Brand triage: a tale of two perfumes

Bruce_campbell Old Spice was so scorned a few years ago I once heard it referred to as Old Mice.  Aqua Velva was actually worse.  The idea of perfume for men was just so terribly naff. 

Scorned as artifice in the 1960s, as middle class in the 80s, and as earnest, clueless, and irony free in the 1990s, these brands were in free fall.  (Our cultural concepts of maleness were under reconstruction, and brands were struggling to stay in touch.)

Both brands are now struggling to make a comeback, and together they serve as a nice case study in matters of meaning management. 

Aqua Velva is now running a campaign that features fathers and sons playing catch in the back yard, and the slogan "Men Get It." 

This is actually a pretty good time for slogans.  Home Depot uses "You Can Do It, We Can Help" which still strikes me as a masterpiece.  (I believe The Richards Group gets the credit.)  Someone is using "You, Happier" which is pretty good. 

There is lots of good work a brand can treat as precedent: Live in your world, play in ours (Sony Playstation), Rip. Mix. Burn. (Apple),  Impossible is nothing (Adidas), Just Do It (Nike), Obey Your Thirst (Sprite), Think outside the bun (Taco Bell), So where the bloody hell are you? (Australian Tourist Commission), You are now free to move about the country (Southwest Airlines), to name a few. 

"Men get it."  This is not very good. First, the "best before" date is just now expiring on "get" as a metaphor for comprehension.  Second, the second  meaning isn’t really a meaning so much an imperative, an ill mannered imperative at that.  Slogans are not supposed to shill.  That’s the rule. 

Old Spice on the other hand, this is Wieden and Kennedy at their effortlessly capable best.  Here is Bruce Campbell for Old Spice making fun of the style of speech that afflicts some men when they are trying to be especially manly.  Here is Will Ferrell (as Jackie Moon) wrestling with the metric system in that "ofter wrong, never in doubt" gender performance that many men have made a stock in trade (cf. Ron Burgundy).  Here is Neil Patrick Harris as a "former make believe doctor" making fun of the puffed up authority that afflicts some male doctors (and not just on TV). "Chronic body odor ruins lives!" 

It’s as if Wieden and Kennedy just decided, listen, the idea of masculinity in our culture is under construction.  There are lots of ideas and none of those ideas is now regnant.  What we do know is that there are several choice ideas of masculinity in the bow wave of contemporary culture.  These ideas are discredited and ludicrous.  And this makes them easier targets. 

But it raises a larger problem.  What happens to contemporary culture when we run out of these semiotic "remainders"?  This advertising campaign, as clever and interesting as it is, is running on ideas that have entered their twilight.  It won’t be long before Will Ferrell and Neil Patrick Harris’ characters have jumped the shark.  And where do we go from there?  We will have run out of shared ideas, and it is hard to imagine an advertising industry or a popular culture thereafter. 


Glenn, Blake.  2008.  Pass the Doogie.  Brandweek.  August 11, 2008, p. 33. 

13 thoughts on “Brand triage: a tale of two perfumes

  1. Charles Frith

    On a recent trip to the States I was taken aback by the smell over the counter. I nearly gasped out half jokingly. Is someone wearing Old Spice?

    Of course they were.

  2. James

    To your closing question, ” And where do we go from there? We will have run out of shared ideas, and it is hard to imagine an advertising industry or a popular culture thereafter.”

    Have you seen Blaiq’s ‘The Elongating Tail of Brand Communication: An approach to brand-building incorporating long tail economics’ —

    From the niches to the centre, then back to the niches to be redefined and refreshed, to be eaten again at the centre. Turning and turning in the widening gyre, to rip Eliot in another context.

    I wonder if we’ll soon have feeder leagues for ads, content, memes, meaning like sports do. Some destined to toil in local obscurity. Some rising stars. Some washed up former all-Americans.

  3. Gladys

    We’re definitely moving towards a more ontologically diverse society but many cultural cues will most likely remain. The fluidity of views about contemporary culture hasn’t necessarily created a melting pot of ideas so campaigns like Old Spice will never run out of steam. BTW, High Karate is by far the manliest of musks.

  4. peter

    One of the amusing features of The Australian Tourist Commission’s slogan, “So where the bloody hell are you?” was that it simultaneously managed to upset many of Australia’s traditional rivals: the British with “bloody”, Canadians with “hell”, and New Zealanders with “ewe”.

  5. Virginia Postrel

    Good post, but I have to disagree with you on “You, Happier.” First of all, neither of us remembered that it’s a slogan for Best Buy, which pretty much defeats the purpose. (I found it with Google.) And second, the equation of home electronics with happiness is too crass even for me–and that’s saying something.

  6. peter spear

    when it comes to smart advertising, the thing that the brands have in common is that they stand alongside their consumers and share in the mocking of these constructs. i’ve often wondered if the argument for humor in advertising is not only about its ability to get attention and retention, but something perhaps a bit more gloomy having to do with a fundamental unwillingness to believe anything earnest from such a scale.

  7. Scott Haile

    You touch on the terrifyingly complex topic of rapidly shifting gender identity. Masculinity is not only under construction, it seems to be irrevocably shattered. Slogans are not identifying segments, but generating them.

  8. Brett Macfarlane

    I couldn’t agree with you more on how well Old Spice through WK has added live back to Old Spice. However, what they have done brilliantly other than borrow the ironic equity of NPH and Bruce Campbell is build a brand based on dissonance. While often they use celebrities (Brian Urlacher and L. L. Cool J are the most recent) they also run work free of stars, such as the “is it for me,” menateur or dude sliding around all 4 bases. They all build up to modern manliness and given the heavey media wights of the brand keep it interesting and meaniful month to month.

    Nothing more annoying than taking a single tag, visual or construct and hammering it through mass GRP’s and print coverage. Coincidentally the formula of old Old Spice. Kudos of the turnaround.

  9. perfumes for men

    I have a passion of perfumes, and I also run a small perfumes sales business. I look
    around for posts like yours so I can keep myself updated. I consider the scent of perfumes
    as an art because every perfumes’ scent is unique in its own way just like an artist
    paints unique pictures. I even run my own blog for perfumes.

Comments are closed.