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Samantha Fresh

Professor Goodman
Intro. to Academic Writing
October 16, 2015
Final Draft
Old Spice's Use of Humor as a Rhetorical Appeal in Advertising
A large number of people have seen, and enjoyed, the Old Spice commercial
featuring "The Man". The ad released in February of 2010 is funny and appears to
make fun of societal stereotypes and norms. The 30 second commercial opens with
a very muscular half naked man, played by former pro football player Isaiah
Mustafa, speaking to the wives and girlfriends of the target audience. His now
famous first few lines instruct the women watching to compare their man to him,
and assumes that the women watching will come up short. He goes on to try to
console the women watching by pointing out that at least, if he stopped using lady
scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like hes me. Next
the scene switches from the bathroom to a boat; now hes holding tickets to that
thing you love; then the tickets become diamonds. A finial plug for Old Spice,
ending with The Man casually affirming that he is astride a horse. Although The
Man advertisement by Old Spice, is effective through the use of humor as a
rhetorical appeal; likewise, the ad uses wit to mask gender stereotyping. If this is
true, then Old Spice has been manipulating viewers unconsciously, and should
raise ethical red flags.
The commercial hooks both men and women alike with humor, poking fun at
stereotypes. A little over a year after the video was released in February 2010 it
garnered forty million views on YouTube (Harris, 2012, p. 309). The promotional was
appealing to people in an emotional capacity; in a way it sold itself as a tool for

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laugher. But then there was the question, the commercial was a success on social
media, but did it do its job? Old Spices Smell Like a Man, Man campaign has been
a viral success, but has it increased sales? The answer is an emphatic yes,
according to The Nielsen Co. and new data from Symphony IRI Group. The data
collected by the two companies indicated a positive growth in sales since the
commercials debut (OLeary & Wasserman, 2010). Not only was The Man
advertisement simply appealing to people, data showed that it actually had a
creditable effect on the products sales.
To further add to Old Spices rhetorical credibility, the commercial gained
recognition among the advertising industry. The video went on to Primetime Emmy
Award for Outstanding Commercial and the Grand Prix for film at the Cannes Lions
International Advertising Festival (Harris, 2012, p. 309). This level of critical acclaim
indicates how large of waves The Man advertisement made, not only with
consumers but also within advertising itself. In the first few years of existence, the
advert reliably established itself using humor as its primary weapon. However, The
Man and the remakes of such ads are no longer a novelty.
As ads like The Man become less original, the lack of logic and overtstereotyping beneath the humor is becoming more and more apparent. Recently, an
article was published in GQ (a leading mens magazine) that provided an insightful
commentary on, The Man type commercials. The article begins as such:
Let's call him Irony Man. You've seen him on television especially on game
day. . . He's the guy who makes fun of manliness while selling us manly
products. When we first saw him he was hilarious. And the second time. But
now we wonder: Has he overstayed his welcome? (Duncan, 2015).
In just a few sentences, Duncan reveals several flaws in the logic of the, as "the
Man" will referred to from now on, Irony Man commercials. The first being, as is
pointed out, the Irony Man is making fun of being overly manly while trying to sell

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supposedly manly products. This creates a conflict of interest; it also affects the
commercials credibility. Initially Irony Man was funny and credible, but now that
hes not so funny the flaws in his validity begin to stand out. For example, men will
fail to see the humor of being compared to former NFL player by their significant
other repeatedly. Additionally, women will no longer see the humor in assuming that
all women desire is diamonds, tickets to that thing you like, and hot guys. The
Irony Man has gone from funny to downright annoying.
For the second contradiction to be apparent it must have context; in wake of
the success of the Old Spice commercial, CEO and founder of The New England
Consulting Group, Gary Stibel said, of the Old Spice promotional, We think its
targeted to both sexes, he said Its targeted to people who are attractive or want
to be attractive (OLeary & Wasserman, 2010). In the context of this praise of
the ad, it begs the question, why are the commercials most frequently aired during
mens sports games if they are supposedly targeted towards both sexes? If they are
understood to be aimed towards both sexes, then they ought to be run during high
viewing times regardless of the gender watching. Additionally, in the second part of
Stibels comment, he highlights how its targeted towards people who are
attractive or want to be. This further shows that while the surface intentions were
to make light of stereotypes, the goal remains the same as it always has been:
make the customer believe the product will make them better or more attractive.
The commercial and Irony Man are both contradictory.
But if there were so many issues with the commercial how is it that only
recently questions about its credibility are being raised? Plain and simple the
advertisers used humor as a human version of blinders used on horses. Humor
allows people to engage and lowers their barriers; which is good in some situations

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but, "there is a huge potential to misuse humor as a strategy in advertising
manipulation" (Shabbir & Thwaites, 2007, p. 77). Advertisers and companies can
subversively push gender stereotypes on to people under the mask of humor. For
instance in the Old Spice video, Irony Man is used to make the men watching feel
that he is a good guy. The humor created by the absurdity of the whole video
allows men and women watching to be aware of the superficial message without
knowing that they are also being exposed to an additional message. In this way
advertising companies can reinforce traditional gender roles that allow them to
more easily market products. Additionally scientific studies have been done on the
link between humor and deceptiveness in advertisement. One study concluded that
of the deceptive commercials, 74.5% of those were masked by humorous content
(Shabbir & Thwaites, 2007, p. 81). Thats an exorbitant amount of deception. This
means most, though not all, of the funny ads have subversive content. It further
discredits Irony Man and also explains why his flaws were not exposed until later.
While Old Spices The Man advertisement was very effective initially
through the rhetorical use of humor, over time the rhetorical effect began to lose its
potency. The ad initially was incredibly effective, boosted sales and garnered critical
acclaim. However, as time went on the popularity dropped off. In 2011 the video
had 40 million views, and as of October 2015, the video only increased by 11.7
million views, to a total 57.7 million views (Old Spice, 2010). A significant drop in
internet traffic. Its likely that after enough time the flaws in the commercials logic
became clearer after the novelty and amusement factor wore off. More unnerving is
the thought that advertisers truly use humor to deceive and manipulate the general
population. There is nothing wrong with advertising in and of itself, but to try
surreptitiously superimpose beliefs about gender roles for marketing purposes is

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unethical. This is unethical because it coerces a belief or idea onto the viewers
without their consent or awareness. Additionally, through the use of humor the
message is more likely to make an impact. Corporations and advertisers do not
have the right or authority to make decisions regarding what an entire population
should conform to, nor should they. To discourage the use of deceptive humor as
advertisement, advertisers need to first be held accountable. Accountability is the
first step towards change.

Duncan B. (2015, October 7). Todays Game Is Brought to You byIrony. Retrieved
from http://gq.com/story/irony-man-tv-commercials
SOCIAL MEDIA. Mississippi College Law Review, 31(2), 309-317.
O'Leary, N., & Wasserman, T. (2010). Old Spice Campaign Smells Like a Sales
Success, Too. Brandweek, 51(28), 6.
Old Spice. (2010, February 4). Old Spice | The Man Your Man Could Smell Like [Video
file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owGykVbfgUE
Shabbir, H., & Thwaites, D. (2007). THE USE OF HUMOR TO MASK DECEPTIVE
ADVERTISING. Journal Of Advertising, 36(2), 75-85.