Old Spice sets a new bar for agency collaboration

A little over two weeks ago, Old Spice took the Internet by storm with a flurry of creative, customized videos on YouTube, directed at bloggers, celebrities, and others.

A little over two weeks ago, Old Spice took the Internet by storm with a flurry of creative, customized videos on YouTube, directed at bloggers, celebrities, and others. The seemingly massive extension of the brand's popular ad campaign for its body wash, which itself kicked off earlier in 2010, feature guy-in-a-towel Isaiah Mustafa providing humorous comments to, or about, each of the people he recorded a video response for. Some of the more popular videos are the one to Perez Hilton (more than 1.6 million views to date) and another with actress Alyssa Milano (more than 970,000 views), who sent a video response, bath towel and all, to Mustafa.

You're reading this, and probably wondering – “why are we talking about an advertising campaign in PRWeek?” and you'd be asking exactly the right question.

The reason I'm bringing this up is to draw attention to something that many of us who work in that not-so-grey-anymore-area of digital and PR experience on a regular basis – the request to create “the next viral whatever.” Now, don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the requests, but what's important is to note that viral is an outcome. Are there people and places that specialize in making things viral, or creating viral campaigns? Sure. But there's still a lot of effort that goes into it.

This particular campaign is successful – at least from a straight PR and awareness standpoint, so far – in that a) we're all buzzing about it, b) there's at least some perception of sales success, with Old Spice Body Wash reportedly seeing an increase in sales of 107% during the month of July, and c) is a great example of how advertising, PR, and social media activities can work together, as PRWeek's Alexandra Bruell reported on July 21.

It's way too early to decide if this campaign sets the bar for all future creative social media campaigns, but it's not too early to recognize that a lot of time, money, and effort went into making this a success. What we need to be informing our clients and colleagues about is that this isn't a snap-your-fingers type of thing. I shudder to think of the number of amazing writers, film crew, set designers, and team members scouring the @OldSpice tweets to find the best places to respond. Even so, you don't see too much credit-grabbing between ad shop Weiden + Kennedy and Old Spice's PR firm, Paine PR, do you?

Saying that this campaign “reeks,” as one blogger did just one week after it went live is, in my opinion, premature. There was certainly strategy involved here, along with tactical execution, follow-up, and surely some goal-setting. Whether those goals were awareness, volume of discussion around Old Spice, or a rise in sales is up to Procter & Gamble, W+K, Paine PR, and the other players involved— not us.

What the rest of us should be doing, however, is recognizing the opportunity to build collaborative environments and plans for our clients, and providing the best team to execute those ideas. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of PR, digital, or other types of hybrid firms that could execute a campaign with a significant level of creativity on their own – but it's pretty clear that the success in this type of area is thinking outside the box, and sometimes that box might just be your own office.

Tom Biro is a VP at Allison & Partners, and is based in Seattle. His column will focus on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com.

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