Then this spring, the new way crashed head-on with the old: P&G's Susan Arnold, president-global skin care and cosmetics, disapproved of the campaign.
Today, P&G still runs a five-year-old national effort initially created under her watch. P&G's marketing director and brand manager on Old Spice have taken voluntary separation packages, and their frustrations over the ads played a role in that choice. Wracked by dot-com losses, the San Francisco office of Saatchi closed, leaving Old Spice to shift to New York. Left behind is rancor. "Procter is a very sick company," said a former Saatchi executive.
More broadly, the experience raises questions about whether P&G, as it returns to what President-CEO A.G. Lafley recently called "the good old-fashioned discipline we've always been known for," will make good on its two-year-old pact with agencies to streamline decision-making.
The idea to move Old Spice to the Publicis Groupe shop's San Francisco office came in 1999 after P&G eliminated former agency-of-record Havas Advertising's Euro RSCG Tatham McConnaughy, Chicago, from its roster. The notion was an outgrowth of the reform-minded era at P&G aimed at finding new thinking within P&G's existing agency relationships while giving the office a package-goods counterweight to its dot-com-heavy client list.
The pair settled on an "unapologetically masculine" positioning that would create an emotional bond with young males, said David Kroll, who resigned as Old Spice brand manager earlier this month as he prepares to take a brand management position at Wm. J. Wrigley Co. The two ads Saatchi and P&G came up with weren't of the beer-and-babes genre, though. One showed a would-be Samaritan late for a date carrying an old woman up apartment stairs as she struggles with her groceries. The other showed a job interview conducted over a game of Twister in a waiting room as sweaty guys await their turn. The tagline for both: "When Will You Need It?"
According to Mr. Kroll's account, the deodorant category general manager originally liked the ads, which began testing in August 2000, and the business case behind them. But he asked approval from Ms. Arnold, one of the two highest-ranking women in line management at P&G. Ms. Arnold was the executive responsible five years ago for developing the existing 1-800-PROVEIT Old Spice campaign from Tatham that offers guys a free stick of their old deodorant if they try Old Spice and don't like it.
Mr. Kroll said Ms. Arnold called the Saatchi ads "unproven," despite test market results last summer that Mr. Kroll said showed sales of Old Spice in Nashville up 50% over a nine-month period vs. a 10% to 15% gain for the brand nationally. Then, he said, the general manager killed the campaign.
A P&G spokesman wouldn't comment on the copy development process, including Ms. Arnold's role, but said the Nashville test results were unclear at best, since the brand's existing "challenge" copy was running there, too, as were local marketing initiatives such as sports sponsorships. He said gains in Nashville were similar to the double-digit growth Old Spice had nationally and didn't pay back a 50% increase in media weight, though he later softened the stance.
"As we ... evaluate the success of our copy we take basically a holistic sampling of our data over time and not single data points," he said. "And when applied in that manner we came to the conclusion that our current challenge copy is the correct way ... to continue to grow the business in a positive way."
Old Spice's market share has doubled in the past five years to nearly 8%, he said, and sales were up 17.6% to $131.2 million for the 52 weeks ended June 17, according to Information Resources Inc., bucking a 1.2% decline in the overall $1.7 billion deodorant category. Despite its heritage with dads and granddads, Old Spice also has become the fastest-growing deodorant among male teens, P&G said.
Ultimately, Ms. Arnold discussed the decision with Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts, and client and agency alike came to a meeting of minds not to go forward, according to Tim Love, exec VP at Saatchi. "The good news is an embarrassment of riches in that our national base equity campaign ... performed very well, and we also had this test campaign that performed very well," said Mr. Love. "We have a [new] campaign now where if for some reason our business did take a downturn, we're in the fortunate position of having an alternative that's qualified," he said.
That need may not be far off. Unilever appears to be preparing to launch its best-selling global men's deodorant and personal care brand (which goes by Axe or Lynx in various markets) in the U.S., said Mr. Kroll, adding that the Unilever brand takes a position similar to what he was trying to achieve for Old Spice.
A Unilever spokeswoman wouldn't comment.
The Old Spice experience appeared to violate in spirit, if not principle, P&G's "single-point accountability" copy development policy enacted in 1999, in which a designated decision-maker who's part of the group developing the copy makes the final call.
Technically, Ms. Arnold didn't kill the ads. She just recommended against them. Architects of the new policy, Global Marketing Officer Bob Wehling and former VP-Global Marketing Denis Beausejour, acknowledged at the time the policy was launched that making it work required executives to make calls without seeking approval of higher-ups. Another P&G spokesman said the company remains committed to the process. "Our experience is showing that it works in a vast majority of cases."
Mr. Kroll, however, sees the decision as a sign of deeper issues. "The pendulum is definitely swinging back to traditional Procter. So there's less focus on speed and more focus on probably over-qualifying." Another P&G executive thinks the story is atypical. "I think there were a number of factors that were involved in this. Some people just have more stripes than other people."