Look at your brand. . . now back at me. Now back to your brand. . . now back to me. Sadly, I’m going to tell you what you don’t want to hear about the Old Spice campaign.
Old Spice gave us a campaign that was equal parts entertainment, traditional television advertising and YouTube social media magic. But when the sales numbers started trickling in, something was amiss. Namely, sales. What ensued was a firestorm in the blogosphere with sharply divided camps fighting a holy war of mostly unsupported opinion.
When new data points started emerging, they provided the careful student of business a few nuggets to keep in mind for the future, when we’ll be spending our money and looking for real results. Here’s what I saw:
Problem 1: Where’s the beef?
First, the data suggests that campaign itself didn’t move the sales needle. For the first six months of the television media flight, Old Spice sales were first reported to be down 7 percent year over year, then flat in terms of share growth. Then, when the brand’s celebrated customized YouTube video campaign broke, sales hockey-sticked upwards, with sell-through increasing 106 percent. Upon further review, this big and much celebrated uptick coincided with an avalanche of buy-one-get-one-free coupons.
What this means:
Of particular concern was the groundless optimism that many commenters on my blog post seemed to be clinging to. They just knew things would turn out all right because… because… they just had to! The campaign was so funny! It’s dangerous to convince yourself you’re doing the right thing simply because you love doing what you just did. We need to keep our eyes open and our judgment as objective as the human condition allows.
No school like the old school? Possibly so. The coupon avalanche seemed to convince a temporary mob of people to try Old Spice. Would the coupons have worked without the ads and the viral social media campaign? Don’t know. Would the viral social media campaign have moved the needle without the coupons? The data suggests no. The ads alone certainly didn’t.
Let’s agree that activation and conversion are your goals as a business owner. Get people to buy more stuff, in short. Everything you do must be pointed at integration, at tactical face-to-face, in-the-store or on-your-site conversion. There’s no such thing as “buzz.” There’s sales and there’s money down the drain.
Problem 2: All the hammers think you’re a nail.
Second, it seems anyone who has never managed a P&L or met payroll thinks Old Spice was the greatest campaign the world has ever seen. And that person is probably pitching you their agency’s services right now. Listen to the venom in roughly half of the comments coming from digital agency types. This is a red flag.
What this means:
There’s an undercurrent that thinks marketing – and advertising, and particularly video designed for the Web – is all about entertainment. It isn’t. Advertising is supposed to sell stuff. And when your agency types come in the door breathlessly telling you they got a billion views on YouTube but look positively insulted when you ask if it had a positive ROI (gasp!), you need to wonder – assuming that your marketing dollars are finite and you care about making the company money – if you’re with the right people.
Preconceptions are dangerous, especially when it’s their preconceptions and your money. Demand facts, not feelings.
Problem 3: They score, but you lose.
Third, the biggest winner seems to be Old Spice’s advertising agency, which pocketed the coveted Film Grand Prix at Cannes for the campaign.
What this means:
This may be a personal bias, but any time the clear winner isn’t you – meaning the paying customer – there’s a problem.
When asked at Cannes whether the campaign was a success for Old Spice, the brand representatives gave a “no comment.” For good reason, apparently. Later, after some much-needed media training, we were told that the brand was “thrilled” with its results and couldn’t be happier. This doesn’t inspire confidence.
There’s nothing wrong with spending money on video aimed at viral success. Go ahead. It might work. And there are many, many people who will tell you how to go down this path. But the real point of spending money at all in business is to get more business, so ensure – regardless of what you’re promised – that everything you do is pointed towards converting that casual viewer into a buyer.
The secret of many successful advertising campaigns is that they can be leveraged in-store or online. Look at the Pepsi Challenge. It wasn’t just a brilliant campaign – every time a consumer walked into the store and saw those two pallets next to each other, the ad replayed in their heads – but the fact that it was running the campaign at all gave Pepsi the opportunity to convince those retail buyers to stack its pallets next to King Coke. Advertising drives merchandising, and merchandising drives sales. Especially when it’s paired with advertising.
Am I being unfair to the Old Spice brand and the agency? No, not really. The campaign ran for six months, and the brand experienced a 7 percent volume decline, with a spike driven by coupons. It lagged many of its competitors in the category. And yet, the campaign is held up as a paragon of marketing genius. Careful there; that’s dangerous talk.
Let’s learn from this “case study” – the good, the bad and the hopelessly overblown – and use it as a cautionary tale to grow our own success stories.