Presented for your approval: an Old Spice ad right out of the Twilight Zone. It’s stirred up a lot of online support, criticism, mockery, and WTF-ness, which means “mission accomplished” for the advertiser.
I can’t help looking at something like this and trying to imagine Don Draper selling the ad campaign to skeptical corporate executives in a “Mad Men” scene. The really fascinating parts of that show happen at the office, giving us a window into cultural evolution through the carefully-planned strategies of a brilliant and insightful ad executive (who is, himself, an entirely false construct, which is where the soapy drama of the show comes in.) The best of these scenes have Don explaining to his clients what his advertising strategies will make consumers think and feel. Sometimes he shows them how the real target of the ad isn’t the audience they think they need to appeal to.
So who’s the target for this Old Spice commercial? Guys who want to buy their sons a body spray that will make them more old-school masculine, standing out from the crowd in a world of arrested adolescents who want to be teenagers for twenty years? It would be refreshing to think advertisers have detected a strong undercurrent of such desire in our adolescent culture.
Or is the point of all advertising these days merely to fill the screen with funny or bizarre images that make the commercial itself memorable, even if it means mocking the product they’re trying to sell? That would be the result of just the opposite cultural analysis: ad men concluding that young people are so childish and superficial that they only pay attention to commercials that make them laugh, creating a pleasurable association that just might spark a little tingle in their funny bones the next time they’re strolling through the aisles at the local discount superstore. They see a can of Old Spice, they chuckle, they pick it up and drop it in the cart, perhaps without remembering exactly why the sight of the label made them smile…