In this episode, the guys discuss how the well known personal care brand, Old Spice, fought to stay relevant and to reconnect with their audience. They walk us through the brand’s attempts to rediscover their “youth”, will they be successful? Nico shares what the Old Spice ceramic bottle reminds him of and Chad explains the word “swoon” to Nico. 

In the early 1900s a man named William Lightfoot Schulz started a company called, unsurprisingly, the Lightfoot Schultz company. They made shaving soap out of a factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1919, thinking he was making a good business deal, Schultz sold part of the company to the American Razor Blade company. Shaving soap and razor blades together…good deal right? Just about 15 years later, Schultz was forced out of the company he started. He sold control to the American Razor Blade company, and departed. With the money he made from the sale, he decided to start a new business. He stayed with what he knew, making fragranced soaps, toiletries, and shaving soaps primarily for women. 

The fragrances he used were based on a jug his mother had in her house. It was heavily scented with rose petals, clove, and potpourri. She used the scented jug to deodorize the home, much like an air freshener today. And she referred to these as her “old spice jugs.”

Hence the name: Old spice.

In 1937 he released his first product, a woman’s scent called “early american old spice.”

And in 1938 he saw the need for products for men, and he released his first product targeted at the male consumer. Old Spice was a huge success. And his products for men were so successful that he stopped producing women’s fragrances altogether in 1939. Old Spice focused on Shaving Creams and aftershave lotions. This was right in the middle of World War II. 

Old Spice became a symbol of American patriotism, as soldiers carried their products around the world. Schultz leaned into this traveling wanderlust image, and used sailing ships in his branding to lend a feel of old world and adventure. The Old Spice brand did well after WWII – and into the 1940s. But Schultz passed away in 1950, and left his son George to take over. After a few years, without his father’s keen business sense to guide it, the business started to decline. 

Have a look at this 1957 Old Spice ad here.

As often happens when a brand is SO strongly identified with a particular generation, The audience ages, and the product’s popularity wanes. By the early 1970s the brand had fallen so far that they were ripe for merger, and in 1972 Old Spice merged with American Cyanamid – a fortune 500 manufacturer with 100k+ employees. But the glory days of the brand were past. The younger generation considered Old Spice a brand for their grandfathers, a scent for older people. Even the name seemed to hint at it…OLD spice. There was nothing current or attractive about the brand. And there was different branding, the brand seemed caught between the idea of a younger surf-type brand, still identifying with the sea, but in a new way. Here’s an ad from 1970 with this theme. Just 2 years later, they had another ad, watch it here.  The brand really struggled to find it’s true identity after it’s target audience aged. And the story went on, even into the 1990’s the brand suffered. Different divisions were sold off (the majority of it becoming part of what is Pfizer today) It seemed destined for the dump-heap of brand history. 

The Turnaround

In 1990, Cincinnati based Procter & Gamble bought what was left of the brand for $300MM. 

The press release stated that P&G “liked the men’s toiletries market” and felt the acquisition gave them “a strong foothold in the male toiletries market worldwide.”  P&G had a vision for the brand, they were looking to get into the male market, and P&G doesn’t do anything small. P&G Chairman and CEO at the time, Edwin Artzt, said he believed Old Spice had the “quality and reputation to be a major worldwide brand.” But first they had to get past the perception of Old Spice as their grandpa’s brand. And here’s the instructive piece for any marketers listening to this episode. How do you actually change perceptions that are so strongly embedded? 

P&G had a few different strategies that they employed:

  • Rather than targeting adult men, they went after teens and tweeners who had yet to declare loyalty.
  • They handed out free samples of their “High Endurance” sub-brand to kids in 90% of the 5th-grade health classes in America.
  • They focused on the sports crowd, suggesting a correlation between their products and athletic prowess.
  • They went grassroots, sending reps with promo swag to high-school games and skate-park events.
  • They expanded their product lines to include a suite of washes and sprays.

And how did it work? Did the P&G Marketing Machine hit it out of the park? 

No. It failed miserably. Not only were they unable to break through the perception of Old Spice as being for older men, the timing was horrendous. In 2002 Axe Body Spray launched in the US and basically dominated the market that P&G was hoping to reach. Axe was everywhere, and Old Spice still smelled like your grandpa.

So they went back to the drawing board. 

In 2006 P&G hired a new ad agency to help them reinvigorate the brand. The partnership started slowly. In 2008 they released a campaign that was super funny, but not very effective, promoting their Swagger product line. Ads like this one featuring NFL star Brian Urlacher touted Old Spice as the guy’s secret weapon to get the ladies. Have a look at the ad here. 

The ad was funny, but it didn’t help them beat Axe. It didn’t have the impact they needed. 

And so they turned to the data, looking for the opportunity they needed to break through. In 2010, they identified the key insight: that 60% of men’s body wash purchases aren’t made by men, they’re made by women. The Old Spice team – led by Brand Manager James moorhead, keyed in on this fact, and they also emphasized the importance of humor in reaching across gender lines. Moorhead said: “Categories like deodorants and body washes tend to be what we call “low involvement.” So Humor is a great way to spark interest and create a deeper connection with the brand.” This combination of insights led to one of the most iconic and memorable campaigns in recent memory. Watch the ad here.  

Old Spice ran the ad in theaters on Valentine’s Day. Genius placement. And before airing it on television, they put it on the Old Spice Facebook fan page. By using Social Media they could tell how the ad was doing, and with what audience. Moorhead noted that they knew that a quarter of the brand’s fans were female. So the ad campaign empowered those women to choose old spice, not because it’s what their man would want, but because it’s what THEY want their man to smell like, and according to the promise of the campaign, to BE like. This smart appeal was combined with one of the most inventive ads ever created. The combination of humor and inventiveness made the ad unique and the smart writing winked at both male and female audiences in a way that didn’t alienate either one. 

Just how successful was it?

Here are some of the stats of the campaign:

  • On Day 1, the campaign received 5.9 million YouTube views, more than Obama’s victory speech after 24 hours (source: Visible Measures).
  • On Day 2, Old Spice had 8 out of the top 11 most popular videos on the web (source: Visible Measures).
  • By Day 3, the campaign eclipsed 20 million YouTube views.
  • One week post-launch, the work had been seen more than 40 million times.
  • Twitter followers increased 2700%.
  • Facebook fan interactions went up 800%.
  • Facebook fans increased 60% (from 500,000 to 800,000).
  • traffic increased 300%.
  • YouTube subscribers for the brand more than doubled, increasing from 65,000 to 150,000.
  • And Old Spice also became the #1 All-Time Most Viewed and #2 Most Subscribed Branded Channel on YouTube.

Old Spice realized that people were talking about the ad, and they had the opportunity to strike while the iron was hot. They followed it up with a brilliant amplification campaign. 

5 months later – in July of that year, they released a video series in which “Old Spice Man” (the character never did have a name) responded to individual tweets and social media comments, from regular people and celebrities alike. It was another huge hit, and kept the momentum going. Watch the clip here

The guys end off the show by mentioning all the things to be learned from this amazing comeback. Perhaps the first is that they didn’t get it right the first time, but they kept trying. And they kept digging into the data to find the insight that would spark the fire. The insight that women were making the purchases for men was key, and they acted on it, creating a smart, funny campaign that spoke to women about who they wanted their men to be. There’s nothing “old” about this comeback! 

Enjoy the show!

We speak about:

  • [00:20] The first deodorant 
  • [02:30] The history of Old Spice
  • [05:10] The decline of Old Spice
  • [12:20] The turnaround
  • [15:20] 1st failed attempt
  • [18:00] 2nd failed attempt
  • [20:30] The game changing ad campaign
  • [23:10] The successful ad’s analytics
  • [30:00] Lessons to be learned



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