Winner of the 2010 Grand Prix for film at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival and a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial for the Portland ad agency Wieden+Kennedy. Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ads advertising campaign took on a life of its own, spilling into social media and becoming the object of debates. Some media outlets, like CBS News, asked, “Is the Old Spice Guy ‘Post-Racial’ or Just Another ‘Mandingo’?” (Edwards, 2010). These surface readings do not impress when the advertisements are critically interrogated though the lens of critical race and gender theories that draw on Marxist and psychoanalytic themes.
Mustafa is a “dashing, tall, dark and handsome figure with impossible abs, a gleaming smile, and a twinkle in his eyes,” who “possesses an electric charisma and a self-deprecating sense of humor” (Romano, 2010). The ads are full of non-sequiturs, absurd humor, and the usual ribbing about “what a man should be like.” Here is the transcript to the first ad in the series, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” with what is going on in the scene:
Hello, ladies (bathroom with shower running, shirtless, towel wrapped around his waist). Look at your man, now back to me, now back at your man (the frame narrows on him, eventually showing him naked from the waist up). Now back to me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped using lady scented body wash and switched to Old Spice (he holds up a soap covered bottle of Old Spice body wash) he could smell like he’s me. Look down, back up. (scene changes to a boat) Where are you? You’re on a boat. (his towel flies off to reveal white boating pants underneath and a blue and white shirt falls from the sky around his neck) With the man your man could smell like. What’s in your hand? Back at me. I have it. (Holds up an oyster) It’s an oyster with two tickets (oyster pops open to show the tickets) to that thing you love. Look again, the tickets are now diamonds. (diamonds start flowing out of his hand) Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady. (a bottle of Old Spice body wash rises from the flowing diamonds and the frame widens) I’m on a horse. (Caption reads: Smell like a man, man.) (Old Spice, 2010a)
Addressing himself to women, likely because Wieden+Kennedy’s research shows that women make the purchases for the men in their households, Mustafa stares directly into the camera and never breaks that stare. He asks the female viewer to make a comparison between “her man” and him and, given that “her man” is unlikely to look as good as him, points out that “her man” sadly is not him, adding one important possible reason: “her man” uses lady-scented body wash and not Old Spice. Obvious message: Old Spice: manly/masculine :: other body wash: ladylike/feminine.
On the surface level, this is boilerplate advertising: funny, cheeky, amusing, with a memorable line or event to keep the spot in the mind of the viewer. We have, too, the...