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How They Used To Do It

While brushing my teeth this morning, I noticed this line on the back of an Old Spice product: “If your grandfather hadn’t worn it, you wouldn’t exist.”

Ha! Cute. Not as cute as Isaiah Mustafa, perhaps, but still.

What caught me about this sly little marketing tag line was that the brand was pushing the cred it already had in spades but that the general public seemed to have simply forgotten about. Rather than trying to reinvent itself as something shiny, new and hip to get attention again (it was fighting the market encroachment of Axe products in particular), it issued people a reminder about what they already knew it was. The marketing team explains their strategy in this article from the NYTimes dated January 8, 2007 (still six months before Mad Men hit the airwaves):

“Our timing was good because this is a moment when everyone appreciates authenticity, when retro is not necessarily a bad word,” Mr. Fitzloff said. “So we can say, ‘You can either be authentic or trendy.’ ”

To underscore authenticity for Old Spice, the campaign gives a prominent role to the brand’s original trappings and trade dress, including the cursive script logo, the clipper ship from the fragrance bottles and the vintage whistled commercial jingle. But they are treated playfully rather than reverentially, in a manner Ms. Taylor described as an “inside-the-joke feeling.”

The article takes a parting shot underlining the mood: “Too bad that it is probably too late for General Motors to bring back Oldsmobile.”

Hmmm, what other products around here are carrying around a decades and decades-old reputation for class and quality but struggle to communicate that message effectively?

Orchestras and opera companies and string quartets can try to invent new branding personalities, but at root they will still be orchestras and opera companies and string quartets. Almost every American knew a grandpa who smelled like Old Spice and new buyers now look to make that experience their own. Is there anything to be gained by polishing the “original trappings” of what attracted people to these art forms in years past? For ensembles presenting art originally created for people living in 1811, not 2011, can we offer a similar experience to concertgoers today? Vintage. Antique. Fascinating things are teased out of the past and made interesting again all the time. If that kind of frame can also be placed around the repertoire and communicated to the community with 2011 sophistication, there might be something compelling there. After arguing about audience alienation via clapping rules and program notes, the discussion almost always comes around again to the concept that the music itself is too great to be ignored and forgotten. If that’s true, then maybe this Old Spice campaign has a spark in it worth applying.

Otherwise, the “just add vampires” line of audience building seems to have some cultural traction. Just sayin’.


  1. Well said!!! Now the classical community needs to figure out how to say it.

  2. I notice that countries that spend the most on traditional classical music (like Germany, Austria, Holland, and France) also spend the most on new forms of classical music. For them, the old spice can still make babies.

    Perhaps it’s not so much a question of marketing as imbuing classical music with life and virility by giving it adequate resources. Marketing then largely takes care of itself. The smell of vitality is seductive.

  3. While the idea is appealing, I think the analogy is going to break down fast. Theater, music, visual art are all triggering higher brain functions. Deodorants are purely in reptile brain world. The former is much more prone to ‘advancement’ (ie. fashion, schools of thought, technology, progress) so the smells of old are more likely to be appreciated by a modern olfactory system.

    Furthermore, appreciation of these higher brain activities need to be learned to some extent. Some forms are more immediately approachable than others, but many high quality works require some amount of indoctrination. None of these dynamics are in play in the world of odors.

    My gut tells me that using a ‘retro’ appeal to advance the cause of classical music will do more harm than good in the long run.

  4. Someone needs to apply the five psycological stages of dying formulated by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to orchestras:

    1. Denial — “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”

    2. Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”

    3. Bargaining — “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”; “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”; “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time…”

    4. Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die… What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”

    5. Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.” (In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with her/his mortality.)

    Opera is going the same direction. In fact, most librettos seem to be based on these five stages. The fat lady could actually be singing about her genre’s own death.

    More about the Kübler-Ross model can be found here:

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