Visual Analysis – Old Spice


Marketing expert Paul Arden once said about advertising, “There are rules in advertising, and those rules are self-imposed by the client companies because they don’t want their products to be seen as dishonest” (“Paul Arden”, Leo Burnett, a different marketing expert, merely said, “Make it simple” (“Leo Burnett”, As technology progresses and our society’s collective obsession with capitalism ensues, methods of persuasion and manipulation are analyzed and refined. For marketers and advertisers, numerous techniques and strategies are employed to sway the consumer in their favour. The oldest documented advertisement was written on papyrus and came from Thebes, Egypt. It was used to advertise high-quality fabrics (“Travel Blogger). Now, we have mass-produced media that has transcended the physical plane and entered the technological world of the internet. We no longer write in the classifieds to find the love of our life; we use tinder for that. As we develop our collective understanding of marketing, certain advertising techniques have demonstrated higher success rates in attracting customers; as a result, those techniques have become staples in the public sphere. However, as culture and values change, representation of culture and values changes as well. In a highly visual culture, every visual portion of an advertisement matters. While most conventional commercials will feature the utility and function of a product/service, some marketing agencies have stepped outside the standard format to produce something wildly different; creative risks may pay off—but then again—they might not. This essay will explore and analyze the visual aspect of one commercial that has paid off: Wieden+Kennedy’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” for Old Spice. Media theorists such as Lazarsfeld & Merton will supplement this essay with their information regarding mass media, status conferral theory, and impact upon popular taste.


The commercial is shown below:

Visual Analysis

The advertisement for Old Spice was uploaded to popular video-hosting website, YouTube. In the commercial, the viewer is immediately met with Isaiah Mustafa, a handsome, clean-cut, muscular, half-naked, smooth & sultry-voiced man. He most likely smells nice too (this odd assertion will be touched upon later). All of these factors are deliberate; the attractive traits that he possesses are intentionally focused upon to suggest that the Isaiah Mustafa is an ideal man to many men and women. The handsome man begins his monologue by addressing the female viewers, though he also acknowledges that a male audience is present. It is important to note that Isaiah consistently maintains eye contact with the viewer as it engages the viewer; this allows the viewer to feel more like an active participant, rather than a passive watcher. As the shot pans in on Isaiah, he directs the female viewers to not only look at himself, but to compare him to the female viewer’s male partner. Interestingly, Isaiah’s command to “look at your man” invites the viewer to look at the visual that is outside of the artificially-constructed realm; by doing this, Wieden+Kennedy have taken advantage of both their own planned and artificially-constructed realm and the viewer’s candid reality by juxtaposing them. After further insinuating that Isaiah himself is to be more desired than the viewer’s current partner, he presents a container of Old Spice body wash and suggests that using the product could result in becoming more like Isaiah Mustafa, the ideal man. Shortly after the product is presented, a match cut occurs.

The second shot of the advertisement quickly transitions with a match cut to a luxurious boat. Isaiah is now wearing a sweater around his neck, white pants with a gold belt, and is continuing to hold the container of Old Spice body wash. The camera pans in closer on Isaiah’s head and upper body before he sets down the container. As he sets it down, he presents a few valuable items that would be desired by most individuals: oysters, diamonds, and “two tickets to that thing you love”—though that is an extremely vague description, it is still widely applicable to most viewers, further engaging the consumers. The setting and the Isaiah’s lavish attire are deliberate; these attributes of wealth construct a fantasy that is “possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady” (Old Spice). Again, it is important to note the use of Isaiah’s eye contact with the viewer and how it captures the audience’s attention; his eye contact with the viewer is consistent throughout the entire commercial except for when he directs the viewer to “look down.” As the camera pans out, it is revealed that Isaiah is riding a beautiful white horse. This image somewhat resembles another stereotypical fantasy—a knight on a horse in the sunset. The campaign slogan “Smell like a man, man,” and the Old Spice logo are shown in the background, again reinforcing the brand before ending the commercial.

Lazarsfeld and Merton

This advertisement was considered a marketing success. The commercial won several awards, a notable accomplishment being the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Commercial, and has received over 55 million views on YouTube alone (as of April 2018). Advertising Age writes about the commercial, “By allowing creativity to reign, a tired deodorant went from dormant to one of the most talked-about and emulated social brands” ( Judging from the campaign name, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” it is quite apparent which elements of this advertisement have contributed to it’s success. By presenting Old Spice products alongside all of Isaiah’s attractive qualities, the intent of the commercial is to suggest that buying and using Old Spice products will result in becoming a more attractive man. However, as mentioned before, Isaiah is a handsome, clean-cut, muscular, half-naked, smooth & sultry-voiced man, who most likely smells nice. Of all the fore-mentioned qualities, the only trait that Old Spice body wash can logically contribute to, is the clean scent and proper hygiene of the individual; Isaiah’s beautiful features are not conferred by using Old Spice. Lazarsfeld and Merton, two media theorists, studied mass media and identified its role in influencing the public sphere. One function of mass media is status-conferral. Lazarsfeld and Merton wrote, “The mass media bestow prestige and enhance the authority of individuals and groups by legitimizing their status. Recognition by the press or radio or magazines or newsreels testifies that one has arrived, that one is important enough to have been singled out from the large anonymous masses, that one’s behavior and opinions are significant enough to require public notice” (Lazarsfeld and Merton 236). Simply being in the spotlight suggests that one is worthy of being in the spotlight. As Wieden+Kennedy cast Isaiah as a brand ambassador in the commercial, his status is elevated even further. On that note, it is worthy to recall Isaiah’s direction to look outside of the artificially-constructed realm, and at the female viewer’s male partner; the lack of media recognition of the male partner would place the male lower on a cultural hierarchy. In a visual commercial, whatever is portrayed on the screen is deemed as important.

Another function of mass media, in relation to the Old Spice commercial, is its impact upon popular taste. In their essay, “Mass communication, popular taste, and organized social action,” Lazarsfeld and Merton discuss how mass media heavily influences the populace by subjecting them to reoccurring themes and patterns. Lazarsfeld and Merton describe the patterns as “the depressing abundance of formula motion pictures replete with hero, heroine, and villain moving through a contrived atmosphere of sex, sin, and success” (242). Essentially, the prevalence of certain ideas in media will eventually meet and influence popular culture. While the two theorists discuss the topic in a more cynical lens, this theory can easily be applied to commercials. Regarding Old Spice, reinforcing the brand and product through the use of social media engagement and humour has created more demand for the product. William Leiss writes in his essay, “Social Communication in Advertising,” “branding of a company creates brand community. This is important in that ‘brand name and package again play an important part, but the product is given special qualities by means of a symbolic relationship that it has to some more abstract and less pragmatic domain of significance than mere utility’” (Leiss 175).

Marketing Agency, Havas Worldwide, creates an identity for drinkers of Dos Equis beer:

Commercial Success

Without a doubt, the commercial’s strength comes from the humour. While Isaiah’s performance and the visuals surrounding him are what is portrayed on the screen, they are just catalysts for humour. The presentation of the commercial already differs from most conventional commercials by directly addressing the viewer. Deviating from the established pattern for advertisements has reversed the viewer’s expectations; doing this interests the viewer and captures their attention. The abrasive, insult humour that Isaiah indirectly casts upon the male viewers appeals to the demographic and continues to control the viewer’s attention. In the second shot, the wild sequence of events contains many elements of humour. The quick transition of background and attire is self-aware and participates in surreal humour. As Isaiah continues and presents an oyster with tickets to “that thing you love,” he breaks the fourth wall; this is both humorous and engaging—it is intentionally vague but widely applicable. Isaiah’s reference to “you” invites the viewer to place themselves into a more participatory role. The final gags, the revealed diamonds and horse, present a humorous situation that results in a pleasant surprise. The humour comes from the illogical association between Old Spice and expensive possessions. Though it is not mentioned in the video itself, the video description states: “We’re not saying this body wash will make your man smell like a romantic millionaire jet fighter pilot, but we are insinuating it” (Old Spice). The use of non-sequiturs contributes to the humour and adds elements of surprise; this is important. The element of surprise has been identified by Knossenburg et al. to increase likelihood of content being shared.

In their study, “CONTAGIOUS CONTENT: VIRAL VIDEO ADS IDENTIFICATION OF CONTENT CHARACTERISTICS THAT HELP ONLINE VIDEO ADVERTISEMENTS GO VIRAL,” Knossenburg et al. analyze viral online videos to determine what elements of viral videos result in wide-spread sharing, also known as virality. The two main factors in increasing an advertisement’s virality is “engagement” and “surprise.” According to Knossenburg et al., “surprise” consists of three variables: originality, uncommonness, and unconventional nature. “Engagement” consists of relevance, interest, enjoyability, and whether the viewer ultimately likes the content they’re consuming (Knossenburg et al.). This essay has already outlined how Wieden+Kennedy integrated those elements of surprise and engagement into their commercial to create a successful advertisement. After demonstrating the power of their marketing strategy, Old Spice’s model was widely praised in the marketing community. The commercial served as a model for innovative and creative marketing. Other companies such as have integrated elements of surprise and engagement into their own advertisements to generate virality, and by extension, commercial success.

Compare DollarShaveClub’s commercial with Old Spice below:



The media strategy employed by Wieden+Kennedy revitalized the identity of Old Spice. A simple advertising campaign disrupted the boring perception of the brand. Through it’s visual focus and representation of the product, Wieden+Kennedy have made Old Spice more than just a body wash—Old Spice represents attractiveness, wealth, wit, and humour. Engaging the viewer through visual sequences and verbal humour have thrusted the brand into the commercial spotlight. As technology and consumerism continues to advance, we will continue to see more creative mediums emerge; our representation of visual culture will change. So long as the dollar exists and capitalism thrives, visual culture will innovate itself to persuade consumers to buy.

Works Cited

Arden, Paul, and Leo Burnett. “Famous Quotes at BrainyQuote.” BrainyQuote, Xplore,

Knossenburg, Yentl, Roberto Nogueira, and Paula Chimenti. “Contagious Content: Viral Video Ads Identification of Content Characteristics that Help Online Video Advertisements Go Viral.” REMark, vol. 15, no. 4, 2016, pp. 448-n/a, ProQuest,

Lazarsfeld & Merton. Mass Communication, Popular Taste and Organized Social Action. 1948.

Leiss, William, et al. Social Communication in Advertising. 3rd Edition. New York: Taylor & Francis. 2005.

OldSpice. “Old Spice | The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” YouTube, YouTube, 4 Feb. 2010,

“TOP AD CAMPAIGNS OF THE 21st CENTURY.” Advertising Age, vol. 86, no. 1, 2015, pp. 18, ProQuest,

“Travel Blogger.” Trip & Travel Blog, 25 Apr. 2016,