Play It Forward, Chapter 3: The Key Reason the Old Spice Man Achieved Viral Dominance

Dennis Ryan, Chicago Advertising, Element 79By now, most everything that needs to be written has been written about Weiden + Kennedy’s groundbreaking viral video heavyweight “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” And unlike so many pop culture mayflies that swarm up and just as quickly disappear, this effort merits all those words and column inches.

But amidst all the celebration and analysis, I’ve never seen any article that calls out the reason why this ad and series, more so than any of the thousands of others trying to garner attention, fired the imagination of viewers. Beyond universal agreement around the genius of the creative idea, the production, the writing and Isaiah Mustafa’s note-perfect performance, no one’s mentioned the one thing that makes this–or any video–truly stand out…


In a media-saturated world, any video, any voice, any meme that surprises is remarkable.  And rare.  And so it stands out, head and shoulders above the rabble.

But the truly remarkable thing about the Old Spice work is that it doesn’t just surprise the audience once; every video functions as a continuous sequence of surprises.  It’s a surprise (“tickets to that thing you love”) then another surprise (“They’re diamonds!”) and then another and another and another (“I’m on a horse!”). Revealing a series of surprises makes it all the more amazing.  And forward-friendly.

The importance of surprise when engaging viewers is a simple concept to grasp. And a bear to actually accomplish. Try to keep that one on your To Do list…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Character: The Key To Great Comedy Writing

Truly funny television commercials get picked up and passed around in a sort of ad hoc media buy that clients can only wish they could afford.  Unfortunately, creating truly funny television commercials is extraordinarily difficult, particularly when you add the requirement that the comedy must have some strategic relationship with the product or service being advertised.

But occasionally, someone does it brilliantly.  The crinkly-male-wisdom of the old Miller High Life voice over…  The over the top histrionics of Bud Light’s Real Men of Genius announcer.  The deadpan charisma of Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World…  All of these served as the cornerstone of highly-successful comic ad campaigns.  What do they have in common?  I mean, aside from the fact that they are from the beer category–one of the few sectors unafraid to chase entertainment as a branding strategy.

The most interesting trait that they all share is that their unique comic voices spring from character.  We never see him but we know the High Life guy is a wisened old dog from the blue collar set, street smart and unimpressed by foolishness.  Given that well defined character, the kind of lines he’d read became self-selecting.  Puns wouldn’t work.  Name checking pop culture references wouldn’t work.  But talking about plumbing?  Right in his wheel house.

It is extraordinarily difficult to create an advertising character in thirty seconds that’s well defined.  Most characters evolve over the course of a campaign.  But recently, Weiden and Kennedy introduced us to a shirtless he-man with a loopy self-confidence named Isaiah Mustafa who sold all sorts of deodorants and body washes for Old Spice.  And in short order, they created a singular comic patois that is totally unique: sprightly, unerring, stentorian…and prone to idiosyncratic references like monocles and motorcycles.

Extending this campaign virally, they created a series of one-take, single wall set monologues where Isaiah ostensibly addresses people who either reference him, his commercials or the Old Spice brand in social media.  A collection of nearly two dozen of his responses can be found on this You Tube page.  If you appreciate good writing and winning performance, go watch each and every one of them.  They are note perfect and widely-divergent, yet the words in each one of them seem almost pre-ordained.

Because they spring from a singularly unique character.  Well played Old Spice, well played…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79