Thursday, July 15, 2010

@OldSpice #OldSpice: why I began to lose the love...

For those that follow me on Twitter you'll know that I spent a tonne of time the last two days watching and commenting on the genius advertising campaign that Old Spice produced using their frontman, Isaiah Mustafa. It was a comprehensive web-based project, using YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, whilst also trolling reddit, diggit, YahooAnswers, and by keeping a weather eye on posts/articles on various websites. There must have been a band of industrious search engine machinists keeping track of the references and picking the best for comedic writing opportunities. The popularity of the whole enterprise even made other organisations join in: Starbucks, Gillette, Twitter, EW, biz, Huffington Post, G4TV, NHLBlackhawks, GQ, etc. Lots of celebrities joined in: Alyssa Milano, Christina Applegate, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Ellen DeGeneres, etc. Then there were the thousands of ordinary folks who commented on the three main sites. Plus Isaiah himself got a video response and his daughter, Hayley, too! Reddit helped build an answer machine message maker using Isaiah's contributions.

I was going to write a quick post about how these were all brilliant. That they were helping to produce a new masculinity, a new male identity. One that recognises the cultural power of the patriarchy and the stereotypes of strong, slightly dim, bragging men being the preferred partner for legions of women. They were playing it so tongue-in-cheek. Deliberately using nonsensical/incorrect language constructions to show that OSMan wasn't too nerdy/knowledgeable. Recounting all the heroic tales of extreme endurance activities. Reminding everyone that the main purpose of the product, the Old Spice body wash range, was to attract ladies, obviously.

I thought it clever that whilst superficially supporting these stereotypes (who doesn't want to have a ripped, charming man offer to bake you cakes and ride horses with you? Even the most stalwart of lesbians can appreciate toned abs and the promise of apple or peach pies), it was also subverting them by deliberately making a mockery of them. Just as the other television adverts had done. If it had been too serious, it would have come off badly. Just as P.Diddy has managed to keep just this side of obnoxious in his Ciroc advertisements based on his smoothness, there was a fresh take on a hackneyed trope.

However, there were a few too many references to things that I was starting to think were a bit sexist and homophobic. Either the writers were getting tired, or they weren't being as careful with their language as they should have been. Eye on the ball, people. Engage your audience; don't alienate a market segment that just may spend a tonne of money on your products (clean-cut gay men, holla! Ladies who buy soap for their men because if they didn't they'd just use water and never be clean!). Singing happy birthday isn't within the range of a studmuffin, it would not work for the theme, and who knows, maybe Isaiah can't sing. But don't say that other men would laugh at male singers and say it is a lady thing to do. Plus the producers took their own sweet time to acknowledge that women might want to use the products, too. Did they embrace a butch army and welcome them? Saying that the more mighty warriors available for protection of Mount Olympus, the better? Or that Old Spice Man would be running recruitment sessions for all those that believed they had the tenacity to withstand a lion pride? No, they warned that ladies would get man-hair...and if they ever did smell like Old Spice it would be from rolling around with said-fragranced men.

Maybe I've had a sense of humour bypass. I watched all the videos - there were 96 according to the Twitter log - maybe all that overt masculinity was getting a bit much and I forgot it was meant to be wry irony. It was a drip-drip feed of over-the-top testosterone and it had me floored.

Now, I'd love to copycat the style and have a bunch of dykes talking about the benefits of using Old Spice. No, there is no need to have them topless in just a towel... Maybe they can recruit the ladies who were in the Lez Chat clip: "recycling and cuddling are important to me"!

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