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Exploring the dangerous genius of Old Spice’s video ads

This post is by SmartBrief’s Amanda Yeager.

SmartPulse — our weekly reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social-media practices and issues.

Last week’s poll question: What do you think about social-media campaigns that interact directly with the consumer, such as Old Spice’s popular Twitter/YouTube campaign that quickly produced videos of the “Old Spice Guy” responding to fans, or the Wheat Thins campaign that grants wishes posted by fans on Twitter?

  • They’re genius — anything that grabs the attention of so many consumers and generates a lot of buzz is worth it 74.32%
  • I haven’t heard about either of these campaigns 18.03%
  • They’re too risky — without time to edit communication with fans, everything could go wrong in an instant 7.65%

For the past few weeks, the social-media sphere has been abuzz about the Old Spice Guy, who, with his charming persona and rock-hard abs, “swan-dived” onto the radar of millions of Americans via a wildly successful campaign that produced personalized video responses to selected tweets from Old Spice fans, including Demi Moore and Alyssa Milano.

Predictably, several companies have already rushed to imitate the campaign. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that pie? According to last week’s poll, almost three-quarters of the 185 SmartBrief on Social Media readers who responded agree that using social media to directly engage fans of a brand is a “genius” idea. But it’s not an infallible strategy, as a disastrous Dr Pepper campaign that took over Facebook fans’ status updates demonstrated. And it’s not guaranteed to attract attention without traditional advertising to support it, as Cisco discovered after its Old Spice Guy knockoff, “Ted From Accounting,” received embarrassingly little buzz.

Direct interaction through social media only seems to work when people care about the character or product they’re engaging with — which requires a lot of advertising leading up to the campaign. Our poll found 18% of respondents weren’t familiar with the Old Spice or Wheat Thins campaigns, a surprisingly high number considering the attention they’ve been getting in the social-media space, but it demonstrates the difficulty of spreading the word to large groups of people using a medium that’s still relatively new.

And any spontaneous exchange with consumers can be risky. Without the time to carefully consider the message you’re sending, you might end up offending someone — a concern for about 8% of poll respondents, which I think is a surprisingly low number. It is just as important to carefully control your business’s image online as it is in print or face-to-face, and ensuring that nothing unfortunate slips past when you’re producing new content so quickly is a daunting task.

Maybe it’s time to take a step back from the glamour of the Old Spice Guy and take a closer look at what a campaign involving direct interaction with consumers really entails. Undoubtedly, the Old Spice videos were a success, but they were also the result of loads of money, time, effort and the input of a top-notch advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy. If you’re not willing to invest that much, maybe it’s best to start off slower, by finding other ways to engage fans that involve more turnaround time — such as polls, competitions or simply responding to user tweets.

What do you think? Would your company be willing to undertake a similar campaign?