Creativity is Reclaiming Its Time as the Defining Factor of Campaign Success


By Marissa Bernstein, VP of Marketing, Vistar Media  

From the resurgence of the Old Spice Guy to the dynamic world of digital out-of-home advertising, creativity is reclaiming its role in campaign success.

The “Old Spice Guy” has stood as a behemoth in creative advertising over the last 15 years. After being introduced as maybe one of the most absurd commercial executions back in 2010, the Man-Your-Man-Could-Smell-Like campaign went on to deliver several derivative elements including YouTube videos answering fan inquiries to subsequent campaign iterations. The creative concept was so successful and widely regarded that P&G brought back the Old Spice Guy to celebrate 10 years since the original commercial in 2020, introducing the Old Spice Guy’s son.

The Old Spice Guy hit all the notes of a truly creative execution of an idea. The campaign was irreverent. Isaiah Mustafa (the Old Spice Guy himself) was the human version of a smolder; a character you might envy or fall in love with (the abs, the handsomeness). And his take on being “the-man-your-man-could-smell-like” if he’d stop using lady-scented body wash was strikingly relatable. The hygiene product of the proverbial “old man,” Old Spice Guy flipped an entire generation’s perception of the brand in a matter of seconds.

Creativity like this is at the heart of advertising; this creativity then gets delivered through media – a variety of placements purchased across different channels. Media and creativity need to work hand-in-hand, and for the past 20 years, our industry has become excessively focused on the media half at the expense of creativity. But, there are emerging channels within advertising that are reminding marketers of the power of a truly creative ad.


Advertising’s Return to a Business of Creativity 

The industry is hard at work building a privacy-safe replacement for the browser cookie. Clean rooms, universal IDs and other solutions are all vying for the role of reaching actionable audiences at scale.

But there is one thing these tools won’t be able to do; make sure your campaign creative is truly engaging, unique, and stands on its own. How can this be done? Let’s look at out-of-home (OOH) advertising for insight.

When we think of OOH, most think of billboards along the highway or poster boards on the side of buses and bus stops, or maybe the bright lights of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. The traditional OOH industry prides itself on creativity – think about a billboard with a massive “bite” taken out of it to promote Shark Week, or a beautiful mural painted on the side of a building to promote a clothing brand. As programmatic capabilities have come to OOH, however, the same thing happened in the online world – a dedicated focus on the data-driven strategy of media buying. This has fueled massive growth for the industry, but very few campaigns have taken advantage of how technology can also enhance the creative side of the equation.

In a qualitative survey conducted by Advertiser Perceptions and Vistar Media, an agency creative expressed appreciation for digital out-of-home (DOOH) specifically because of the “ability to be dynamic with messaging and create compelling visuals,” while adding, “there’s really no other media where you can have that along with compelling visuals, along with video, etc…” Endorsements like these point to a re-emergence of the function of creativity in both the campaign and its method of delivery.

Gone are the days of working with a patchwork of vendors to secure long runs with expensive, printed collateral. DOOH is increasingly becoming a popular buy for digital placements of creative that can run for extended or short periods of time. DOOH is also a compelling canvas for dynamic creative, allowing an ad to adjust according to real-time information such as time of day, sports scores, weather, traffic updates, tweets, or any other data fed to the display. It also has the unique capability of meeting audiences with a message that’s right on time, and in the right place.

You could easily imagine the Old Spice Guy in his signature, waist-bound towel demonstrating the proper use of Old Spice body wash and a loofah on a digital screen outside of your favorite CVS or catty-corner from a Target.

Let’s be even more specific.

It’s Friday. You’re leaving the office and you’re craving a few good drinks, fun with a touch of nostalgia. As you walk down the city street considering where you’ll ask your friends to meet you for the evening’s endeavors, you see a DOOH display advertising Applebee’s two-for-one happy hour: “Beat at the end of the work week? Come unwind with some drinks and karaoke!”

A few good drinks? Check. Fun in karaoke? Check. Applebee’s for nostalgia? Check. All made possible by an advertising medium uniquely capable of meeting a hyper-specific need, in the exact moment in which a consumer is making a decision. Similar to online cookies, but driven by location and of course, creative execution.

And did I mention the Applebee’s in question is around the corner from the DOOH display, and the ad shows the actual address and that it is only .25mi away?? This is the power of creative execution; flexible, high-powered relevancy, presented in the moment of a consumer’s decision point in the real world.