The Art of Repetition and Recombinance

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By now, we all know what a giant success the recent Old Spice work has been. Yes, Virginia, it’s even moved product – culminating with a 107% sales increase in June.

Nicely done, W+K.

As ad folk (and as humans), we tend to have short memories. We’re good at remembering spectacular hits and not much else. With that said, it’s easy to forget just how long Old Spice has been experimenting with many of the artistic devices people talked so much about when it came to the new spots.

Centaur, uploaded over 2 years ago

Charismatic male spokesman, mid-shower. Pay special attention to the rhythm and pacing that the spots have in common.

Bruce Campbell, uploaded over 3 years ago

Watch the background – notice the sailboat? the infinite loop? You can see how they’re experimenting with visual effects, here in the background, while the charismatic male spokesman tantalizes you with his well written and well delivered dialogue.

NPH, uploaded over 2 years ago

When in doubt, call in the celebrity. Again, though, same pacing, same interesting-ness playing out in the background.

I’m a Man, uploaded Aug 2009

Look familiar? The amazing quick change effects, pacing, clever dialog, charismatic male … but only 124k views to date.

I’ve just chosen just a few of their past commercials, but there are many more out there to help fill in the evolution. Perhaps even more deserving than the current success of ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,’ W+K deserves credit for keeping their client committed to this creative vision for such a long time, enabling them to continually adapt, refine, and improve how the basic components work together.

It’s hard to not compare cultural success to winning at the slots. Here, a set of basic ingredients interchanged repeatedly until one lucky turn – when the right combination of elements in the right order yielded a fortune. It’s hard to tell how much luck played a part, versus a strong ear for cultural relevance. W+K would have to answer that one. But it does seem that a commitment to repetition and recombinance can ultimately pay off if you stick to it long enough (and if you’re damn good).

You can see how the brand and agency were employing a sort of Chinese Water Torture method of breaking into cultural exchange over the last few years. Yet, if you ask most people, before the recent spots Old Spice was only known as your grandfather’s brand. The Old Spice body of work seems to whisper the notion that you should continually iterate/evolve a concept not to build up cultural momentum (because maybe that’s not how culture works), but instead to work towards finding that right combination that will yield a sort of Black Swan event in culture.

Should this change the way we present creative concepts to clients?

If you’re trying to sell your client on moving forward with new work, it seems as though you’d want to convince them to allow you to iterate and evolve the work as quickly as possible, ostensibly for as long as it takes to stumble onto something culturally remarkable – and once you find that lucky combination, mine it for all its cultural worth in a rapid and responsive way. Perhaps we should stop pitching fully fleshed TV scripts at all – and instead talk about the building blocks of our creative vision and how they might adapt over time.

Anyone up for pitching that to a client?

It might sound something like, “Give us three years to juggle these creative building blocks and then it’ll REALLY work out for the brand.”

Some things to ponder about The Man Your Man Could Smell Likethat set it apart:

  • The campaign launched with a Superbowl spot – and this year’s Superbowl was the most watched live TV program of all time
  • Isaiah Mustafa – plenty of commercials become popular and you never see the star again, there’s definitely something special about him (and it helps that he was an unknown, it gave us all something to be curious about)
  • Social media – the technology has definitely come of age since the first iterations posted here, not even counting the recent real-time responsiveness by the brand these spots were certainly benefited by people choosing to spread them via twitter, facebook, and the like

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