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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Viral Videos Are Funny The First Time, But Don't Kill The Joke!

Lindy Tolbert |
July 28, 2010 | 4:13 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

When you think of the Old Spice deodorant brand, what’s the first thing that crosses your mind?  

If it’s the phrase, “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like,” then congratulations! You just joined the ranks of viewers around the globe (including myself) who have fallen in love with Isaiah Mustafa, the face of Old Spice.

However, there is a downside to Mustafa's newfound fame.

While I'm a fan of the ability to access billions of pieces of information in a nanosecond, the internet has also caused our society to trade in good material for instant gratification.

We constantly take creative ideas and stretch them too far, giving us a high quantity of low-quality entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love Internet memes (a meme is an idea, joke, or something else that is spread quickly throughout the Internet.)

I sit and surf YouTube for Japanese prank shows and Powerthirst commercials all day instead of doing something productive, just like any average 18-to-34-year-old.

But we have to stop letting our insatiable desire for immediate entertainment ruin the content we love, or else we will continue to be presented with terrible products (see the movie “Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous,” and you’ll know what I mean).  

Supply does not always need to meet demand.  Diamond companies have successfully operated under this principle for years. 

But I digress.  Let’s return to Old Spice.

Cut to February 2010: in an attempt to revamp the image of a product that seems as ancient as time itself, Old Spice deodorant decided to add a little panache to their body wash ads.

The man they chose as the face of the product, Isaiah Mustafa, is a former NFL wide receiver. He found that perfect blend of machismo and charisma to appeal to both genders.  

With his deadpan humor, mellifluous baritone and rugged virility, women wanted him and men wanted to be him.

Old Spice must have known that they could count on Mustafa's excellent comedic delivery to sell their product. 

But they couldn’t have anticipated the explosive Internet meme that the commercials would spark.

Since February, all kinds of spoofs have popped up on the Internet. 

Old Spice has unabashedly capitalized on Mustafa's newfound celebrity by creating numerous other videos featuring the same character. 

Old Spice even had a meeting with social networking experts, comedy writers and marketing agency Wieden + Kennedy this July.

The result of this meeting is over 180 new Old Spice Man real-time video responses to questions sent in by numerous viewers via Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. 

Those who sent in questions and received personal responses included Demi Moore, Alyssa Milano, George Stephanopoulos, Ellen DeGeneres, Christina Applegate, Apollo Ohno, gossip blogger Perez Hilton and Digg.com founder Kevin Rose.

One man even got the Old Spice Man to propose to his wife for him. 

Some responses were funny and clever.  But many fell flat.

They fell flat because newfound fame puts pressure on creators to produce a lot of content within a short timeframe. 

This has happened with numerous other memes.

Exhibit B:  The Sassy Gay Friend videos.  At first, they started out as three original videos created by the famed comedy group Second City Network

The videos put a hilarious, imaginative twist on scenes from  “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “Othello."

The premise:  how would the tragic fate of the female leads in three of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays have changed if they had a sassy gay friend giving advice?

As soon as the videos started catching on, Second City was under pressure to make more videos, and fast.

They then released  two ill-conceived, rushed videos in the same style, one written for Eve in the Garden of Eden and one written for the Giving Tree from Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree.”  

Neither were as funny nor as nearly inventive as the originals.

This is why I hate it when videos turn viral.

A video becomes popular, gets introduced to the mainstream media and attracts a wild amount of followers. Three days later, you have 2,000 spoofs on YouTube (some good, some bad) and three new videos by the original creators that are not as creative as their earlier work.    

It’s time for marketing companies to learn when enough is enough.  Overextending the humor of something until it’s no longer funny might increase sales, but it also hurts the product's image.   

I am sick of seeing my favorite Internet videos get exploited and made into shallow imitations of the original. Aren’t you?

Photo credit: Bob Bobster

Reach Reporter Lindy Tolbert here.



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