MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

The Smell of Success: The Return of Mustafa | February 22, 2011

Just over a year ago, the world was introduced to Isaiah Mustafa: the muscular, horse-riding former NFL player reassigned to the forefront of an Old Spice advertisement that has since earned 30 million YouTube hits and several marketing awards for Wieden+Kennedy, the full-service agency behind the spot. It’s understandable, then, that Mustafa’s return to television made waves in the social media world earlier this month, as Old Spice debuted a new ad in which the seductive spokesman explores “where you can go when your man smells like me.” Watch below for the answer, which three million viewers have already sought via YouTube.
Despite criticism that the ad retreads familiar territory, initial statistics suggest that the Mustafa craze is far from over. His original ad, which spawned the “I’m on a horse” tagline, logged 2.1 million views in its first week. The second Mustafa ad — accompanied by an internet-only campaign in which the actor answered questions in his stylistically-confident manner — scored 2.5 million in that time period. The new ad, “Scent Vacation,” courted 3.5 million views across its various channels from February 1st, its debut date, to the 8th (see graph below). As expected, Old Spice predicts a continuation of its current sale surge in the wake Mustafa’s growing popularity.
There are two main ingredients that make the “Scent Vacation” ad work so well, both of which also apply to the previous Old Spice spots: self-awareness and viral viability. The ad is self-aware in that Mustafa recognizes his role as a spokesperson, and plays with the associated image while subtly poking fun at the entire advertising industry. He mocks high-cost budgets by shifting through space and time and visiting various locales, including the final location — a “typical” home — that’s decked out with a red piano and fondue fountain. His tone is at once sardonic and authoritative; he suggests that using Old Spice can make gods of mere men, but simultaneously recognizes that consumer products have no such power through his exaggerated motions and transformations. And the strongest underlying theme of the advertisement — sex appeal, which arrives at the ad’s end — points to the manipulation of attractive people and places to sell products.

Perhaps even more powerful is the ad’s viral viability, or its incomparable reach on YouTube. Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign is designed for exposure on television and for proliferation online. Through its spread, Old Spice has come to own the most popular corporate YouTube channel in history. Everything that Mustafa does — including his appearances on Ellen and The Early Show — is posted on the internet, meaning that the character exists and lives in the same virtual space where many American consumers control their social lives. The result, quite naturally, is an intensely powerful ad, and one whose return to television is celebrated around the web like the coming of a highly-anticipated film sequel.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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