Isaiah Mustafa on Advertising Celebrity, Humility and His Super Bowl Pick

Turns Out the Viral Star Is a Team Player

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Ad Age readers already know the facts. Old Spice viral ad uberstar Isaiah Mustafa's first spot for Procter & Gamble's Old Spice was viewed more than 20 million times. The Old Spice YouTube channel is now reportedly the most viewed channel of all time, with 145 million views, many of which were garnered when Mr. Mustafa and Old Spice embarked on a series of personal video responses to questions. Views for the response effort added up to more than 57 million. The first ad in the campaign, created by Wieden & Kennedy, won an Emmy and the Cannes Film Lions Grand Prix. More important than awards, the campaign has been credited with increasing Old spice sales in the U.S (though price promotions may have had a hand in that).

So it's no wonder he's become an adland celebrity -- complete with handlers. Mr. Mustafa spoke at an internal YouTube event held Sept. 17. Despite his celebrity status (or because of it), Ad Age was not given permission to film the interview. YouTubers, however, were allowed their share of fan pics. But Ad Age got in and asked him a few questions.

While it looks like he won't be starring in any more Old Spice ads for the time being, Mr. Mustafa has accepted at least two film roles, one in a movie starring Jennifer Aniston.

Ad Age: So I always ask this of celebrities: Is your Wikipedia page correct? Cuz you know, I'm friends with Jimmy!

Mr. Mustafa: Yes, it's all true, except I wish they'd used a different picture, like my IMDB picture.

Ad Age: OK, I'll take care of that for you.

Ad Age: Which five questions do you hate for reporters to ask you?

Mr. Mustafa: I don't hate any of them, but I'll help you out -- here's the one's that always get asked.

  1. Do you get recognized everywhere?
  2. Do you like being the Old Spice Guy?
  3. Where is your horse?
  4. What's it like being a sex symbol?
  5. Do you have any idea the impact you've had on pop culture?

Ad Age: Oh, that last question could be a good jumping off point. Do you have any idea on the impact you've had on pop culture?

Mr. Mustafa: I don't really pay attention to that stuff. I'm just a normal guy

[We get interrupted by Jenna, a chef at the YouTube cafe who brings out fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Because that's the kind of effect Isaiah has on women. Turns out he's vegan, so Jenna goes back and brings back some vegan cookies.]

Ad Age: Um, you're not really a normal guy ...

Mr. Mustafa: I'm a homebody! I take my daughter to school.

Ad Age: But you're over 20 million views, and there are remixes of your commercial and guys making fools of themselves standing around in towels in their showers quoting your lines. Are you checking how many views you're getting? All that doesn't interest you?

Mr. Mustafa: It's not that it doesn't interest me -- I used to check it and had a bet with a buddy that it wouldn't pass a certain number (I had to pay up) -- but I just think other things are more pressing. Like I just did a charity [appearance for] women cancer survivors where they can get a makeover that will help them feel beautiful again. That interests me.

Ad Age: It's possible that many advertisers will now try to emulate your style and the style of that ad, since it was so successful. Do you think that's a good idea?

Mr. Mustafa: Yes, go for it!

Ad Age: How did you feel about the Cannes and Emmy wins for the commercial?

Mr. Mustafa: I was happy for [Wieden's] Craig Allen and Eric [Kallman] -- I knew they'd been working for so long on their skill set and had been nominated for an Emmy four times.

Ad Age: But were you happy for yourself?

Mr. Mustafa: Those things didn't have anything to do with me -- it wasn't an Emmy for "The Best Actor in a Commercial" it was for "Best Commercial."

Ad Age: So what makes you happy?

Mr. Mustafa: I just like making people laugh.

Ad Age: How do you remain humble?

Mr. Mustafa: I have five sisters! And I had a really good high-school football coach who said "You guys are an amoeba." So it's all about team work. I like doing that with films -- if the craft services guy isn't there to give you a breath mint, then your co-star isn't going to be very happy.

Ad Age: Who do you want to win the Super Bowl?

Mr. Mustafa: The Raiders!

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