Campaign Trail: Old Spice spoofs ’80s action movies with deepfake ad

Linda J. Dodson

Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.

The ’80s is having a moment. Marketers from Kraft Heinz to Applebee’s have embraced retro in recent months to captivate consumers with emotional connections to the decade. Old Spice is the latest to dabble in the decade, resurrecting actor Dolph Lundgren’s ’80s movie persona in a series of over-the-top action flick parodies that depict the dangers of sweating too much.

With the help of deepfake technology, the Procter & Gamble brand aims to convey the power of its new Sweat Defense Dry Spray antiperspirant — which hit store shelves in January — by injecting a heavy dose of nostalgia into scenes where a hero is seen racing around under stressful, sweat-inducing scenarios. The first ad, titled “Hang On,” spotlights a young version of Lundgren as he tries to save his sidekick who dangles below him, but geysers of armpit sweat cause him to drop the man. In “Tied Up,” Lundgren must defuse a bundle of explosives while stinking up the set.

“We thought to ourselves, ‘how can we draw a corollary of the most intense kind of torture test?’ and we kept coming back to action stars,” said Matt Krehbiel, vice president of Old Spice. “The ’80s defined amazing action films, and it’s something that our consumers who have been around and using Old Spice for a long time can relate to and remember.”

While much of the brand’s target audience wasn’t yet born when Lundgren’s career took off in the 1985 film “Rocky IV,” younger audiences may know the Swede from his more recent roles in “The Expendables” and “Aquaman.”

“His legendary roles span decades, which is not different from the ridiculously long-lasting sweat and odor protection that comes from using Old Spice’s new Sweat Defense Dry Spray,” Krehbiel said.

Widening the aperture

Developed with agencies Wieden + Kennedy and Citizen, Old Spice’s newest campaign will live fully on TV and digital channels including Hulu, YouTube and Twitter. “Hang On” appeared during coverage of the All-Star game on Feb. 20 and included influencer work to amplify the campaign and new product lineup around the sporting event. The brand is teaming with its established roster of influencers, such as Adam Waheed and Steven Spence, to develop complementary content on social media around the outlandish consequences of forgetting to use deodorant.

“A lot of our strategy there is to connect with people around their followers. We really aim to reach our consumer audience where they are and serve them entertaining content. That’s why humor is such a key role for us,” Krehbiel said.

Old Spice will continue its creative theme around classic ’80s action movies throughout 2022 with social media content starring Lundgren in the coming weeks, as well as additional influencer work, according to Krehbiel.

The new Dry Spray campaign marks the first time Old Spice has enlisted deepfake technology in its marketing. Other brands have previously dabbled with deepfakes, AI-powered tools or CGI to manipulate video ads and make it appear as though a person were speaking. Lay’s in March 2021 used facial-mapping of soccer star Lionel Messi to dole out personalized video messages, while Mtn Dew that month premiered a “lost episode” of “The Joy of Painting” starring a CGI version of the late Bob Ross. While deepfake tech has raised ethical concerns, it can also help marketers tap into personalization and nostalgia while exploring new means of production.

For the visuals, Wieden + Kennedy placed Lundgren’s filmography from the ’80s and ’90s into an algorithm that aggregated his likeness, after which visual effects artists integrated the computer-generated face into the new ads. Using the tech aligns with Old Spice’s broader creative approach of experimenting with humorous, off-the-wall marketing that captures attention of young adult men, according to Krehbiel.

“[Deepfake technology] just widens the aperture of the stories we can tell and the heroes who are in those stories. The end goal was for somebody to watch it and feel like that was time well spent with our brand,” he said.

Cohesive across categories

The antiperspirant campaign was inspired by many consumers returning to work in-person and reestablishing morning routines, according to the brand.

“We’re thinking about times where it really matters to have a product. Let’s face it, the mornings can be hectic and as a lot of us are returning to the office or back to the worksite or back to school, we’ve all felt it where maybe you just forget a step,” Krehbiel said.

The new campaign is the latest work under the broader Old Spice label, which also includes hair products and body wash. The brand on Feb. 3 debuted a new “Curls are Cool” campaign to showcase how its new Wavy Curly Lineup can help men — 40% of whom have wavy or curly locks, per the brand — care for their hair’s unique needs. The push premiered with a 45-second clip and fresh messaging around how many major grooming brands have overlooked them, leaving men to use their partner’s products.

That effort, along with the newer Dolph Lundgren-starring spots, build on Old Spice’s success in 2019’s “Men Have Skin Too” initiative, according to Leif Edgar, brand director of Old Spice Hair.

“More and more guys are growing their hair longer and choosing now to experiment with styles,” he said. “You see so many trends of Gen Z TikTok guys that have this curly flop top look, so with our curls lineup coming out and the macro societal trend in play, we knew there was a natural role for our brand to come in.”

“[Deepfake technology] just widens the aperture of the stories we can tell and the heroes who are in those stories. The end goal was for somebody to watch it and feel like that was time well spent with our brand.”

Matt Krehbiel

Vice president, Old Spice

Old Spice earlier this year hopped in on buzz around non-fungible tokens, and just before that, teamed with Netflix on an integration with “The Witcher.” In 2021, the grooming brand opened a fully functional barbershop that doubles as a digital content studio, retail store and test lab for developing new products.

With all the new product collections and marketing activity, a key challenge for the broader Old Spice label in the year ahead is ensuring messaging appears cohesive, Edgar said.

“We’re all under one unified mega brand but the needs of our categories are very different,” he said about the need for consistency across hair care, deodorants and body wash. “All the work shows up holistically across the brand. Our agencies connect the dots and translate a very complex business with multiple mouths to feed, making it feel like one seamless ecosystem of brand activity.”

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