The Original Social Distancing

Only after I bought my regular Old Spice stick deodorant did I read the copy on the back, above the list of chemical ingredients: CONTAINS ODOR-FIGHTING “ATOMIC ROBOTS” THAT “SHOOT LASERS” AT YOUR “STENCH MONSTERS” AND REPLACES THEM WITH FRESH, CLEAN, MASCULINE “SCENT ELVES”

Huh? Did Marjorie Taylor Greene or a Q Anon follower become copywriters for Weiden+Kennedy while I was cycling ? Weiden+Kennedy is the ad agency of record for Old Spice and is most famous for their excellence on the Nike account. They know how to separate money from consumers and build market share for their clients. But is this copy actually humor intended for Old Spice’s target audience, or an example of how influential unhinged, wacko, far right language has become mainstream and taken over American culture? I don’t know the answer. Maybe you can weigh in on it.

Atomic robots shooting lasers definitely grabbed my attention. I wanted to know more about how this messaging came to be so I wrote an email inquiry to the agency, but I haven’t heard back yet. Perhaps after a sprint in their Nikees they’re busy fighting off the atomic robots themselves.

Another two possible explanations for the Marjorie Taylor Greene-like copy was to take my mind off of the suspicious-sounding chemicals I had agreed to apply to my underarms by virtue of my purchase. For the first time in a long time I read the ingredient list and didn’t take much comfort in learning it consisted of chemicals I can hardly pronounce nor comprehend: Dipropylene Glycol, Propylene Glycol, sodium stearate, poloxamine 1307, fragrance, PPG-3 myristyl ether, Tetrasodium EDTA, Violet 2 and Green 6. Should I be worried about these ingredients moreso than the atomic robots?

I didn’t know what to do so I went back to the anti-perspirant aisle at the store and looked closer at the other brands and their ingredients: Arm & Hammer, Ban, Tom’s of Maine, Schmidt’s. I discovered no other brand had atomic robots or stench monsters, but Arm & Hammer did include Dipropylene Glycol. The Arm & Hammer brand has always struck me as an upstanding no nonsense brand, the type of product that “Consumer Reports” would approve. I felt a little better.

The truth is when it comes to deodorants there actually are conversations and controversies about ingredients as there are in many cosmetics, sunscreens and shampoos. There are honest discussions about whether plant and mineral-based odor fighting ingredients are superior to all other ingredients. There are claims that some chemicals in deodorants cause cancer or cell mutations. Others insist aluminum can be absorbed into the skin and increase one’s risk for breast cancer. (There are no credible findings that support these positions I read). But even these kind of controversies are still a far cry from “odor-fighting atomic robots” and “stench monsters”. I got to thinking …

When I was in high school in the 1960s, sweating (without protection from a deodorant) led to “body odor” or B.O. If you had it, 10 foot social distancing was the norm and more importantly, it would undoubtably ruin your chances of finding true love or getting your dream date for the prom. Now it’s 2021 and Old Spice has upped its game as the humiliation and scandal from B.O. is apparently no longer effective to selling deodorants. Advertising copy was more unadorned when I was a kid: “Old Spice brings superior protection power to an even higher level with a new formula for generating greatness … it delivers 48 hours of protection”.

Reflecting on all of this messaging brought me to this conclusion: words still carry a lot of weight in this video-obsessed world. They have power in the marketplace whether one is selling deodorants, political candidates or causes. I believe consumers need to be vigilant, educated and skeptical of what they read and hear because in today’s “attention economy” sensational attention-grabbing headlines are often created to simply “cut through the clutter”. While I thought the attention economy only applied to social media and online marketing, it apparently plays out in consumer packaging, political stump speeches and social causes too.

Remember “We’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it” ? If it sounds like something coming from the mind (or mouth) of MGT or someone else extraordinarily wacko, it probably is said to grab your attention through the latest media cycle. Don’t react! Check your sources, trust in those that provide news based on verifiable facts because there’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be the next one.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

One thought on “The Original Social Distancing

  1. Interesting viewpoint on this advertisement. Yes, it is tongue in cheek, and not to be taken seriously—as long as you purchase it of course. I believe that this is very sophisticated copywriting, which not everyone might “get”, as long as the target demographic understands it. Thank you


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