Separated at Birth: Creepy Old Spice Mom and Heroic P&G Mom

But Women Aren't So Keen on the Mother-Stalker Spots

By Published on . 5

Procter & Gamble Co. and Wieden & Kennedy have two very different takes on moms in near-simultaneous new ads for the corporate brand and Old Spice. But the company sees it as all the same -- in a way.

In the earnest corporate "Pick Them Back Up" ad released Jan. 6, P&G and Wieden portray moms as misty-eyed unsung heroes behind Olympic athletes. In an over-the-top Old Spice ad released three days earlier, P&G and Wieden portray moms as stalkers hiding behind bedroom doors, slithering from beneath couch cushions and lurking behind creepy janitor masks as they sing laments over sons who grow up and date young women.

"This is two different takes on the same insight -- that our mom is our greatest fan, whether she's raising an Olympian or an Old Spice guy," said P&G spokesman Paul Fox in an e-mail.

The surreal stalker moms are winning the viewership battle. And an analysis for Advertising Age by social analytics firm Infegy found both ads generated positive buzz overall, though Old Spice has gotten more attention and far more negative feedback, particularly from females.

Old Spice's 60-second "Momsong" was "the No. 1 viral video in the world" on Jan. 6 claimed Old Spice Marketing Director John Sebastian in an e-mail. As of Jan. 8, it had bested the corporate image ad on YouTube, garnering 3.1 million views versus the Olympics ad.

Both ads got paid-media juice, with "Pick Them Back Up" featured on Yahoo sign-in pages among other places and the Old Spice ad getting extensive TV play on NFL playoff broadcasts in addition to search and other online placements.

So what was Mr. Sebastian thinking in greenlighting an ad that by some Twitter accounts silenced rooms of football viewers?

"Knowing that we had some pretty awesome innovation [a new molecule that lets scent last all day to prevent over-spraying] we set out to talk to a younger target" of 12-to-24-year-olds, Mr. Sebastian said. But he also believes it will appeal to the moms who actually buy the stuff.

"With any marketing campaign, there are always different opinions," he said. "Our aim is to build loyalty for the brand, and I think we're delivering on that." The viewership numbers, he said, have P&G feeling good.

Bloggers and other commentators were split. "When I saw it during an NFL game on the weekend both my son and I felt awkward," said Urbanmoms blogger Jen Maier. But blogger Jessica Gottlieb tweeted: "I just found out that I'm supposed to be offended by Old Spice. Oops."

Comments varied on Old Spice's Facebook page
Comments varied on Old Spice's Facebook page

Infegy found the P&G Olympics ad generated more than 10,000 social-media conversations through Jan. 7, with 93% of them positive. Where Infergy could tell the commenter's gender, it determined 70% of the comments were from females.

The Old Spice ad generated a whopping 260,000-plus conversations, 59% of them positive, even though the leading descriptor was "creepy." In a reversal of the P&G Olympics ad, 70% of the Old Spice buzz came from males. Females were more negative than males, with only 50% viewing the Old Spice ad positively and 41% negatively, according to Infegy.

Since its launch in the U.S. by Unilever's Axe in 2002, body spray has accumulated some image problems of its own, and that's the whole point of the Old Spice product launch.

"If you've ever been in a high-school locker room, you've probably noticed the giant, looming scent cloud of body spray," Mr. Sebastian said. Three out of four guys admit to "overspraying," he said, because they fear the scent won't last, and 80% of girls admit to being overwhelmed by guys' body spray. But P&G's new molecule makes one spray last all day by releasing "bursts of scent" as guys sweat.

Of course, "Momsong" says none of that. But it's not the only approach Old Spice considered or is using. It's part of an integrated campaign that includes several other ads, including a mock public-service announcement with, as Mr. Sebastian puts it, "education on proper use to thwart the tragic overspraying."

Regardless, it all may be overshadowed soon. Old Spice is also launching a full hair-care line, coming years after a hair-and body wash entry and then lending its name to a Head & Shoulders variant last spring. Ads for the hair products have yet to break, and a spokeswoman declined to comment on whether they'll launch on or around the Super Bowl.

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