Is this the Man the Democratic Party Should Smell Like?

In 2002, the brand that brought you the “Clean Your Balls” campaign launched in the US and changed high school locker rooms, college frat houses, and the men’s fragrance market forever. Described as “Popular with teens and desperate adult men who don’t have the sense and/or money to buy a quality cologne,” Axe body spray brought it’s strategically focused, unapologetically misogynistic, and deplorably obnoxious brand of body sprays to the American market and found almost instant success in a market that was stagnating in the musk of an old stodgy white grandpa.

Enter a low-cost, sex wrapped, immaturity fueled fragrance designed specifically to tap into the market of teenage libido and backed by a relentless barrage of marketing and advertising techniques that had already found consistent success across Europe for two decades.

Axe’s cheap, sex wrapped, immaturity fueled fragrance was designed specifically to appeal to the teenage libido. According to it’s fragrance designer Ann Gottleib, “A fine fragrance is designed with differently weighted molecules, some evaporating faster than others, so that a scent evolves as it’s worn. Axe doesn’t bother with these subtleties; its pants come right off. Boom. In your face. “It’s an instant-delivery kind of product.” Gottlieb is also the designer of a number of noted high end fragrances including Eternity and Obsession, and has created fragrances for Dior, Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein, Brittney Spears, and Jennifer Lopez just to name a few.

With grandpa napping in the corner, it only took 5 years for Axe to take over the men’s body spray market. And that was enough to shake grandpa out of his recliner.

Old Spice was aware that they needed a shift in their marketing strategies before Axe burst onto the scene. And if it was Axe’s takeover of the men’s body spray market that fully awakened Proctor and Gamble’s leading men’s fragrance company — it was Unilever’s Dove Men+Care brand’s lunge for a share of the men’s grooming market that got them out of their recliners.

In addition to facing a market takeover from Axe Body Spray, one of the women’s health and beauty market’s most powerful brands made a decision to expand into Old Spice’s territory. In 2010, Unilever announced that Dove would be expanding its woman-centered brand of beauty and personal care products to include a line specifically designed for men. Their launch was planned for Super Bowl XLIV.

With Axe taking over the market share with a highly focused campaign targeting tweens, teens, and young adults and Unilever making a grab for the thirty and up crowd, Old Spice had some decisions to make, and it had to make them fast.

The first decision to be made was whether or not to increase their market share by increasing their sales to grandpas across America or by targeting a new demographic. They correctly calculated that their core consumers would remain loyal, but to increase market share they would have to open up to a new demographic.

The next challenge was to create a marketing campaign strategy that could stand on its own while competing in the same space as Axe and Dove Men+Care.

Old Spice wanted to compete with Axe, but it didn’t want to replicate the same in your face teenage locker room advertising strategies that branded Axe as the body spray for the young and horny. While Old Spice’s rebranding would come to include a combination of both humor and sex, it was done so in a way that sought to strike a chord of confidence and wit rather than desperation and immaturity.

Sex isn’t the only reason Axe sells, though. As Fast Company explains:

“Its success is largely the result of a sophisticated, cutting-edge marketing machine that constantly monitors youth culture’s subtle shifts so as to stay hot on the hormone trail….[The Clean Your Balls campaign] began as a web clip, where audiences are more self-selecting, then was respun for TV once Axe saw a positive response. Axe was able to do that because it spends a higher percentage of its marketing budget on digital than does any other Unilever product. Axe has product placement in video games, funds branded sitcoms on, and it was one of the first sponsors of now-popular sites like and XFire. It develops its own games, such as Axeman, a saga about recruiting women for a party that was released for mobile and PC this summer. And earlier this year, it launched an online comic book that was rapidly published chapter by chapter….There’s One Night Only, where Axe hosts gigantic musical acts like Girl Talk at small clubs in college towns; Axe-branded nightclubs; and campus-wide “Undie Runs,” where hordes of stripped-down college kids donate clothes and then move on to other athletic pursuits.”

Axe barrages its targets with advertising in every media format they engage with both directly and indirectly. And it makes sure that their content doesn’t get stale.

Fast Company also notes that “Axe managers are trained to discard old tactics–to know that every year, a new horde of kids will enter their demographic with new social habits and that Axe can’t speak to them like it spoke to last year’s class.”

The Class of 2010 was talking about cleaning their balls.

That same year Dove was launching Men+Care at the Super Bowl. If Old Spice wanted to successfully fight a two-front war, it was going to have to not only reinvent its image, but it would have to reinvent their marketing strategy altogether. And that’s what it did.

Under the strategic direction of the advertising firm Wieden + Kennedy, Old Spice set out to increase their sales of bodywash and their percentage of the market share by targeting younger demographics and, well, winning the Super Bowl. In order to generate buzz, Old Spice ambitiously set out to take the crown of Best Super Bowl Commercial. And they did it without even buying ad space during the game.

In order to shed their Just for Grandpas image and appeal to younger consumers, a spokesman that conjured an image that couldn’t be any farther from that of a musky old white man sleeping in a recliner: Isaiah Mustafa. Or more specifically, a half-naked Isaiah Mustafa riding on a horse. They created a unique script that was unpredictably witty and unquestionably sexy without being raunchy or cheesy. And they had an entire nation talking about their “Super Bowl Ad” days before the first quarter even began.

Swagger Accomplished.

It wasn’t just the success of the commercial itself that made the Old Spice Swagger campaign one of the most successful rebrands in history, though. It was how the campaign was carried out that drove the commercial’s overwhelming success.

Old Spice launched their Swagger campaign on YouTube and Facebook a few days prior to the Super Bowl. They were also savvy enough to attach phrases such as “Commercial Super Bowl” to their ads in order to drive online searches and equate themselves with other Super Bowl commercials before the game even began. 24 hours after the game, Old Spice began advertising on television.

This little trick of timing made people believe that The Man Your Man Could Smell Like first appeared during the Super Bowl, when in fact, it never did. Instead of competing head to head with the Dove Men+Care campaign by buying a costly ad to be aired during the Super Bowl, Old Spice’s marketing strategists figured out how to win the Super Bowl without even playing.

The Swagger didn’t stop there, though.

The commercials were so successful, Weiden + Kennedy launched a social media response campaign to keep the momentum going. The follow-up campaign consisted of personalized videos of Isaiah Mustafa responding to questions and comments from fans. The overwhelming majority of videos were made for the average social media follower, but some were strategically produced for celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Ashton Kutcher, and Ryan Seacrest.

The Man Your Man Could Smell like video on YouTube alone brought in over 10 million views. The YouTube version of the television ad Dove Men+Care bought for the Super Bowl was viewed only one-tenth of that. The launch of Old Spice’s new brand image could not have been more successful.

New image. Check. Resonate with younger demographics. Check. Win the Super Bowl. Check.

The only remaining question was whether or not these successes would translate into a larger share of the body wash market. Old Spice would not have to wait long for an answer. Sales immediately skyrocketed and not only did they gain a larger share of the market, but they would go on to take back control over the market and topple Axe and Dove Men+Care within the first year. They haven’t lost ground since.

So, what does this success story have to do with the Democratic Party? Everything.

The Democratic Party is facing a situation that is very much like the one Old Spice had to face in 2010. The Party has grown too comfortable in its recliner and has started to smell like a musky old white man. They are competing for market share with an immature, sex fueled brand of relentless stench and stand to lose control of the market if they don’t readjust in time for the big game.

If the Democrats want to win 2020, they have to stop smelling like old man and start being the brand that inspires confidence and collective attraction. They have to relentlessly and creatively reach out to political consumers in places, through channels, and with strategies that will most effectively connect their target audiences to their new brand.

Enter Joe Biden.

Joe Biden is the epitome of old white grandpa smell. He is the living embodiment of political days gone by and his campaign roll-out couldn’t have been any more stuffy or sluggish. The battle is already uphill.

Obama might have worn enough Swagger to overpower the Old Spice Classic wafting off of his Vice President, but on his own, there is little to make the signature scent of old white grandpa. Even with a somewhat swagger-cloaked Vice-President by his side, the Biden ticket won’t be able to gain enough momentum to defeat the incumbent President without forward thinking advertising and marketing campaigns to support them.

If Joe Biden’s campaign roll out tells us anything, it’s that the Democratic Party is doubling down on their “classic” brand and relying on old marketing and advertising strategies. That wouldn’t have allowed the Old Spice to successfully take over the market in 2010 and it won’t be enough for the Democrats to win the Presidential election in 2020.

By targeting older white Democrats, the Party is ignoring the majority of political consumers occupying the voting market. People of color, especially young people of color comprise the Democratic Party’s most loyal blocs, and in many key states they outnumber white voters. Rather than developing a strategy to target and bring in these voters, though, the Democratic Party is trying to force them to buy a product they aren’t interested in. Not wanting to smell like Joe Biden or Donald Trump, these consumers are walking out of the store altogether.

And while the white grandpas of the Democratic Party push forward with a losing strategy, the rest of us are tasked with figuring out how to win the big game on election day without the support from the top players, the coach, or the league.

Black voters don’t want to smell like white voters. Latino Voters don’t want to smell like an old white grandpa. And the overwhelming majority of nonwhite voters don’t want to smell like pussy fingered, cross burning, MAGA hat wearing white nationalists.

The problem is, there is a gap in the market that still has yet to be claimed.

There is no organized and strategically sound national campaign coming out of the white led Democratic Party that seeks to target and bring in a larger share of the voting market by reaching out to younger and less white demographics. Similarly, there is no campaign coming out of the Black and Latino caucuses. The party itself won’t get out of its recliner.

Similarly, national organizations that represent organized leadership in communities of color have yet to step up to the plate. Opting to stand firmly in a cloud of poster paint and protest, they too have not stepped up to fill the void or launched campaigns that can successfully bring in new voters in time for 2020.

If a strategically marketed campaign that successfully targets nonwhite people of voting age with a freshly rebranded Democratic image and brings them to the polls isn’t launched at the grass-roots level, or at any level at all, we will lose control of the market to the Republican Party in 2020. The consequences of that loss cannot be underestimated.

If a strategically marketed, creatively advertised, and relentlessly adaptable campaign is launched in time to take down the Trump Administration in 2020, the organization that pulls it off could take over the market. And that could have lasting effects on the 2022 midterm races and the 2024 Presidential race if leveraged correctly. The question is, what would it smell like?

To find Dr. GS Potter on Twitter, go to



SIIP is dedicated to designing strategies to counter political obstacles faced by the most brutally targeted communities in the United States

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

SIIP is dedicated to designing strategies to counter political obstacles faced by the most brutally targeted communities in the United States