What Instagram failed to recognize was that, while it had every right to change the appearance of its brand, its perception had already been determined and heavily rooted by the public. The new logo felt incongruent with the current perception, making it feel forced and fake. It’s reminiscent of Garth Brooks’ attempt to create an alternate rocker persona, “Chris Gaines,” in the late ’90s. His brooding, soul-patched, fictional counterpart was such a departure from Brooks’ rugged cowboy look that his fans were embarrassed — even if the same style worked perfectly for a musician like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. In both cases, it came down to what fans had come to expect.
Consumers are gifted at smelling inauthenticity. As a result, when a brand decides it’s time to pivot, that movement must come from a genuine place, answering to an equally genuine opportunity. These opportunities can’t be invented, only discovered. There are a number of tools available for this. For instance, a user experience (UX) researcher might perform a competitive analysis to find gaps in competing products that they can fill. This exactly what Old Spice did in 2010, and the results produced one of the most memorable ad campaigns of the decade.
At the time, Old Spice was struggling to keep its head above water in the competitive field of men’s deodorant and body wash. Axe Body Spray had completely captured the 18-24-year-old market with trendy, youthful packaging and a series of raunchy commercials that suggested women would be magnetically drawn to anyone wearing its scent. Old Spice, once the gold standard of male grooming, had become the brand associated with your grandfather. Even the introduction of more youthful scents and washes did little to move it into the present. That is, until the now-infamous “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” ad campaign created by the Portland-based agency Wieden+Kennedy.
As it turns out, Axe was ignoring a very large portion of its market: women. Old Spice found that in many households, women were the true power-brokers of what men smelled like. While Axe held a youthful image that managed to be masculine without reminding consumers of their older family members, the brand also embodied the aspects of masculinity most problematic to their female demographic. To these consumers, a deodorant that promised to send dozens of scantily clad models after your husband couldn’t be further from a value proposition.
Old Spice managed to capture the positive perceptions of masculinity held by both men and women, all thanks to one man: Isaiah Mustafa. The handsome, muscular actor spends the entire 30-second spot speaking directly to women, while exemplifying the strong confidence that young male viewers aspired to. If Axe made Old Spice look like an old man, the new Old Spice made Axe look like an immature little boy. What follows is one of the most interesting branding faceoffs of the decade — one that competed not just for deodorant sales, but for which of two distinct ideals would become the modern definition of masculinity.