Why Old Spice Ad May Be the Ad Your Ads Shouldn't Be Like

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Jeff                                                                       Rosenblum
Jeff Rosenblum

Those Old Spice ads you love could be the worst ever created. Yes, the campaign reportedly increased revenue 107% while shifting to a younger, more valuable target audience. Yes, it created over 1.3 million Facebook fans and over 30 million views on YouTube. Yes, it won more awards than can be counted. But, for the industry, it could be a complete fiasco.

Let me explain: Every time I see the ads, I laugh out loud. Like many of you, I make my voice three octaves lower and recite: "Hello, ladies, look at your man. Now back to me ..." Each time, I cackle at how funny I am while my wife looks at me like I am a complete schmuck and secretly wishes I was, in fact, the handsome, chiseled pitch man.

To understand why this hilarious campaign could be such a problem, please pause for a moment to complete an exercise I've heard is commonplace in Ivy League doctoral programs: Go to a quiet place, close your eyes and picture in your mind ... a hairy armpit.

At this point, you'll have one of two visceral reactions: complete disgust or nervous laughter. That's the thing about armpits: They're funny and they're gross. If you are tasked with selling men's deodorant, your options are limited. Humor is one of the only viable solutions and Old Spice nailed it.

Many of us look at the ad as a template for success. We want our ads to be overwhelmingly funny. We want to have our social marketing make people laugh hysterically. But your products probably aren't made for hairy armpits.

Humor can be extraordinarily powerful. There are few things more important to the human experience than laughter. But, it's not the most powerful tool for advertising.

Instead, focus your advertising on providing consumer value. Educate consumers about your products. Make sure that they understand exactly how your products make life more fulfilling. Then -- and only then -- find an appropriate, authentic emotion that can help carry that message.

Humor is powerful, but anger, inspiration and empowerment can be equally powerful.

Great prescriptive advice is provided by Tina Fey in her book, "Bossypants." She notes Lorne Michaels taught her that "producing is about discouraging creativity." This is counterintuitive coming from one of the most creative women on the planet, who helped develop one of the most creative shows on TV. But excessive creativity can take away from the core point of the skit. The same is true for advertising -- creativity is paramount, but the core goal of the ad is to help sell products.

We can't let our desire to be funny conflict with our fiscal responsibilities. So don't focus on simply trying to generate laughter or buzz or hits or friends. Sure, you may win industry awards, but the only award that truly counts is increased revenue.

Jeff Rosenblum is founding partner of Questus, New York and San Francisco.
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