have neither imagination nor trust in their partners.
Nice post, Becky!
Becky McCray says
David, I certainly agree that this built brand awareness. And I think that will be much more lasting than other awareness campaigns we’ve seen.
Steve, thanks for the support!
VidCrayzee, thanks for offering an option. Most any small company could take their digital camera and start replying to customers in video. @UnitedLinen has started already. Keep it simple and personal, and talk to your customers!
Dan, thanks for adding your thoughts. I hope it is a chance for all of us small business people to learn from some really expensive investments made by two big companies.
Sheila, you’re right. You said we’ll be inundated by guys in towels, because campaigns will try to ride on this project, rather than actually learn the lessons.
Christiana Briddell says
I just wanted to point out that the Fast Company project is called the “Influence Project” without the “r”. This being important because my company, ThougthLead, coincidentally launched the “Influencer Project” (with the r) on the same day. We have nothing to do with Fast Company, and our event was 60 of the top social media “influencers” speaking about how to increase your influence. (Your friend Amber Naslund was one of the speakers).
You can see the Influencer Project here: http://influencerproject.com
Thanks for the thoughtful article on the subject. I really love those Old Spice videos! It’s participatory advertising. Pretty cool!
Becky McCray says
Christiana, thank you for the correction. I will update the story. Your event was well received online, and provided useful content. Thanks for providing the link.
Chubbs The Pug says
*snort* The naked guy has nothing on a cute pug. You know you want to play with me. *snort*
Becky McCray says
We have arrived: Chubbs the Pug left us a comment.
Kimberly @ Art and Tech Design says
Becky, this was a great article. I also didn’t “get” Fast Company’s odd “campaign”, but I love Old Spice Guy. I think we will see numbers increase for Old Spice based on this: while out shopping with my teen son and two of his friends as they bought their needed toiletries for camp week, they saw Old Spice in the store, and they opted for that over Axe which they normally wear, and all started talking about their favorite Old Spice commercials. By that alone, I think the commercial and viral videos have succeeded in doing more than just making us laugh. (My favorite one by the way is his response to his daughter Haley.)
Even if guys my age are still thinking of it as something Grandpa wore, I believe that the younger ones aren’t hung up on the past.
Becky McCray says
Kimberly, thanks for sharing your experience. Clearly the campaign has changed the behavior of some shoppers. Thanks!
Mari Smith says
Hi Becky — many thanks for the mention. I love how you’ve compared these two social initiatives.
It’s so fascinating to watch the diverse responses to Fast Company’s project; I jumped in immediately and could never, ever have predicted such backlash from the social media industry the next day and ongoingly. I saw the project as a win for all – everyone gets their pic in the magazine. There you go. I guess I’m naive! :)
But, as the days have rolled on and much fuss has been made, I’ve certainly backed right off any promotions… though I still love Fast Company as a publication; always will.
As for Old Spice: Pure. Genius. ;)
Becky McCray says
Mari, thanks for coming by and commenting. I think if you like the project and see it as a win for all, then you should continue to support it. I thought it was a good fit for you and your brand image, since you have used the line “FastCompany.com dubbed me the Pied Piper of the online world” for quite a while.
Becky McCray says
Some preliminary sales data are now available. BrandWeek posted them in Old Spice Campaign Smells Like Sales Success, Too.