When an advertising agency runs a PR campaign

(Update – W&K released some of the stats from the effort, including sales numbers. So good on them for reporting that but my points below remain that this looks and smells like a PR push.)

Unless you’ve been completely disconnected from the internet for the last 48 hours you’ve no doubt heard about the campaign being run by Old Spice. The effort involved having The Old Spice Guy – you know, the guy from the commercials who seamlessly went from a shower to a boat to a horse all while telling women that their guy could be as naturally attractive and appealing as him if he’d use Old Spice body wash – not only tweeting but also sending out select personalized responses to people who requested a message.

The effort has received considerable buzz not only from social media insiders and marketing types but also the general public, largely because the personalized nature of the responses appeals to the fact that we’re all narcissistic fools. So even if we didn’t get a personalized response ourselves, we were thrilled with the fact that others did because hey, playing to everyone’s feeling that they’re special is the best way to get attention. It’s funny, sure, but take the rampant “OMG he said my name!” out of it and it’s a lot less noteworthy.

What sticks out in my mind is that this effort, an extension of a previous ad campaign, was conceived, created and run by the same ad agency, Weiden & Kennedy.

So, being an ad agency, they presumably have to show some ROI, correct? ROI that goes beyond the YouTube video views and Twitter followers. Actual sales numbers, I mean. In other words, it must answer the question “How did this move the sales needle?”

It’s one thing for a PR agency to point to those sorts of numbers because PR is, traditionally, more involved in changing the public’s perception of and attitude toward a brand, with sales and other monetary metrics following as a result of that work.

Advertising, though, is supposed to be more directly accountable for sales figures. If you can’t move sales up, the campaign is a failure. That’s just kind of rule in traditional advertising and marketing. Impact sales for the better. Or be done.

So I’m going to look forward to the advertising press running stories six months from now or so on how exactly this campaign has increased sales of Old Spice. If, as someone said on Twitter, this is going to take the place of Subservient Chicken as the new gold standard for online campaign case studies, I trust the press won’t give W&K the same free pass on this issue they gave to CP+B for so many years in the wake of Subservient Chicken. After all, getting press for a stunt is success for PR but not the end goal for advertising.

To be clear – I like this effort and think it’s funny and interesting. But I’m tired of PR be looked down on because it’s not as solid and quantifiable (despite that fact that PR programs can be just as directly influential on sales if that’s what they’re designed to do) as advertising only to have advertising measured by statistics that are commonly associated with PR and which would undoubtedly be viewed as successful here.

4 thoughts on “When an advertising agency runs a PR campaign

  1. “Advertising, though, is supposed to be more directly accountable for sales figures. If you can’t move sales up, the campaign is a failure.”

    That statement is incorrect. An entire organization is responsible for moving the needle, but modern advertising (of the good variety) builds brands and stories.

    This was an effort in giving Old Spice a voice and allowing the public to touch/feel a brand.

    The only thing that *directly* moves the needle (people buying Old Spice) are coupons. Other than that, it’s building a relationship and putting consumers down a path that eventually leads to sales and loyalty.

    Otherwise, you’re just selling comoditized goods.

    • Alright, Steve, I’ll allow your point there. But my point remains that this sort of “giving Old Spice a voice” campaign would be under much different scrutiny it it were coming from a PR shop. While everyone else is busting their backsides trying to prove out ROI, this gets labeled a success because it racked up a bunch of YouTube views. That’s great and all, but now what’s Old Spice going to do with them?

  2. Just wanted to pop in and say I really liked this post.

    I think more and more the lines between PR, Advertising, and Marketing are blurring, with the overarching goal to promote positive brand image. This is especially true for any social media campaigns, because there just isn’t an effective way to measure ROI in the social media spheres.

    I do have to say that Old Spice did make some money off of me due to these ads. Personally, I loved them, causing me to buy some of their Man Smelling products on my last run to the drugstore.

  3. Pingback: Radio Roundtable: Measuring Old Spice, Interns at the Twitter helm, and (gulp) AVE « Media Bullseye – A New Media and Communications Magazine

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