In fall 2009, Procter & Gamble hired George Felix (’02) as an assistant brand manager in charge of the body wash division of one of the company’s most iconic brands, Old Spice.
Old Spice introduced body wash in 2003, but had lost ground to the competition. Now, one of P&G’s biggest competitors, Dove, was planning to launch its own men’s body wash during the Super Bowl, only a few months away.
And it was Felix’s job to figure out how to make the 80-year-old brand that many consumers associated with their grandfathers not just successful, but cool.
“This was going to be a massive entrance into the body wash category,” Felix recalled. “So we were put on the spot to determine, as a brand, what we were going to do.”
Felix didn’t start out aiming for a marketing career. He earned his bachelor’s in IT Management at Mendoza in 2002 and worked for Abbott Laboratories afterward. A few years later, he earned an MBA at the University of North Carolina and realized he was interested in marketing.
What he couldn’t have realized, however, was that he would shape one of the most award-winning ad campaigns of the 21st century.
At the time, Old Spice advertising was targeted squarely at young men, which seemed logical. But the brand’s consumer research found that 60 percent of male body wash purchases were actually made by women — wives, girlfriends, mothers. What if Old Spice tried targeting women as well?
Working with the Portland, Oregon-based creative agency Wieden+Kennedy, Felix oversaw “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like.” The agency came up with the idea, but it was Felix who greenlighted the off-the-wall concept and coordinated its rollout.
The first and most famous spot featured hunky actor Isaiah Mustafa in the shower, wearing only a towel and speaking directly into the camera.
“Look at your man,” Mustafa says. “Now look back at me. Sadly, he isn’t me. But if he stopped using lady-scented body wash and switched to Old Spice, he could smell like he’s me.” In one continuous take, Mustafa is whimsically transported to a sailboat, then the back of a white horse.
Instead of running the ad during the Super Bowl, Felix aired it online the Friday before. The spot became a viral sensation, viewed and shared millions of times. By Monday, it was declared the best ad of the Super Bowl. Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres invited Mustafa to their TV shows. And sales rose impressively, according to industry reports.
Suddenly, Old Spice was cool again.
Of course, as many brands have learned the hard way, there’s a thin line between clever and stupid. How does Felix manage to stay on the right side?
“It’s difficult,” he admitted. “The fact that we have a really clear brand identity definitely helps, because we can put everything through that filter to make sure it’s the right tone, the right voice, the right humor.”
In 2015, Felix was hired by Yum! Brands to help resuscitate another storied company: Kentucky Fried Chicken. Founded in the 1930s by serial entrepreneur Colonel Harland Sanders, KFC is one of the world’s largest restaurant chains, with more than 20,500 outlets. But the brand was struggling to establish a distinctive identity, and faced fierce competition from rivals Popeye’s Chicken and other fast-food chains.
Felix arrived in time for the launch of a new ad campaign that would once again make Colonel Sanders the face of KFC. Because the real Sanders died in 1980, he would be played by comedian Darrell Hammond. “I’m back, America!” Hammond exclaimed in the first ad, costumed in the signature white suit, black string tie and white goatee.
“It was a polarizing idea,” Felix said. “A lot of people have opinions and memories about the real Colonel. The idea of bringing in an actor to play him, some people didn’t like that. But the most important thing is that people noticed KFC again.”
Since that first ad, KFC has doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on the concept. Actors including George Hamilton, Norm MacDonald and Rob Lowe have played the Colonel. DC Comics put the Colonel in a series. Online store KFClimited.com offers merchandise such as Colonel-branded T-shirts and pillowcases.
If you were expecting to hear a story about how these campaigns are the brainchild of one person’s genius, you’re going to be disappointed. Felix is careful to emphasize that creativity, especially when it comes to the marketing magic he’s been part of, is really about teamwork.
“It needs to be a collaboration between the creative team and the brand managers,” said Felix. “On the brand side, your job is to brief your agency on your business challenges and what you’re asking them to deliver. The agency comes up with the ideas, and then we decide which ones meet our business objectives, build our brand and drive sales. And once we buy an idea, we work in lockstep to bring that campaign to life.”