The Old Spice Man Is a Hit with Viewers, but Can He Sell Products?

The granite-bellied, cello-voiced Old Spice Man can bake cakes, refurbish kitchens and change pants instantaneously -- but can he sell Old Spice products? It's a surprisingly controversial question.

No one could deny that the 73-year-old brand's current ad campaign, which was crafted by ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, has been enormously popular with consumers, generating millions of hits on YouTube and turning former NFL player Isaiah Mustafa into an instant Internet icon. But once observers started looking at its impact on sales, they noticed something odd: Sales of one of Old Spice's body wash lines actually fell 7% for the full-year ending in mid-June, according to data from the tracking firm SymphonyIRI.

Procter & Gamble (PG), which makes Old Spice, quickly countered the negative spin with a barrage of data from Nielsen showing huge increases for all of the brand's body wash lines, including Red Zone. Indeed, the increases are so huge -- 1,900% in the case of the Dry Skin Defense wash -- it makes you suspect there's something else going on there.

And there is. As Advertising Age notes, Old Spice isn't the only men's toiletry brand that's been way up recently. Gillette (also owned by P&G) and Nivea have also seen major increases thanks to heavy distribution of coupons, something Old Spice did as well.

There's another factor to consider, too. The comparison that shows the sharpest sales spikes for Old Spice is between the four-week period ending Feb. 21 (during which the brand kicked off its current campaign) and the four-week period ending July 21. Naturally, people buy more products meant to make them smell clean during the sweaty summer months. "The comparison of July to February data is questionable, because of seasonality patterns associated with deodorants," says Jerry Thomas, president and CEO of the research firm Decision Analyst. "A much better comparison would be to the same month in the previous year. Or, even better, a current quarter of data compared the same quarter last year."

And seeing as New York, a market big enough to move the needle all on its own, is currently in the middle of its hottest summer on record, there's every reason to suspect such seasonality patterns will be exaggerated this year.

Final verdict: The Man Your Man Could Smell Like may be as good at pitching body wash as he is at everything else, but he's also had a lot of help.