Old Spice: Bring back the man on the horse!

by Susan Getgood on January 7, 2014 · 1 comment

in Advertising

Boys, use Old Spice, you’ll get laid, and your mom will turn into a crazy stalker who doesn’t brush her hair.

Old Spice has rung in the New Year with a new ad campaign for its teen-skewed products, and I hate it. And not just because I don’t think the joke is funny.

I understand the premise. The “joke” is based on the stereotype that no mother wants her son to grow up, therefore she is bereft when her teen son develops a social life. Like most stereotypes, it has its basis in reality. Not mine, mind you, but I can believe that some women do have separation issues.

But this campaign is creepy. Weird, stalker-y creepy. Oedipal and then some.

Will it get a lot of buzz? Sure. It is deliberately polarizing, which by the way, leads to no small amount of cognitive dissonance for those of us who don’t like the ads but feel compelled to write about them anyway.

But will it sell any product? An ad campaign that gets tons of attention (negative or positive) or wins awards for the creative agency, but doesn’t actually sell anything? Not a win.

If my Facebook feed is any indication, a few folks in my social graph like these ads. Men and women.  It’s just a joke, they say. Look at the crazy ladies… Yeah? Call me humorless if you like, but would we still think this is funny if we switched up the gender? If this were a product for teen girls, and a father displaying such extreme behavior? Doubt it. We’d wonder if he was abusing her.

But it’s a moot point, because a campaign like that would never get off the drawing board. The advertising industry isn’t averse to using the overprotective dad, but it draws the line at making the stereotype so broad, so unattractive. Overprotective dad is the relatively normal guy who still sees his toddler girl behind the wheel even though she is all grown up.

Or chases after the fast food-eating kid who was “hanging out” with his daughter.

Mostly normal. Not a raging lunatic following the kid around like a creepy stalker.

Which is why even if this campaign did send teen boys into the store in droves in search of the magic spray that will get them a…  GIRL, I would still call it a fail. Because it’s lazy and dangerous. It’s so easy to fall back on a prevailing stereotype of women in advertising — madonna, whore, harridan or shrew. Ha ha ha. Isn’t it funny?

Except it’s not funny. It’s dangerous.

Because when we support this “funny” stereotype — overprotective moms are shrewish monsters and overprotective dads are touchingly cute, we perpetuate more harmful ones. You know. Men are assertive. Women are aggressive. Men are persuasive. Women are pushy. And so on.

But in the end, I don’t think this campaign will drive sales the way it has drawn online buzz. The old adage, oft attributed to PT Barnum, that it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as they spell your name right only goes so far. Sometimes the accumulated negative buzz really does damage your brand.

For my part, I say bring back the man on the horse!


For more on the “Mom Song” campaign, check out Hello Oedipus Old Spice Made Some Ads For You by Deb Rox.

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