Last week there were reports that the Old Spice viral marketing campaign was a failure because sales had dropped 7%. I called shenanigans on that conclusion in a post you can read here. Now this week there's a rash of stories about how the Old Spice campaign is a success because it has increased sales. Here we go again.
Same story, different conclusion. Look, it's entirely too soon to judge what kind of impact the campaign will have on the brand and its sales over the long haul. It's too soon! Why do we have to draw conclusions within a week of something happening? Our rush to be the first to make an insightful point about something is killing our ability to actually make a valid and informed point.
Last week's story about the sales being down—brought to you by Time, WARC, and BNET—were all citing Brandweek on the 7% drop figures. It should be noted that most of these sites have now gone back and edited their original stories, which doesn't excuse their having been posted too hastily in the first place but does represent a desire to get the correct facts out there, which I applaud.
Guess who the source is on this week's data about the sales actually being up? You guessed it… it's Brandweek. Serenity now. At least this time there's a link, with an actual Brandweek article. That article says that Old Spice sales have climbed steadily, month after month, since the first spot aired in February. There is also, according to Mashable, some data from Neilsen indicating sales might be up as much as 107%.
Apparently the 7% sales drop was for only one particular line of Old Spice body wash—the Red Zone After Hours body wash. Overall, sales for the entire brand seem to be up. But you probably won't be surprised to learn that I'm just as skeptical of these positive numbers as I was of the negative ones.
The Old Spice blitz of personalized videos—which was something that had never been done, I don't care what somebody tries to tell you about similar social marketing campaigns—was only two weeks ago. Two weeks. That's not even enough time for a normal man to run out of his current body wash, let alone get to the store and buy a new one.
We don't really know what Old Spice's real goal was for the campaign. But even if sales were to slump, I think it's pretty clear that the brand has gotten more than its fair share of exposure and media coverage from this thing. It's unfair for us to rate the campaign's success or failure when we have no concept of the overall goals. What if the root goal was simply to get people talking about Old Spice again?
Is it possible that Old Spice themselves understand this viral marketing process better than we "online marketing journalists" do? Everything about the campaign seems designed for the long haul… the slow burn. It's an image overhaul, from the archaic brand your grandfather uses to the hip and hilarious new brand your college roommates use. That's not an overnight change. It takes years, maybe even longer, to change a brand's image that drastically. I sincerely doubt that Old Spice is sitting in their corporate office looking at daily sales figures and perpetually judging the effectiveness of their ads against those sales. In fact, I'd be willing to bet they're playing Nerf basketball and giving themselves high-fives all day long, because this campaign is changing the image of the brand, which I think was the only real goal for them.
However, even if the goal was more sales, I say we're still way too close to the campaign to really know. There's something about our American culture—and especially the subculture of bloggers and online marketing writers—that drives us to try and scoop everyone else… to draw conclusions as soon as humanly possible. And while I can appreciate that the Internet has helped to make us more anxious viewers who want information faster and faster—that's just not how marketing works. You can't run a Super Bowl commercial and label it a success or failure solely on the sales numbers at 6am the following morning.
The Old Spice Man campaign has legs. It's going to be talked about and cited and held up as a shining beacon of what's right with viral marketing for years to come. And some of that may impact sales. But maybe—just maybe—the company merely wanted to become a part of the conversation. Maybe they just wanted to position their brand in a new light. And now that they've done that, maybe there's another wave of ads planned that has more of a call to action. I'll never understand why we have to rush to conclusions about a campaign's effectiveness when its reverberations are still being felt all over the web.
As I said last time, there is still no direct correlation between viral success and sales. Viral success will pretty much only ever bring you more eyeballs. You have to know what to do with them when you get them.