Old Spice: No Man, Man’s Man, Ladie’s Man. From Sea to Land.

A brief history and analysis of the Old Spice brand’s advertising from 1980’s to the early 2000’s.


Not from the sea, but rather from whimsy

Old Spice, with its new image, hardly seems very old, but generations of us catch a whiff and flash back to fathers and grandfathers who wore the stuff.  It’s even a little jolting to sniff around for it only to find it came from a nearby teenager, but that’s what happens when a scent, and a brand, is over 75 years old.

In 1934, in the middle of the Depression, William Lightfoot Shultz founded the Shulton company after selling his previous company the year before.  He convinced Bowery Savings Bank in New York City to lend him the use of an office in their building, and he did from there what he’d been doing before; he sold his own private label soaps and toiletries to department stores.   However, he didn’t want to just recreate his previous company.  He wanted a product “that would capture the public’s attention.”

Ever wonder at the nautical theme?  Why the boats, the sea and the Mariner Man of the ads in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s?  You can thank Mr. Shulz and an artist named Enid Edson for that.  With things like The Lone Ranger coming out on the radio the year before, Mr. Shulz recognized the public’s increasing interest in things Early American and after doing some research, he and Edson developed some sketches that became Early American Old Spice for women, and the following year, for men.

Old Spice ad 1939

They designed the early product with functionality and charm in mind.  The Early American motif meant to capture and delight consumer imagination.  “He’ll be particularly pleased with the traditional appeal of the pottery containers and the red-lined, wood veneer chests, decorated with authentic reproductions of the gallant ships that blazed the way for Early American trade,” reads one ad from 1939.

The boxes, mugs and tins could continue to be used even after the product finished.  This was particularly appealing in a time when funds were tight for everyone and anything that could be reused was kept.

Schulz took the initial scent from a jar his mother kept filled with dried roses, cloves, herbs and other spices.  (Rose jars were commonly given to brides or young women leaving home to give their new place a nice scent and remind them of home.)

And when the American men went off to join the fight in WWII, Old Spice followed them out.  Advertisements were printed with things like “For our fighting fathers” and “A matter of American comfort” in Old Spice’s chosen scrawl, which remained consistent at least in the name.

Old Spice ad 1943

Within 4 years of beginning, Old Spice’s sales managed to reach nearly $400,000.  While William Shulz was busy building his new company, his son George Shulz had been in school, busy preparing to take part in his father’s business.  When the senior Shulz passed away in 1950, the same year the company reached $10 million in sales, George took over.  He maintained his father’s company for twenty years, and then sold it to American Cyanamid in 1970 when sales had reached $130 million.

Old Spice faced a decline in popularity and sales in the 1980’s and 90’s with the emergence of a greater variety of men’s fragrances and grooming products, and the aging of their loyal consumer base.  Their audience was getting old and dying off and neither the product nor its image appealed to the younger generation.  No young man wanted to smell like his grandpa.

In 1990 Proctor & Gamble bought the Old Spice brand and through innovative advertising techniques, put Old Spice back in the lead in its market.

History at a glance

Environmental Monitoring

When Axe came out in 2002, it brought the gap up short between itself and market leader, Old Spice in a matter of four years.  It was not only right behind Old Spice, but swiftly growing as a rival for the older brand.  Axe showed up with the advantage of being new, novel and specifically pitched at a younger audience from the start.  Where other products in the men’s grooming market had pitched at function and efficacy (“24 hour protection”), Axe was trying something else.

However, Proctor & Gamble, Old Spice’s new parent company, didn’t back down.  They didn’t even see a dent in their sales.  Sales and shares even went up, according to “The Real Axe Effect” in a 2006 copy of Advertising Age.  Maybe Axe snuck up on Old Spice, but Old Spice certainly wasn’t intimidated.  The brand shot forward with their 2010 ad campaign, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.”

As absurd as the series of ads and advertising stunts seem, Proctor & Gamble are definitely doing their research.  According to this article in Sys-Con Media, the current tough economy is making the first impression more important than it ever has been before.  We’re all aware of the Occupy movement, all seen the stories of people everywhere having a hard time getting and keeping jobs.  The study suggests that employers are much more likely to consider someone who comes in well-groomed, and that the employees who keep themselves well maintained have a greater chance of rising within the corporate scene.  P&G and CVS Pharmacy are currently trying out a new Mens Grooming Section.  “The new “Guy Aisle” is designed to make it easier for men and the women who shop for them to find the specific products they need.”  P&G know where they’re aiming their ad campaign and why it will likely work.

The stunts themselves are getting Old Spice exactly the kind of attention it needs, too, to reach the audience they seek:  the young men “and the women who shop for them”.  Despite the many ads P&G has put out since bringing out Isaiah Mustafa (The Old Spice Guy) for the Old Spice brand, they’ve kept consistent the surreal flavor that made The Old Spice Guy so popular.  They (Wieden & Kennedy, the folks currently responsible for the brand’s advertising) have gone beyond novel, though.  They’ve made the campaign cross-platform, they’ve created conversation and a relationship with the audience.  The Old Spice Guy has public and silly exchanges with other celebrities.  They’ve taken the “mind blowing”, over the top explosions from the commercials featuring Terry Crews and made it into something the audience can seek out and enjoy.  They’re allowing Old Spice and the audience to interact in a way consumers and their products have never gotten to before.

They completely turned Old Spice around from the decline in the 80’s and 90’s.  Old Spice is no longer “my grandpa’s aftershave.”

Not to mention that this new consumer/product relationship is not the only thing Old Spice is doing that’s new.  P&G is now cross-advertising in a way that’s never been done before.  They started a series of commercials that start out for sister products like Bounce or Charmin and then Terry Crews literally crashes into the scene and it becomes an advertisement for Old Spice.  “Old Spice body spray smells so much like power, it sells itself in other people’s commercials!”  In an article in the New York Times, Barbara Lippert who has been in and witness to the business of advertising for over two decades, is quoted, “One commercial crashing into another commercial is really dead-on brilliant because it mimics the chaotic clutter of advertising,”

Now look at this:

And this:

This is what Old Spice and Wieden & Kennedy have done.  The Old Spice Guy is so well known at this point that others can use their formula of surreal, absurd, tongue-in-cheek attitude to great effect.  It really says something about how the market has changed, the way consumers are viewing the mens grooming market now, that they didn’t just accept the DollarShaveClub.com video as another parody and move on to find other parodies or videos of cats, but supported the company.  Mike, the actual founder of the company featured in the video, managed to quickly raise a million dollars to get his start-up company off the ground after the video went live.


OldSpice.com is consistent with the image they currently present through their advertising.  It’s very flashy and straight forward.  Their commercials are archived and offered immediately for entertainment and promotion without getting in the way of a potential buyer’s more shopping-inclined pursuits.  There’s a bank of links up at the top, very simple and visible, so anyone coming to the Old Spice website can easily find what they’re looking for.  When you roll over those links, a bold, brief and silly explanation of what each link is pops out.  It’s fun, it’s engaging and above all, it leaves a good impression of the brand.


First bottles- The Grand Turk
The Old Spice brand logo hasn’t changed much over the years. The script font for the brands name has remained the same, though the ship has changed from time to time. For the first half a decade, the ship pictured on the bottle was a real ship by the name of The Grand Turk. The name of the ship is stamped on the bottle.
The Ship Friendship
About the same time that production through the A.E. Hull Pottery Company (handmade bottles) became impractical and Shulton company was forced to change to machine operations, the ship shown on the bottle also changed to The Ship Friendship.
Old Spice 1956
In about 1956, Old Spice stopped printing the name of the ship on the bottle and started giving a little more information about the contents of the bottle. The words “Old Spice” were now also joined instead of put to either side of the ship.
Although the bottle and packaging changed over the years, the logo differed very little after that until 1990 when Proctor & Gamble purchased Old Spice. The ship was changed to a simple sail boat. This is in keeping with an effort to reach a younger audience. It was about the same time that P&G released Old Spice Sensitive, an alcohol free after-shave and cologne spray. They retained the nautical theme, but made it sportier and more accessible to a younger generation.

“If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.”

And maybe it’s true, but I’d like to think my grandmother wasn’t that easy.  Either way, the point is generations of men, literal generations across seven decades and change, have worn Old Spice, sniffed Old Spice, known Old Spice.  Aside from a change in the chosen channels and a swaying here and there away from the jingle written in 1953 by Ginger Johnson, the Old Spice ads have kept pretty consistent.


In 1982, “E.T.” came out, Michael Jackson released “Thriller”, and Ronald Reagan was president.  There was a lot going on in the world and the culture of the 1980’s reflected that.  After all the hubub of the 70’s (Nixon, Vietnam, Ebola, and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island), people were ready for things to be good.  We were well into a time of gender equality, but all the same being a man or a woman respectively were things of pride.  It was a time of individual power, of knowing you were a power symbol in your own life.  It was the decade that gave us shoulder pads.

Thus the conventionally attractive man was a strong, sporty, confident figure; a little bit macho, even.  (Hulk Hogan was about to be cool.)  So we have this ad:

This ad can be taken apart easily using Postman’s Distortion of Reality.  Postman believed that an ad can convince an audience that 1. all problems can be solved, 2. all problems can be solved quickly, and 3. all problems can be solved quickly through the use of technology.  He called this a distortion of reality because it does not convince the audience of fantastical or impossible realities, but rather that the current and “true” reality isn’t quite what it is or could easily perhaps be more than it is.

This ad is pretty direct in this.  The problem is presented as “odor” and “wetness”.  The technology is, the easy fix, is Old Spice deodorant and Old Spice antiperspirant.  The ad addresses any other questions a consumer only half paying attention might ask, proving (lasts a long time, smells good), and “shows” how the product works with one featured bottle crushing the word “odor” crafted to look dirty and unpleasant, and the other bottle seeming to suck away the moisture within the word “wetness”.  Obviously, neither product really has any crushing or sucking capabilities, but the statements are made along with the implication that this is tough stuff with the power to handle a man’s tough needs.

The ad is directly addressing men because the product is a men’s hygiene product.  This is important later when looking at how the brand positions itself through ads.


The information age was in full swing.  “Titanic” the movie came out, MC Hammer was huge, and it seemed the only way to go was up.  The image of man has settled down from the strong, macho man to the the still confident, reliable man.  He’s hard working, charming and attractive in a more subtle way than the often larger than life man of the 80’s.  The man of the 90’s is active and accomplished, he is not confident for simply being a man, but confident in being a man who has and has done things he can be proud of.

Kenneth Burke’s theory was that people could be persuaded through the use of symbols.  Symbols could be physical, like cars or clothes; experiential, like occupations or hobbies; or philosophical, like beliefs, values or attitudes.  The 1991 ad above uses the image of a fit, attractive man hard at work on a boat that is obviously in good condition.  It implies that he is successful enough to have a boat, to have the time to care for the boat, and even the need to keep the boat maintained implies that he has the time, even, to use it on occasion.  The announcer tells us that “you’re” dream is sea races off Cape Cod, “but it’s sweat, not dreams that’s gonna get you there…”  The use of the second person pronoun instead of telling the audience it’s “his” dream, referring to the man in the commercial who is the one with the tools and a boat, draws the target audience in to identify with the man, to notice the things about him and “you” that are similar.  This means men who believe in working hard to achieve goals, who may want to be physically fit like the man in the commercial, and even who want a boat, and for any of the audience who shared no interest the rest of the boating man’s qualities, an implied love interest is added to the mix.  The ad already places each audience member in the man’s place with the use of the word “you”, so when she asks “Permission to come aboard?” with a smile and a tilt to her head, already an audience member identifies with the desire have her or any attractive female ask that question of him.  The pertinent information is given about what the product does and why, and the audience can acknowledge that, yes, that would be nice; one more thing to relate to, but it’s the implication that this fellow has all this just like “you” do or want to AND somehow Old Spice plays a role in helping the man maintain his physical, experiential and philosophical possessions.  Thanks to Old Spice this man, who can be trusted because he is like “you” or like the person “you” want to be, is allowed to work on his boat (physical possession), work hard (experiential possession), and try his best to achieve his dream (philosophical possession).

This ad is less about being “a man’s man”, using “manly” products and starts moving more toward being the kind of man a woman is happy to be close to even when he’s been recently physically active.  With this ad we’re getting closer to acknowledging a greater audience.


The early 2000’s was hardly more than yesterday.  This ad in particular is only from last year.  We have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips and now, after demanding for so long that advertisers tell us what we need to know about a product, we only want a good reason to feel a sense of relation and ownership to our products.  We can find out what we need to from friends and the internet, people we know (or at least can identify with) and trust.  The main thing now is entertainment.  Super Bowl ads have proved this years over.  Old Spice just kicked it up a notch in the last decade.

We can take this last ad apart without much fuss using the simple communication model.  Old Spice through the Old Spice Guy sends the message “This product smells like a good time.  You should buy this product, so that you/your man will smell like a good time.”  They sent the message only openly addressed to “ladies” across a digital medium often enjoyed on an individual basis so that the message feels personal rather than the mass message it is.  The surreal attributes of the ad are meant to catch your attention and hold it so that, whether male or female, the message gets through as clearly as possible.

Women are meant to see and take notice of the attractive man who has already asked, and will likely be remembered for asking, that the women compare their significant other to this ridiculously, apparently justifiably self-assured man.  The men are supposed to take notice of women taking notice, or wonder if they are and should they, in turn, try to “do better” to prove themselves worthy of the kind of attention the Old Spice Guy appears to get.  All these concerns alone are enough noise to possibly distort the message.  Instead of following the message to the next logical step, which is to buy the product, the audience gets swept up in all those other little details.  Other noise could be the absurdity of the ad detracting from the message, the chosen channel for the ad, Youtube.com, because the focus can easily shift from the main video to suggested videos or the compulsion to share the youtube link with friends or to “like” the link.  Other ads could also be noise, taking attention away from the Old Spice Guy.

However, Old spice could receive feedback through the number of “likes” it gets for that video, the number of views gotten from people sharing the youtube link, the increased sales that correlate with the increased attention via social media indicating the ad’s or the product’s success.  Feedback could also be given in response videos or letters directly to the company concerning the ad or the product.

This ad and the campaign it comes from is the first time the Old Spice brand addresses women directly, talking about the ways in which buying Old Spice “benefits” them instead of just telling women about how much their men will love the product.  The brand’s face went from being a boat and no man, to a man’s man starting with the Mariner Man from the ads in the 1960’s to the attractive, sporty, younger man who started making appearances in the 1980’s, finally to the current “ladie’s man”.  Although the brand had addressed women before in the ads, this is the first time the ad is meant to appeal to women and men as opposed to just appealing to men, or catching a woman’s attention long enough to inform them about what appeals to her man.  Considering the ad campaign’s initial video got “5.9 million youtube views on the first day,… the brand’s twitter following raised 2700%, facebook fan interaction went up 800%, traffic to OldSpice.com increased 300%, and Old Spice became the #1 all-time most viewed branded channel on youtube” according the Wieden & Kennedy’s Responses Case Study, I believe the brand has something there in the way they’re currently handling their advertising.

References not previously linked or noted

Advertising Mascots-People:  Old Spice Sailor

Old Spice Tries a Dash of Humor to Draw Young Men

Old Spice Collectibles:  Shulton History

Old Spice Collectibles:  Traditional Bottles

Orlando Sentinel:  Proctor & Gamble Updates Old Spice

The “Jingle Hall of Fame”

Edwards, Jim. “Smells Like Clean Spirit.” Mediaweek 20.32 (2010): 18-20. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2012.

Lippert, Barbara. “Man, This Man Can Sell.” Mediaweek 20.9 (2010): 20. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 May 2012.

Lippert, Barbara. “Mano A Mano.” Mediaweek 20.25 (2010): 10. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 May 2012.

McKay, Betsy. “P&G Starts Testing Big-Name Products In Key Russian City.” Advertising Age 63.34 (1992): 4. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 3 May 2012.

Neff, Jack, and Alice Z. Cuneo. “P&G Drops New Old Spice Ads.” Advertising Age 72.30 (2001): 3-33. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 3 May 2012.

Neff, Jack. “THE REAL AXE EFFECT. (Cover Story).” Advertising Age 77.20 (2006): 1-45. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 May 2012.

Neff, Jack. “The Brand Your Brand Could Sell Like*. (Cover Story).” Advertising Age 81.28 (2010): 1-30. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2012.

NEFF, JACK. “P&G.” Advertising Age 82.9 (2011): 34-35. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2012.

“Old Spice Eyes Younger Men.” Advertising Age 64.23 (1993): 39. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 3 May 2012.

Schwab, Bill. “Let’s Put Censorship In Its Place.” Advertising Age 78.16 (2007): 20. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 4 May 2012.

Sloan, Pat. “Old Spice Aims At Younger Men.” Advertising Age 62.47 (1991): 20. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 3 May 2012.

Snyder, Beth, Jack Neff, and Laura Petrecca. “P&G Eases Conflict Policy, Paving Way For More Change.” Advertising Age 70.5 (1999): 4. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 3 May 2012.

Parpis, Eleftheria. “SWEET SMELL OF Success.” Mediaweek 20.45 (2010): 18-20. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2012.

Whitehead, Jennifer. “Iain Tait.” Advertising Age 81.34 (2010): 35. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 May 2012.


2 responses to “Old Spice: No Man, Man’s Man, Ladie’s Man. From Sea to Land.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: