The commercial your commercial could smell like: But do you want it to?

By now, you’ve probably seen, or at least heard about, the viral explosion that is the “Old Spice Guy.” If you’ve been held hostage in a remote cave somewhere for the last few months, allow me to enlighten you:

By all accounts, consumers are thoroughly entertained and advertising and media industry professionals have lauded the campaign. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be selling the product it was created for.

While the TV commercials and viral videos have enraptured – the YouTube campaign has garnered more than 12 million hits so far – sales of Old Spice Red Zone After Hours Body Wash are actually down a whopping 7 percent, according to the SymphonyIRI Group.

Isaiah Mustafa, the star of the videos, is cashing in on a recently signed NBC talent deal, but the bigwigs at Procter & Gamble may be scratching their heads trying to figure out how one of the most successful corporate viral campaigns of the year, at least in terms of popularity and praise, has failed so badly at moving product.

As a Yahoo! article on the topic points out, this isn’t the first time a media darling like the Old Spice Guy has been unable to translate to real revenue. Anyone who has read the renowned Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A Guide to Creating Great Ads knows that the ads industry pundits rip apart and that have consumers reaching for the remote are sometimes the most successful in terms of generating sales.

So how the heck can advertisers win when the “good” ads aren’t working and the products in the “bad” ads are flying off the shelf?

Well, Luke Sullivan, the author of the aforementioned Whipple (which I highly recommend, by the way) hypothesizes that commercials like the book’s namesake comes from – which coincidentally was also a P&G campaign – are successful because they annoy the crap out of us. Think about it: What’s worse than getting that grating yet impossibly catchy commercial jingle from your local car salesman/carpet cleaner/furniture store stuck in your head? While eye-roll inducing, I’ll bet the offender’s is the first name that pops into your head when you need a car, sofa or steam cleaning.

Sullivan quickly counters however, that just because these ads sell, doesn’t mean copywriters and designers should aim to create cheesy, repetitive, all-around-awful ads. There is a middle ground between selling and creating fresh, inspired and entertaining campaigns – and being a good advertising professional is all about finding it.

P&G may never pinpoint the exact reason why the Old Spice Guy couldn’t hock body wash, but it’s a powerful lesson for the ad industry: The most popular kid in school doesn’t necessarily graduate at the top of his class.

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