Seemingly overnight, Old Spice rejuvenated its brand from “smells like my grandpa” to “smells like my man” with a video and commercial campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa as Old Spice Guy. The various videos have drawn tens of millions of views since the original “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” commercial was released in February 2010, but in ad time, that was like a bazillion years ago. The young, hip demographic targeted by the campaign is nothing if not easily bored. Knowing this, marketers set out to breathe new life into a pop culture meme.
Enter Fabio, world-renowned Italian model and bird catcher, with his hulking pecs and lustrous locks to challenge Mustafa with a bid to be the next Old Spice Guy. Each made videos in their respective pleas to continue selling deodorant, with over 100 videos posted between them on competing YouTube channels. Viewers voted during the week-long campaign by ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’ videos, and the challenge was cleverly titled “Mano a Mano En El Baño” (which translates roughly to “Head to Head in the Bathroom”). And vote they did. Mustafa, inevitably, won, but not before the videos garnered a total of 22 million views in one week.
While the viewing statistics are impressive, one thing in particular jumped out at me about this campaign–namely, the aforementioned hulking pecs, prominently displayed in each video. To the credit of ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, who designed the campaign for Proctor & Gamble, they officially titled the challenge with a nod to comedy rather than appearances, but perhaps because the title was a bit lengthy for Twitter, at some point along the way the challenge became known as the “Hunk Off.” Which, in some ways–fine. Though both men are funny in their own way, it’s clear that neither were chosen solely on the basis of their comic timing, and you can easily make the argument that their physiques are sources of comedy in themselves.
But in other ways, the leap to calling it a “Hunk Off” is totally degrading for boiling it all down to a contest of “Hot or Not.” As much as looks played a role in casting, men and women alike continue to engage with the videos mostly because they’re funny, not because Mustafa or Fabio are hot. And I also wonder about if the tables were turned, and instead of two beautiful men competing, it were two beautiful women, and the whole thing was reduced to a “Babe Off.” For my part, I’d be unhappy. In that case, the suggestion would be that women aren’t funny, humor isn’t attractive in women, media producers rely too heavily on female objectification and are once again reducing women down to their looks. And yet, I don’t hear the outcry of sexism that I would expect if marketers built a campaign that was so overtly based on people voting between two beautiful women. So why is it okay for media to play this game with men? Or did media just call a spade a spade by calling the whole thing a “Hunk Off,” and any problem lies in the campaign itself? What do you think?