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No, the Old Spice campaign hasn’t failed

July 20, 2010 2 comments

There seems to be a meme floating around the social marketing world at the moment that the super-notorious Old Spice mass media and viral ad campaign has failed to drive sales, despite grabbing mindshare and winning awards. This seems to be based on a Brandweek article that isn’t available on their website (w00t new media marketing excellence, not), but that has been excerpted here. It says:

[S]ales of the featured product—Red Zone After Hours Body Wash—aren’t necessarily tracking with that consumer appeal: In the 52 weeks ended June 13, sales of the brand have dropped 7 percent according to SymphonyIRI. (That amount excludes those rung up at Walmart.) P&G execs were not available to comment.

SymphonyIRI get their sales data direct from the tills in all major US supermarkets except Walmart (who figure they’re big enough that they’ve got more to lose than to gain from sharing their data with competitors), so it’s pretty reliable. I wish I had access myself – I have done for projects in the past, and damn it’s good, but a subscription costs millions of dollars…

However, even without access to the data, we can easily show that the Brandweek piece is absolutely irrelevant. First, a quote from Forbes last Thursday:

Total sales for Old Spice body wash at supermarkets, drugstores and mass market retailers excluding Wal-Mart were up 16.7% in the 52-week period ending June 13, according to SymphonyIRI Group, a Chicago-based market research firm.

In other words, assuming both articles are accurate, a specific sub-brand of Old Spice has fallen in sales, but the overall brand has risen in sales. Since the campaign primarily promotes Old Spice as a master brand (I didn’t even know it was plugging Red Zone After Hours Body Wash, and nor did you), the Brandweek article is somewhere between misled and misleading in its selective data usage.

Even if Forbes has somehow got its numbers wrong, and the Brandweek data is representative of the brand’s overall performance, this still wouldn’t show the campaign had failed. The IRI data covers a 52 week period – it’s comparing Jul 2009-Jun 2010 to Jul 2008-Jun 2009. The interesting comparisons for a breaking campaign (the ads started in February, and the social campaign’s been building since) are week-on-week (wk20 2010 vs wk20 2009) and month-on-month (Jun 2010 vs Jun 2009), not averages for the whole year. If sales fell in the second half of 2009 and were gradually revived this year by the campaign, the 52 week data wouldn’t show this at all.

The most awesome thing about IRI data if you’re a marketing-stats-data-geek (guilty) is that it’s updated daily. So Procter & Gamble and its agency, Wieden & Kennedy, will know exactly, day on day how sales have reacted. They (well, they plus SymphonyIRI, Unilever, Colgate, and their respective marketing agencies) are the only ones currently in a position to say whether the campaign has worked. Until and unless they, or SymphonyIRI, or a naughty leaker working for a company with access to IRI’s database, tell us what the week-on-week comparisons are, we’ve got little idea whether or not the campaign has succeeded.

Well, except that Old Spice had been in decline as a brand for a very long time – so if there has been a 17% rise in 52-week sales as the Forbes piece suggests, then that’s a good indication that the rise in sales since the campaign launched in February is larger still.

Lesson: while everyone wants smug marketers to fail (yes, of course you do), a campaign that captures the public imagination to the degree that Old Spice has is bloody unlikely to fail to drive sales, at the very least in the short term. Relatedly, most people don’t understand data.