BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- He was a little-known former NFL wide receiver and relatively obscure actor, but appearing in Old Spice ads has made Isaiah Mustafa something of a cult celebrity, joining the advertising-famous likes of Billy Mays and the Dell Dude.
Now better known as "the Man Your Man Could Smell Like," Mr. Mustafa, by Procter & Gamble Co.'s count, had reached 5.8 million viral video views as of last week.
He's also scored a PR bonanza of Snuggie-esque, if perhaps not yet iPadesque, proportions. He was on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" earlier this month and set to appear on "Oprah" the week of April 5. He's also been featured on NBC's "Today," the "CBS Early Show" and, to complete a trifecta, scheduled for ABC's "Good Morning America," said P&G spokesman Mike Norton.
The PR program wasn't exactly planned, but P&G jumped on the opportunities. "He's generated a lot of buzz because people talked about the ad," Mr. Norton said, which in turn is generating more TV appearances, news and blog posts.
Google Trends data show the ad has generated more search on the phrase "Old Spice" than anything the brand has done since 2004—before Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., took on the account in 2006. On Twitter, Mr. Mustafa remains merely a micro-celebrity, but has amassed more than 4,600 followers.
It's all pretty good for a guy who was on four teams in four NFL seasons from 1997 to 2000 but apparently never caught a pass in a regular-season game. Since then, he's also been a middle-school math teacher, run a barbecue restaurant and played a variety of small roles in three feature films and seven TV shows, including "Ugly Betty."
He told the Los Angeles Times' "Ministry of Gossip" blog that he developed the over-the-top delivery of his role only the night before shooting, when he called former Arizona State teammate and former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer, got his voicemail, and left a message delivering his part.
It smacks of accidental success, but the strategy behind Mr. Mustafa's breakthrough is quite deliberate. Ed Shirley, vice chairman-beauty and grooming of P&G, said the idea was for Mr. Mustafa's ad to appeal to women, who still buy most men's grooming products outside of razors. So getting Mr. Mustafa in front of the primarily female audiences of "Ellen" and "Oprah" helps too.
Of course, Unilever's Dove Men+Care is making a similar gambit, creating ads meant to simultaneously get women to buy its products and men to use them. Mr. Mustafa appeared as an Old Spice counter-measure to Unilever's Super Bowl ad and rode the wave of viral-ad buzz from the game.
In the early read, Dove is doing O.K. anyway. Unilever picked up 5 share points in the four weeks ended Feb. 21, according to SymphonyIRI data from Deutsche Bank, to 38.9% in body wash. P&G was down 2.1 points to 17.2% in the same period.