Approaching this Old Spice Refresh commercial from a semiotic standpoint allows the viewer of the “text” to break down the individual messages that Old Spice is trying to convey in each segment of the commercial. The ad uses many different signifiers that help to position Old Spice Refresh in the viewer’s mind as a product that will help one become more manly. The manliness of the signifiers in this commercial, which can be likened to the “Italianicity” of the Panzani advertisement described by Roland Barthes, give the viewer the impression that Old Spice Refresh is a very manly product. One such signifier is the depiction of a man and the Old Spice Refresh can at the 1:33 mark of the video. Some of the signifieds of this signifier could be manliness, strength, being fit, working out, or being athletic. This advertisement uses many similar signifiers such as the bearded caveman, the man in the suit running with the woman in the black dress, and the man in the black vest with no shirt on. All these signifiers aim to have similar signifieds of masculinity and work together to convey to the viewer the overall manly feeling of the commercial.
Through its use of referent systems, commodity sign, and fast-paced visual and audio signifiers, this Old Spice commercial is a perfect example of the type of ads described by Goldman and Papson in “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning”. One of the most prominent referent systems used in this ad is the voice of the narrator. His voice sounds eerily similar to the kind of narrator voice used in documentaries and informational programs that can often be found on National Geographic, The History Channel, and especially The British Broadcasting Channel. This referent system generates a sign value of authenticity and legitimateness, which plays along perfectly with the humor used in most of the commercial. It makes the viewer laugh, but also makes the viewer read the messages being conveyed as truth all at the same time. This use of humor is not only a great way for the advertiser to appeal to today’s cynical consumer, but it is also a perfect example of media self-referentiality since it uses the same documentary-like narrator character as other programs, which gives reference to The BBC and other media. In this way not only does the commercial refer to another form of media, but it also has intertextual meaning in that it is not only a video on Youtube, but it is also a commercial on television. Interestingly, Old Spice and others have used this British-sounding narrator on other occasions in their commercials causing this method to be a sort of cultural cannibalism, which has the potential to make the use of this tactic less desirable in the future due to possible decreases in popularity amongst viewers.
Like in Bill Bernbach and DDB’s work with Volkswagon and Avis, this ad uses tactics that appeal to the cynical consumer.. One way in which Old Spice does this is through the humor and sarcastic tone that the commercial adopts from beginning to the end. The commercial uses many visual jokes such as the portrayal of a cave man using a computer. This depiction along with the sarcastic commentary by the narrator saying, “From the dawn of time man has pondered life’s single most important question…” makes this scene quite funny. The advertisement assumes that its viewers will have an appreciation for this use of humour and sarcasm, which would make Old Spice advertisements entertaining to watch and would instill a feeling of coolness towards Old Spice in its viewers. Additionally, this commercial uses a similar approach to that used by Bernbach in his work towards addressing the problem of “conformity and hypocrisy” that can be seen in many advertisements on mass media platforms (Frank 60). Instead of directly stating the problem of conformity in advertising though, Old Spice uses this comedy and extreme sarcasm as a means of self-mockery and shows the consumer that Old Spice is self-aware of their advertisements.
The tactics employed in this commercial all aid Old Spice in carrying certain ideologies through our culture. One concrete example of this can be found at the 2:42 mark in the commercial where a man is depicted leaning against a woman with Old Spice Refresh flying in from the background. This man and woman positioned with the image of the product are signifiers for a range of signifieds such as wealth, beauty, success and happiness. The positioning of these images connotes the feeling that if one buys this product then he will be able to attain what these people have. Through this chain and others, the commercial promotes the normative vision that people should look like this and if they do not, then they are doing something wrong. This commercial tells the viewer that this is how the world should be and, through buying these products, you can be like this too.