In June 2016, we spent the weekend in Cincinnati and Kentucky Speedway for the #smellegendary expedition hosted by Old Spice, with Reds games, Tough Mudders, Starbucks and, of course, Old Spice products. Here are the field notes by Benjamin Schmidt!
Touching down in Cincinnati, I hadn’t much idea what we were in for. It was understood we’d spend sometime around town, and meet some fans of the Old Spice brand as well as employees, but the details stayed a little unclear. On the ride from the Cincinnati airport (it’s really in Kentucky) to the hotel, I spoke with some other travelers: one from Boston, a Canadian, and of course a New Yorker. They all had something in common: an interest in adventure and thrill. None of them had to been to Cincinnati.
Day 1: 21C hotel, Boca Prix Fixe dinner with Old Spice
Arriving at the hotel, the chic boutique spot 21C in downtown Cincinnati, it was funny being back in my hometown again. I had never had the opportunity to play tourist where I grew up, but it was definitely a thing I wasn’t inclined to pass on. The 21C is a stunning hotel with spacious rooms done up in bone, taupe, and vanilla tones with natural materials and charming furniture. The hotel even has a 24-hour gallery, open to all, which I naturally took advantage of at 2:00AM one night. The rooms were outfitted with a backpack loaded with goodies from t-shirts to snacks, and the bathroom was stocked with Old Spice’s new Hardest Working Collection. After a moment relaxing and checking out the new stuff, the group made its way over to Boca, located at the spot of the Cincinnati icon The Maisonette. We were whisked away to a private corner of the restaurant with a prix-fixe menu prepared and drinks on pour. Slowly team Old Spice filed in along with some Procter and Gamble employees. The rest of the travel group finally assembled as well. Dinner was a pleasure, every dish perfect, and the conversation was vibrant and excited. We finished dinner and broke into smaller groups to check out the city. I befriended the grooming editor at Men’s Health and we made our way uptown for a nightcap. We stumbled into a drag show (one of the funniest we’d seen) and later called it a night.
Day 2: P&G Headquarters, Innovation Center, Reds Game
Up and at it! Our second day of the #SMELLEGENDARY Expedition was nothing short of an early day, up at 8:00AM. Needless to say, day one’s, um, consumption was weighing a little heavy, so a big breakfast at the hotel (as well as some Starbucks) was in order and had us perked up pretty quickly. Not much later, we were due at Procter and Gamble’s downtown Cincinnati headquarters. The place is fortunately within walking distance, and our appointment was timed just right- the rain started falling as we enter the P&G campus.
Architecturally massive, poised, stately, and elegant, the P&G headquarters make perfect sense for a company with such history rooted in Cincinnati. We got a nice look at this during a rare tour of the P&G Archives, which isn’t a museum – it’s a functioning division of the company, as it serves up critical marketing materials and packages from past products. Our tour lead us from Pampers to television awards to a particular life-size football player (whose perfect hair P&G insured for $1m!) to an in-depth look at Old Spice’s unique history, starting as none other than a women’s care company then morphing into a sailing-inspired man’s brand. It brought us all the way up to today, with iconic ad campaigns of the past, historical concepts (hey, soap-on-a-rope!) as well as new products (like the Hardest Working Collection). Not to doubt Old Spice’s prowess in groundbreaking marketing strategy, we even previewed some new concepts for ad work, and saw ads of the past as influence. Old Spice doesn’t deny its quirky approach, always welcoming remixing and reimagining of its brand. It’s nearly a testament to the legacy it wields.
As we finished exploring the archives of P&G, we made our way downstairs, through the many hallways and stairs of the immense headquarters, arriving at a conference room where we’d discuss trends, personal preferences, and more. It’s always interesting to see how Old Spice handles marketing such a behemoth of a brand, with a legacy that must be matched, all while maintaining loyalists and bringing in new interests. Fortunately, Old Spice’s experimental and quirky approach is highly malleable to fit into a variety of products.
After (another) Starbucks pit-stop, we literally hopped, skipped, and jumped onto a bus waiting in the rain to deliver us to the innovation center in Sharon Woods, Ohio, not far from the downtown headquarters. Here P&G maintains a sprawling campus with testing facilities, labs, various machines, and more. All of it, of course, is in the interest of perfecting products such as Old Spice. We had the pleasure of being led by Janyl Kaeser, who works on the Old Spice team. She demonstrated how the new mixtures for the various solids and clear formulas are so much better than they have been in the past and how Old Spice consistently tops consumer blind tests.
Later we joined a scientist who conducted an acidity test on an Old Spice product as well as an unknown competitor to show how much better Old Spice really is. It goes to show its far more than marketing. We also learned how products are maintained and rigorously tested to make sure they continue to work into the future, such as if they were stored in hot environments, on store shelves, and more.
The tour continued with a visit with the consumer testing team, who are responsible for collecting data on the users and products. Often training for a market research effort will take months and problems include not having enough men to test products and not having new testers (summer job idea)! After a nibble of beef jerky (for market testing purposes, of course) we finished up with the fragrance team, who allowed us to sample a wide selection of smells, from top notes to end, revealing the complexities of smelling good.
We made our way back downtown to the hotel for a moment of free time before the Reds were to play the A’s at Great American Ballpark. Situated in a massive “Handlebar” box, we snacked on mets, hot dogs, bratwurst, popcorn, and even macaroons while watching the game with the Old Spice and P&G teams. Isaiah Mustafa, now famously known as ‘the Old Spice Guy’, took his place (naturally) on a horse and rounded the field, as a bird flew in to complete a legendary scene. Isaiah also threw the opening pitch. The game picked up steam towards the end, with the Red’s winning and a fireworks show postgame rounded out a great day.
Day 3: Tough Mudder challenge day
If day 2 was an early one, it was no match for day 3, with a wake-up call coming in at 7:00am. We were due for Kentucky Speedway for the annual Tough Mudder, a 10-mile obstacle course designed to challenge and build teamwork. Of course, we kicked back, and rode the course by beefed-up golf cart, watching Team Old Spice knock it out in positively impressive time. Isaiah Mustafa joined the team at the starting line to offer some words of encouragement and off they went. Rounding the first bit of running, Team Old Spice, armed with the Hardest Working Collection was looking good and smelling great as they plunged into the Mud Mile 2.0, which was presented by Old Spice. The obstacle required good footing (good luck) and good teamwork to get up the muddy slopes from the watery mud pit below. Do it a few times and you get the hang of it. Fortunately, Old Spice guy was there with a helping hand and a dry towel to clear away and mud, sweat, and tears that have already met the participants. We went back to the tent and checked out the rest of the course by golf cart, meeting up with Team Old Spice a while later, as they scaled a giant wall which necessitates a ‘human ladder’. Hey, I knew there was a reason I didn’t run this thing…
We finally collected the whole team at none other than ‘electroshock therapy’, which is nothing more than a mad dash through muddy terrain… but with 50,000 volts of electricity coursing through live wires. It’s easy on paper, but a little terrifying in context. Here Old Spice rounded it out, still smelling as fresh as ever. Cheers! We grabbed beers and cheese steaks and toasted to a job well done. Unfortunately for us, that was the end our whirlwind of a time with Old Spice, we look forward to whatever Old Spice tries throwing at us next!