Normally we feature ads we hate, but this one deserves a different tune. Freud first asked the question, and now Old Spice answers it with their pitch-perfect series of "manmercials." What do women want? They want a man on a horse, of course! And they want one with a bare chest, the physique of a former NFL wide receiver, and enough self-assurance to say with complete authority that whoever your current man happens to be, "Sadly, he isn't me. But if he stopped using ladies' bodywash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he's me."
In short, what women want is the actor Isaiah Mustafa, a TV actor and former NFL-er, with just a towel around his waist in "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" ad.
Women want him. Men want to be him. It's win-win. And it's wildly funny.
Remember when the Old Spice brand felt stale? The man on a horse changes all that. The past few years' Old Spice commercials with Bruce Campbell paved the way, of course, by sending up the brand's fusty old image with a modern, comedic twist.
"The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" goes way beyond that. The character moves seamlessly through several manly-men scenarios--stepping out of the shower, at sea on a boat, and on the beach astride a white horse that's as well-muscled as he is. The effect is funny, but not jokey. There's truth to it. Sure, women say they want a man who is sensitive and can express his feelings, but they go for men who are powerful, confident, and can captain a boat and ride a horse bareback.
The character begins by inviting a comparison test. "Hello, ladies. Look at your man. Now back to me. Now back to your man. Now back to me!" The tone is commanding, compelling. Female viewers are already eating out of his hand, so when he says, "Look down, now look up," my eyes were darting wherever he wanted. The ad doesn't try to build up "real" men at the expense of "sissies." The man on the horse would never stoop to that; he's got character.
The ad debuted in early February and hypnotized a good portion of web surfers after it played Super Bowl Sunday. There's a geek factor at work too, because it was shot in ONE TAKE, from shower to boat to horseback. There are a few CGI enhancements, such as when the theater tickets "to that thing you like" turns into a lava flow of diamonds, but the actor delivers his lines, never breaking intense eye contact with the camera, as the sets behind him change and an off-camera dolly slides him onto the back of a real horse, just in time for him to deliver the sensational tagline: I'm on a horse.
In other words, the actor is as stoic and hard-working as the men who wear Old Spice. According to an interview with Craig Allen and Eric Kallman of Wieden + Kennedy, the agency that cooked this up for Procter & Gamble, it took three days of shooting to get the 30-second spot perfect on Take 57.
The ad gets all the attention, but the updates to the Old Spice website are just as savvy. You're met with Isaiah Mustafa again. "A true gentleman knows that a woman should smell like butterflies and salt taffy and that a man should smell like jetfighters and punching," he says, and we believe him.
The site has a few interactive and charmingly silly features that make use of social networking. You can follow along on Twitter as the man on a horse gives bite-sized lessons to men on how to send "romantastic notes of love" to "romance your lady." Compare that to the site for Ralph Lauren Polo, where the emphasis is on the "24-karat details" of an anniversary edition of their signature scent, and how it's "housed in a luxurious leather box, the ultimate collector's item." They're talking materialism, while the Old Spice ad is talking sex appeal. The man on a horse waves those "two tickets to that thing you like" as if he's doing mind-control tricks onstage, turning them-voilà!-into a cascade of diamonds.
The ultimate luxury in life is a man who knows how to be a man, for a woman who knows what women want.