The Man Your Man Could Smell Like
In February of 2010, grooming product company Old Spice teamed up with advertising and marketing agency, Wieden + Kennedy. Together, they developed an advertising campaign titled: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. Actor Isaiah Mustafa was that man. Portraying a beautiful, charismatic, and absurdly suave narrator, Mustafa recites a monologue addressing females from a bathroom. This campaign was widely successful in bringing viral attention to Old Spice. By 2017, the video on YouTube has over 50 million views. Utilizing the rhetorical devices of ethos and pathos, this commercial grapples with ideals of masculinity and subverts commercial media expectations through its palpable, humorous, and hyperbolic appeal.
The commercial opens with a shot inside of a normal bathroom. Isaiah Mustafa, standing in the middle of frame, wearing only a towel, addresses ladies to look at him and then to their spouse. He informs females that sadly, their spouse is not him. The scenery is then magically lifted away with the swift command Mustafa gives. A white towel, perfectly folded and tied descends from the skies and drops on Mustafa’s neck. The towel that was around his waist is whipped away by some supernatural force, seemingly on its own to reveal a pair of spotless white pants accented with a brown leather belt. This statement sets a precedent for wealth and luxury as it is associated Old Spice body wash. 3 seconds after this, Mustafa holds up a pair of concert tickets, telling females that this is something they desire. They then turn into a pile of diamonds. Mustafa insinuates with his deep, macho voice that he possesses what women desire: concert tickets and diamonds. Using such a blatant stereotypical assertion, Old Spice points out the ridiculousness of gender roles. In this commercial, women are to be pleased and rewarded with material goods, much like an era where this notion was far more common.
“Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady” Mustafa utters, confidently looking into the camera as he again reinforces traditional heteronormative societal values of masculinity.
Expectations that come with the genre of grooming products are instantaneously shattered. Commercials generally follow a linear storyline that showcases a product in use compared to other products. This goes to increase the chances of a consumer purchasing that product instead of the competition. The Man Your Man Could Smell Like formulaically builds up and denies these expectations. Old Spice plays along with the traditional structure in its exposition. It opens to a man in the bathroom holding the product, simple enough. This portion is accepting the expectations of the genre. Meanwhile, expectations of the genre of Absurd Commercials thrive. Absurdism leaks in and takes the wheel. The bathroom is quite literally dismantled and the scenery is changed immediately. There is no footage of the product in action, rather, the narrator spends the whole 30 seconds talking about what the potential reality could be like after the product is used. There is no linear storyline. If traditional commercials were elevators, this one commercial would be a subway.
Mustafa, a beefcake, absolute unit, sculpted, highly pompous, shirtless, majestic man on a horse is depicted as the ultimate man for women. By being of the athletic build and exerting an aura of confidence, Mustafa’s performance reinforces the credibility of the body wash he is selling, using the rhetorical strategy of ethos. This gives off the idea that anyone who uses the product has the chance to be like him. Smelling like the macho role model is a tangible goal that Mustafa procures a need for throughout the commercial.
Old Spice exploits stereotypes to their advantage. Playing with of heteronormative sexist extremes, Old Spice only “gets away with it” because of the self-awareness and blatant satirical nature of the genre. A sense of urgency is created through his fast and confident tone of voice. To women, the takeaway is “buy this body wash or else your spouse will be inadequate”. To men, it is “buy this body wash or you’ll never have a chance at true manliness”.
The absurd comedic nature of this short commercial is what makes it jarring and unique. Appealing to the audience’s sense of humor through extreme hyperbolic charm, Mustafa shows that he knows exactly what women want (or at least what they’re supposed to like). Using the imagery of tickets and diamonds, the audience is expected to associate the deodorant with luxury. Although all of this is greatly fictitious and physically impossible, the audience is directed to suspend their disbelief. The charisma excuses the absurdity.
In order to accomplish this finesse, Old Spice toes the line in prodding industry standards. First, Isaiah Mustafa remains the narrator throughout the brief commercial. There are no other characters besides him. This way, the spotlight is solely on him and he is in control. Without other characters, no other analyzing or interpreting needs to be done but his own actions. Second, the commercial is filmed in one, uncut shot. Through this rapid fire seamless flow, the narrator Mustafa is able to assault sensibility. With this camera editing technique, it is made clear immediately that this is no ordinary conventional commercial that has multiple cutaways and references. Third, Mustafa compares the potential user of the product to himself, but not in a conventional way. He indeed informs the viewer that the user of Old Spice body wash will smell good, however, it is not typical of a commercial to reference achievements of luxury and majesticism such as a yacht, diamonds, and a stallion in relation to simple body wash that can be purchased at the local market. Fourth and finally, the fourth wall is broken in a way that is not empathetic. While other commercials address viewers and invite them to try out the product to see its benefits, this commercial is of straightforward commanding nature. This is a crucial tactic to undermine other commercials. Expectations of a normal grooming product commercial are transgressed through the fourth wall. If the narrator in the advertisement is aware of the state of the commercial itself, they are able to establish meta-narrative dominance in a way traditional commercials cannot possibly touch.
Creating a grand machismo character for women to take notes from and men to envy is just what Old Spice accomplished through this specific advertisement campaign. Mustafa delivers this 30 second monologue in a deadpan and unbroken fashion. Quickly and charismatically, Mustafa assaults sensibility. He bombards the camera with commands and Ten Commandments-esque assertions. Never once does Mustafa pause to skip a beat or lose eye contact with the camera. Appealing to the ethos and pathos of very stereotypical gender functions in a humorous extreme drove Old Spice to a higher platform of advertising. The commercial is meant to be self-aware and absurd. That is how the audience can suspend their disbelief and toss aside the obvious misogyny and commanding nature of the ad. This commercial utilizes hyperbole in that these are not realistic situations, rather extensions of people’s imaginations, an idyllic view. Old Spice bolsters its own credibility by exploiting stereotypical things that come to mind with success, admiration, and sex. No one would listen to a man straight up telling women to buy this deodorant. Everyone would listen to that man, if he was sexy, had magical powers, and was on horse. Sticking it to other commercials, this one is certainly not subtle or subliminal whatsoever. Getting straight to the point, Isaiah Mustafa became an icon of masculinity, drilling straight into the heads of a wide audience.
This Old Spice commercial is one of my favorite commercials of all time. When I saw it for the first time, I loved the snappy in-your-face tone that it took. It stuck out as a commercial that doesn’t conform to the norms of being a commercial. This is a trend that companies are struggling to catch on to. Viewers know they are being advertised to and they are sick of commercials. When typical commercials have become cliché and overdone, there’s a new genre to the rescue, the absurd. Successful companies stick it to other brands and commercials that try too hard with subliminal messaging and other marketing strategies.
I appreciated the humor, but I wanted to know just why I found the commercial funny. It was so much fun to actually pick it apart. Even if a commercial is just 30 seconds, there are several layers of comedy and nuance just waiting to be analyzed. Though he addresses “ladies” that is not Old Spice’s primary audience. It’s men. Old Spice has planted the idea that women find Old Spice body wash important
One of my greatest struggles is balancing summary and analysis. It’s not enough to just talk about what happens in the commercial, There has to be context and some sort of implicit meaning behind the action. The commercial was under 30 seconds. I wondered many times about how much is too much in terms of description. When I had completed this essay, I had not felt like I was completing another dreadful monotonous assignment at all, rather, I was engaging in a conversation about something funny I saw.
Old Spice: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like. Old Spice, 4 Feb. 2010, www.youtube.com/watch?v. Accessed 2 Mar. 2017.