Old Spice vs. Axe: strategy vs. knuckleheadery

February 13, 2010 — 2 Comments

My pal Lee Becker sent me this new spot for Old Spice. It’s a great piece of smart and creative advertising, which doesn’t happen a whole lot.

It’s great stuff. They leverage an insight of The Manly Man Heritage, which is smart, and they make that insight funny, which is creative and smart. So it’s like, double smart.

Exhibit A: my Dad. He was a World War II army guy, and a woodworker, and he drank whiskey, and he golfed on Men’s Day, and he sang college fight songs, and he was a world-class cusser. Manly man material. He had a ditty bag for his toiletries. Vitalis, Brylcreme, Aqua Velva…and the king of them all…Old Spice, in the old school bottle.

Procter & Gamble, Old Spice’s Dad, knows that there is tremendous heritage and history in that dippy white bottle, and in the whistling Old Spice jingle that my generation associated with it.

Their ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy grabbed this powerful insight, and made The Manly Man Heritage of Old Spice relevant to today’s young men. They’re letting Axe go for the horn-dog teen scene, and are positioning themselves as the “once you’ve grown into man pants, try us” brand. It’s a great strategy.

All Axe has is the knucklehead approach: “Axe will get you the ladies.” That strategy, if you can call it one, will surely die before Old Spice’s.

Axe started the Stink War in 2002, and Old Spice woke up to the threat the next year. And it’s funny; I worked with a guy who made Old Spice spots prior Axe shaking up the category. He said every ad had to have a side-by-side comparison. A wetness test, a dryness test, a protection test, a smooth glide test. Yawn. Insight-driven communication beats functional communication every time.

Old Spice shot back at Axe with a great approach that the category really hadn’t seen before: tapping The Manly Man Heritage in a really funny way. The campaign was called “Experience is Everything.” Check out this spot with Bruce Campbell. Here’s another proving he’s a man, but not very good at singing Duran Duran, which doesn’t matter because he’s such a man.

The campaign has had some great evolution.

This spot uses about 3,158 sports metaphors.

Here’s Will Ferrel being manly for Old Spice.

This spot shows that they have a variety of manly scents for men.

The Old Spice website is great. “A man should smell like jet fighters and punching.”

Their “Swaggerize Your Wallet” idea is an olde schoole promotion. In adland, promotions can really suck. But this one’s cool. It gets their customers and prospects talking and talking about Old Spice.

The category of men’s personal grooming looks like it’s been falling in general. Maybe the economy has finally deemed those expensive and environmentally ridiculous plastic bottles of body wash a dumber idea than using a bar of soap. But among the big two contenders, it appears as though Old Spice is winning.

2 responses to Old Spice vs. Axe: strategy vs. knuckleheadery


    Boy, you sure do think a lot of thoughtful thoughts about this stuff. I see a future in advertising for you, my friend.


    Good stuff, and I agree with your comments, especially re the Axe kind of appeal. But the last “BO Blocker” stuff from Old Spice I find just plain annoying, even if it does synch up with your “manly man” view. Outside of his “abs” – I don’t even think WOMEN would want their men to be like that – dumb, juvenile, and screaming! Even if it came from W & K.

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