Small business and startups: engage your customers the old(spice)-fashioned way

Customer loyalty is critical to all businesses, and this loyalty can be built by small businesses by engaging their audience with their own brands through content creation. Blog posts, videos, advertising, and social media interaction should be designed to serve a larger engagement strategy.

The last few weeks have seen an explosion online, on TV, and in the press about an old, (and frankly) washed-up brand, turned new again through a strong, consistent, and creative campaign. Old Spice is a 71 year old brand, which was acquired by Proctor and Gamble in 1990, and which has seen astronomical growth in sales and market share over the past 3 years, due in large part to a creative campaign targeting young men aged 18-34. In 2006 Wieden and Kennedy landed the Old Spice account and started fresh, injecting humor in the advertising across multiple platforms and developing engaging characters and promotions.

There are two interesting things at work here: first is that an “old” brand with historically low brand equity can be updated for modern audiences and marketed to a new demographic by using effective spokespeople, humorous messages, and cross-platform strategies. The second is that the social web can be used to engage this new-found audience with lightning-strike quickness when the groundwork is well-laid and the audience well-prepped.

This did not happen overnight. in 2007 when W+K launched the campaign they introduced several new products, new packaging, and a new logo for the brand. This re-branding allowed them to change the messaging and, over time, change the perception of the brand among the key demographic. They did this through commercials featuring celebrities such as Neal Patrick Harris; through print ads which used silly “Keep it Clean” captions to offset the imagery, and through a website which offered tongue-in-cheek advice on topics such as “Easy ways to avoid getting picked in a lineup.” In two years, the campaign developed a loyal following and garnered 19% of market share, moving Old Spice into the #2 position behind the segment leader, Right Guard, and ahead of the 20-something powerhouse Axe body spray.

This year, the campaign took off in a whole new way in a Superbowl ad with the introduction of the “Old Spice Man,” played by  Isaiah Mustafa, a television actor and a former NFL wide receiver. The commercial positioned Mustafa as “The man your man could smell like” and set up a series of spots featuring his great voice, fantastic muscles, and pitch-perfect comedic timing. Suddenly TiVo users were skipping ahead through the other commercials to watch Mustafa. A phenom was born and W&K is now claiming that Old Spice has moved to the #1 share of the market and seen a sales increase of 17% in the trailing 12 months.

The W&K strategy reached a viral crescendo last week with the rapid-fire posting of YouTube videos; the agency’s creatives churned out 180 short videos which were essentially real-time responses to questions posted by users of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Not only did every-day users of the product and fans of the ads participate, but media titans such as Geroge Stephanopoulos chimed in with their own questions and received their own answers. When Stephanopoulos asked, “Hey Old Spice Man — Political question: President’s lost some female support. How does WH get those women voters back?” the answer came back quickly in this video response:

The quick-response videos generated nearly 6 million views in less than 24 hours. That’s 6 million impressions for $0 in media buy. That converts to a CPM of $0. Did I mention that the cost of all of those eyeballs was $0?

What can small businesses learn from P&G’s strategy for Old Spice? On a modest level, any business can look to understand their market, directly confront their competition, and speak to their target audience using message, voice, and humor. While we in the startup community can not approach the marketing resources of a P&G, we can still learn from their example and purloin from their arsenal.