Look at the man next to you, now back to me, now look at the Old Spice sales figures, now back to me

July 17, 2010

Flushed with success at Cannes, the progress of Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice Red Zone Body Wash campaign, featuring hunky actor Isaiah Mustafa, seemed unstoppable.

Now the geographical focus has switched from one end of France to the other: Waterloo. Not only has an ambitious foray into the real-time web, involving interactive video, gone into meltdown, but some embarrassing sales figures have emerged. It’s tempting to believe the two things are connected, though that’s doubtful.

“The man your man could smell like”, devised by Wieden & Kennedy, has been an undeniable succès d’estime, but it doesn’t sell product. Not, at least, if we give credence to the SymphonyIRI figures printed in Brandweek: during the 52 weeks ending on June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7% (excluding the amount sold in WalMart). Bear in mind that the W+K campaign was launched at the Super Bowl in February, so it’s had plenty of time to register a difference.

Taken at face value, this is yet another example of a hackneyed and disagreeable truth. Great creativity may surprise and delight, but often fails to sell product. As Jim Edwards at bNet points out, that’s a great shame because it sets the cause back. Once, P&G was lambasted for its controlling and philistine attitude towards creativity. Now it has changed its ways, it’s probably going to be pilloried for not slashing the price and turning the brand into a moribund cash cow. Or something equally unimaginative. Is Old Spice a dad’s brand, beyond redemption? I don’t know. But it’s certainly possible the marcoms is too sophisticated for the task in hand.

To use a rare (for me) sport analogy, would Germany have won the World Cup had it stuck to its usual, brutally regimented, style instead of adopting the free-flowing, elegant, possession football identified as “gay” by its critics? At the end of the day, it’s all about scoring goals.

UPDATE 27/7/10. Have I been too harsh on the Old Spice Guy’s performance? New sales figures, produced below and printed in Ad Age, suggest a more complex picture than that originally conveyed by the Brandweek article. At first sight, Old Spice seems to have done well, especially in June. On closer inspection, however, P&G’s Gillette has done a lot better. The real winner in the period is probably Unilever’s Dove Men & Care, relaunched in the spring. As Ad Age points out, category uplift has been complicated by heavy couponing and price discounts. Whatever else they may be, the sales figures are not a clear-cut endorsement for Old Spice creativity:

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