Cultural Commentator

How Old Spice Used Dikembe Mutombo to Win the Internet

Cultural Commentator

How Old Spice Used Dikembe Mutombo to Win the Internet

It appears that Old Spice has won the Internet. After years of a nationwide ad campaign based on the emphatic gibberish that the Internet loves so well—personalized Twitter responses, Fabio space-battles—they have given us the memequivalent of the atomic bomb. Now it is time for us to murmur, “Dikembe Mutombo is become Death, destroyer of worlds.”

The game is called “Dikembe Mutombo’s 4 1/2 Weeks To Save The World,” and it is remarkable for several reasons.

1. It’s an above-average flash based game, with dramatic music, varied levels, and gameplay that’s just challenging enough for it not to be dull.

2. It features both Dikembe Mutombo, an all-around awesome guy, and the equally-awesome specter of the looming Mayan apocalypse.

3. As marketing, it’s genuinely amusing—the rare bit of corporate-made Internet humor that is neither pandering nor behind the times.

To appreciate the first two reasons, play the game and watch some Mutomobo highlight videos. I’m going to talk about #3.

The Old Spice commercials, going back to the Bruce Campbell campaign from five or so years ago, heralded an unprecedented weirdening (my word! Don’t use it!) of mainstream ad campaigns. Their ads are spare, strange and designed to be shared—a formula that lots of brands have tried to emulate and none have managed to get right. Imitations of this kind of zaniness usually fall short either because they aren’t weird enough, or lack a charismatic spokesman like Bruce/Fabio/Old Spice Guy.

(A rare exception—those creepy fucking Sprite commercials, which are way too goddamned weird.)

I love these Old Spice ads because they are the kind of thing I should fucking hate. I despise corporate pandering, because no matter how charming a company pretends to be, there’s simply nothing cool about corporations. If a marketing campaign manages to make me forget that for a moment, I tend to have an extreme backlash to it. How dare you amuse me?! How dare you make me forget the essential sinisterness of your business practices?!

This sort of thing works best with a soft touch, and the Old Spice commercials, which are produced by a firm called Wieden + Kennedy, succeed in seeming effortless. There’s very little mention of the brand, although it’s certainly present. Instead the Mutombo game features jokes about the Hostess closing, the tiredness that is “Gangnam Style,” and that horrible Thanksgiving song that, thankfully, didn’t really blow up. (Nevermind. It has 12 million views. Jesus.) Making fun about that stuff is TOPICAL, and the game arrives nearly too late to do so. But, like Indiana Jones sliding under a closing temple door, they just made it.

A normal “clever” ad campaign would seize on that stuff a month or two from now, but Wieden + Kennedy moves faster than that. Looking over their Portland office’s other campaigns, I don’t see anything nearly as odd as the Old Spice ads. There are some typically meaningless car commercials, some blandly inspiring Nike spots, and a dismal Sony James Bond tie-in. Someone at Old Spice corporate—which is actually Procter & Gamble—has an honest to god sense of humor. Thank God for that, and thank God most brands aren’t this clever. There’s only so much time in a day I can afford to waste on flash games.