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content marketing: does viral automatically mean successful?

July 22, 2010

Unless you have trashed your cell phone, swore a vow of TV and internet celibacy and run off to join a Buddhist colony in outer Tibet, you can’t help but have come across the new Old Spice advertising campaign. In case you need reminding, they’re the series of ads featuring former NFL wide receiver Isaiah Mustafa strutting around in a white towel while telling you what being a “real man” is all about.

The videos are great and have been loaded up with every component needed to make them a “viral” success – a central, well-known star, irreverent and self-deprecating humor, witty and quotable lines and stunning special effects. Because of this, many commentators are proclaiming the campaign to be a huge social media success. Well…virally successful the ads may be, but social media they most certainly are not.

The Old Spice ads first aired on TV. They were created by pharma and personal care conglomerate Proctor and Gamble who paid British ad agency Wieden & Kennedy several millions of dollars in fees to create the campaign, and then used Google’s YouTube platform to distribute the content to a global audience. The only “social” aspect of the whole campaign has come recently, with the Old Spice man personally responding to emails from consumers.

If you want an example of real social media strategy, look at Dell, who after several years of declining sales and popularity, revamped their relationships with consumers by involving them in product development, sending discount coupons to followers through Twitter and using proprietary software to track conversations and then respond to questions and inquiries.

Printers and personal computers may not be as “sexy” as a towel-wearing athlete, but I would take Dell’s $3 million increase in sales over Old Spice’s 7 percent dip in sales during their recent campaign any day of the week. While an apples to apples comparison between computing hardware and personal grooming products is clearly difficult to make, it just goes to show how a meaningful dialogs with consumers is still more productive in terms of ROI than simply creating “viral” entertainment.

Now, if we could just combine those two elements….

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