Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Is Old Spice still the mark of a man?

Your granddad may have worn it, and it may conjure up images of cheesy 1980s ads, but Old Spice, a stalwart in men's grooming products, is being given an image update

By Stuart Elliott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Procter & Gamble, which makes Old Spice, is using irreverent adverts to update the image of its line of grooming products in a bid to temper the rapid success of Unilever's Axe brand.

PHOTOS: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Can an agency known for offbeat campaigns that appeal to younger men, for brands like Nike, ESPN and Miller High Life, freshen the stodgy image of the Old Spice line of men's grooming products?

That is the estimated US$100 million question being asked as the agency, Wieden & Kennedy, introduces this week its first work for Old Spice since landing the creative and media accounts for the brand in February 2006.

A television, print and online campaign with the theme "Experience is everything" will take a cheeky look at modern masculinity as it seeks to extol the virtues of Old Spice as a brand family as well as to stimulate sales of specific products like deodorants, body washes and fragrances.

For example, a Web site (experienceoldspice.com) will provide advice on topics like "Animals you can ride and how to ride them," "Easy ways to avoid getting picked in a lineup" and "How to talk your way across an African border sans passport."

Print ads will offer wry captions for photographs of subjects like a shepherd ("This man loves sheep"), a woman eating an ice cream cone and a foot-long frankfurter. And commercials will feature a puckish spokesman, the actor Bruce Campbell of the droll Evil Dead movies, sending up the concept of taking advice from your elders.

The maker of Old Spice, Procter & Gamble, surprised Madison Avenue last year by shifting the assignments for the brand, with spending estimated at US$100 million a year, to Wieden & Kennedy from two much larger Procter mainstay agencies, Saatchi & Saatchi and the Starcom MediaVest Group, both part of the Publicis Groupe.

Wieden & Kennedy is best known for its assertive ads for Nike ("Just do it"), a series of wacky spots for the SportsCenter show on ESPN and the dryly humorous High Life Man campaign for Miller High Life beer. The Old Spice account includes sibling products sold under names like High Endurance and Red Zone along with the familiar cologne and after-shave in the buoy-shaped bottles, which date to 1938.

Procter has long been famous for earnest, product-oriented campaigns concentrating on the efficacy of its detergents, soaps and shampoos and replete with demonstrations pitting "Brand X" against Procter counterparts. Such straightforward, prosaic approaches have lost favor, however, with the younger consumers that advertisers most covet.

Proof of that is the startlingly rapid growth of the Axe line of men's grooming products sold by a principal Procter rival, Unilever, which now vie for category leadership with Old Spice in sales at drug stores and discount chains in the US. (Old Spice sales have grown, too, but Axe's have grown at a faster pace.)

Axe ads, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, take a zany, off-kilter approach as embodied by slogans like "How dirty boys get clean." Axe campaigns celebrate the sex appeal with which Axe promises to imbue its users rather than how effective the brand is in killing the germs that cause perspiration odor.

As a result, Procter began to rethink its creative approach for brands like Old Spice. After many exploratory meetings with Wieden & Kennedy and similar agencies — iconoclastic independents with reputations for rule-breaking ads — Procter finally gave Wieden & Kennedy some work, first the Eukanuba pet-food assignment in 2005 and then Old Spice.

"This is part of a significant brand-building experiment at P&G," said Carl Stealey, Old Spice brand manager at Procter in Cincinnati.

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