Old Spice rides off in new directions, from barber shop studio to WWE storyline
Old Spice reinvented itself a decade ago with funny TV commercials featuring Isaiah Mustafa on a white horse. Where that horse stands today says a lot about where Old Spice marketing is headed.
The fiberglass horse—which the Procter & Gamble Co. brand’s PR shop Citizen Relations tracked down in a Las Vegas warehouse—is in an entertainment room for customers just past the barber chairs at the Old Spice Barbershop recently opened near The Ohio State University campus in Columbus. That’s next to a content studio the brand has built to make social posts and a mural Wieden+Kennedy has created to depict key Old Spice ad moments within a history of bad hair days. The agency will pluck sections of the mural to create more social posts.
The barber shop is one of a trio of new content approaches Old Spice has launched in recent weeks. That includes having WWE create Joseph Average, a deodorant salesman turned into the wrestler Night Panther—the first WWE character/contestant ever created to personify a brand. He debuted during WWE’s Fastlane 2021 on Sunday and will continue in a six-week story line, including a substantial segment during WWE’s biggest event of the year, Wrestlemania, next month. Both those follow Jesse Williams, former Grey’s Anatomy star on hiatus from a pandemic-postponed Broadway show, to create Old Spice Instagram posts.
It’s all part of a broader “Smell Ready for Anything” campaign, which does still include plenty of Wieden-created TV ads, around the idea of helping guys deal with the uncertainties of pandemic life, says Old Spice VP Matt Krehbiel.
“More than half of young guys are living in a different situation than they expected,” Krehbiel says. “They’re living with a parent. They may have lost jobs or taken a pay cut. One of the things we’ve realized, or felt for ourselves, is that things can feel out of control. As part of that, the inner critic insides us can get louder and louder. Part of the campaign is to remind [the Old Spice consumer] that he is great inside, and there are little things that can happen that help remind him of that.”
Haircuts and content
Such as a haircut. Besides being a content studio, The Old Spice Barbershop is a fully functional barbershop that began giving away free haircuts earlier this month and is now accepting appointments for paid cuts—all in compliance with Ohio COVID-19 safety protocols.
But this is no ordinary barbershop. The brand hunted down an old wooden boat, using the back half to create an appointment counter. In place of the old barbershop style poster, it has a wall of lifelike rotating heads of hair created by the designers behind Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian on Disney+, says Chris Talbott, senior brand director overseeing the shop project.
The brand found a cache of old unused Old Spice aftershave bottles, some in the brand’s classic bone white, others painted red, and then hand-corked them all to create a giant Ohio State “O.”
The only place the brand looked to save money was a wall decked with scenes taken from vintage Ohio State yearbooks, which Johnny Mishu, senior brand manager for Old Spice hair, says are public domain.
Previously, the barbershop site was an Abercrombie & Fitch test store. Since A&F had the store, like its others, set up to pump manly scents through the HVAC, Old Spice is likely to try that eventually, Mishu says.
Besides its regular barbers, trained in part by P&G’s The Art of Shaving and offering shaves using its Bevel products or others of the barbers’ choice, Old Spice also will bring in celebrity barbers with their own social followings. The studio side will create video for brand social posts on its own channels or with online retailers such as Walmart and Target.
This is not a pop-up shop. It’s a permanent location with no set end date. “Eventually it could become the flagship of many others,” Talbott says. “But our main focus from day one is to create content more efficiently and effectively, be innovative and think about brand building in a new way.”
That means giving Wieden control of the back of the house, beyond the barber chairs, which includes an entertainment room Talbott hopes eventually will become an off-campus place guys hang out, plus the mural and studio. The “History of Bad Hair” mural will eventually give way to other ideas, as will the rotating heads, once they’ve been fully mined for social posts.
“Whatever crazy vision Wieden comes up with will be our content,” Talbott says.
Old Spice is willing to try something completely different to market hair products, because seven years of other marketing hasn’t gotten the point across.
“You’d be amazed how many guys buy Old Spice deodorant and body wash who don’t even know we have hair products,” Talbott says. “We’ve sat in research before where we screened young guys, asked what kind of shampoo do you use, and they’ll list Old Spice. Then they come in for research and ask them what variant they use, and they say they didn’t even know Old Spice had hair. Less than 5% of guys who use the megabrand even know that hair exists. So, we told Krehbiel and others that we’re going to go off and drive awareness of hair in a different way, be obsessed with hair.”
Breaking through clutter
The WWE partnership aims to break through clutter in a different way, Krehbiel says. What makes the fit perfect for the uncertain world of “Smell Ready for Anything,” he says, is that Joseph Average, the embodiment of Old Spice’s new Night Panther scent, becomes an accidental winner of the WWE’s 24/7 Belt, which can be won anytime, anywhere by anybody, he says. “So, if you hold the belt, you need to be ready to defend it at any moment. It could be a parking lot, golf course. I think it’s even been wrestled over on planes.”
In his initial foray, Mr. Average/Night Panther, wins and then loses the belt in front of a giant display of Old Spice products he’s giving away. He temporarily falls on top of current 24/7 holder R-Truth to take the belt, then lose it again, and reveal that he is in fact the mythical Night Panther, who was destined to take the belt all along.
“This is the first time we ever have created this whole back story and character [for a brand] that is going to be incorporated into our story line over six weeks,” says Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer of WWE. Previously, though, Wieden worked with WWE to set up a match between Colonel Sanders and The Miz, who at the time was pitching mythical competitor Mr. Puffer’s Chicken. The Colonel won, of course, and the crowd started chanting “Colonel Sanders.”
“Of course, we can’t guarantee that” for Old Spice, McMahon says. But she adds: “Now we have a whole new character, who can pop up anywhere, which is exciting.”
The idea, too, is to build confidence, through the transformation of Joe Average. And that’s the plan with the Jesse Williams partnership, too. He gives himself an Old Spice-inspired mirror pep talk promising 2021 will be a year of transformation, “pants-formation,” and, he hopes, Broadway appearances for him.
“It’s a real manifestation of confidence to start the day,” Krehbiel says, “even if the day is not exactly what it looked like a year ago.”