The viral campaign your viral campaign could smell like

So much has been written about the success of  Old Spice’s social media campaign this week, that to say too much about it would be redundant.  But there are a few facets of this campaign which translate well to other attempts to create viral interest online, whether it be for a brand like Old Spice, a cause, or a candidate.

1.  Engagement. The central theme of the campaign was keeping random folks involved, and making an effort to actually answer questions from random internet surfers.  The behind-the-scenes strategy was a little bit more sophisticated than that; the team behind the campaign made sure certain bloggers and social media savvy celebrities – key influencers of the online conversation – were targeted to ensure their exposure spread.

2.  Speed. Creating the videos required rapid-fire recordings and uploads, which was no doubt made for a few intense days for “Old Spice Man” actor Isaiah Mustafa.  This short burst of productivity allowed Old Spice to strike while the iron was hot.  That level of immediate responsiveness is the difference between a campaign getting some attention for launching a website before quickly getting stale and enjoying an extended media cycle where they drive the conversation by constantly giving people something to talk about.  Much like in baseball, speed can slow the game down.

3.  Context. None of this would have been possible without a resonant base concept.  Old Spice had spent months cultivating the image of the unthreateningly arrogant and unfailingly confident Old Spice Man, and even more time building its brand as a tongue-in-cheek advertiser.  This week’s campaign did not happen in a vacuum; the online success was supported by months of support from traditional television advertising.

4.  Content. The fact that Mustafa’s Old Spice Man and the commercials were ridiculous and off beat – in other words, entertaining – helped immensely.  The traditional model of advertising for big brands is sponsoring entertainment such as television shows.  Old Spice essentially created entertainment.  It’s nothing new – Budweiser has been making ads that told stories for decades.  It’s just more important in a media environment where it’s tough to catch eyeballs.

One thing to note is that Old Spice is not a nicle and dime start up.  Before the last year or so of quirky ads, it had a long-standing reputation as a stalwart in the field of optimal men’s odors.  In such a position, many brands would have forged a “Coca Cola campaign” – highlighting their history and strength.  It would have been safe but probably not as successful as their current strategy, which allows them to compete with the more sophomoric positioning of competitors like Axe without sacrificing the their old school street cred.

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