Old Spice has taken the viral marketing world by storm. For a fragrance and deodorant brand with the world ‘old’ in it, it seems rather ironic that they would be innovators of digital marketing and heroes of Web 2.0 commerce. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what marketing agency Wieden + Kennedy set out to do with their new darling actor, Isaiah Mustafa. The setup was refreshingly simple. Mustafa, known across the Internet for his wildly popular and over-the-top ads for the Old Spice brand, would start recording video responses, in character, to people who commented on his Youtube videos or mentioned him via tweet. The mentions came in droves. On Tuesday, July 13, for 11 hours, a total of 84 video responses were recorded and uploaded, which were promptly viewed by over 4 million people. Some mathematics reveals that a video was recorded and uploaded every 7 minutes on average. And they kept going the next day. However, these videos weren’t amateur by any means. Each one of the video responses was written by a group of staff writers, shot by a professional camera crew, and uploaded to the Old Spice Youtube channel. All with the quality of a TV spot.

Iain Tait, Global Interactive Creative Director at Wieden, is leading the charge. The idea was pretty simple, he says in an interview with ReadWriteWeb.

"In a way there’s nothing magical that we’ve done here. We just brought a character to life using the social channels we all [social media geeks] use every day. But we’ve also taken a loved character and created new episodic content in real time."

However, the actual process of parsing the hundreds or thousands of comments and tweets was anything but simple. To accomplish this, two social media experts and a technical expert were brought in to solve the problem. Tait explains,

"We’re looking at who’s written those comments, what their influence is and what comments have the most potential for helping us create new content. The social media guys and script writers are collaborating to make that call in real time. We have people shooting and we’re editing it as it happens. Then the social media guys are looking at how to get that back out around the web…in real time."

In what seems to be the biggest sign of the campaign’s success, the controversial and anarchist forum 4chan has unofficially given Mustafa the smiling emoticon. In what is considered a dangerous move in any viral media venture, the marketing team had Mustafa poking fun at 4chan. The anonymous members of 4chan have a tendency of ganging up on those they don’t approve of, and wreaking terrifying digital havoc on them. Nevertheless, in a video responding to ‘Anonymous,’ the handle adopted by the 4chan community as a whole, Mustafa thanks them for liking his video while brandishing (and naming) a variety of random objects. As of this writing, the video has 6564 likes (the most out of all his videos), and only 134 dislikes.

The psychology of the campaign isn’t complicated. Mustafa has proven himself to be character people want to be closer to, and the possibility of talking to Old Spice Guy and him talking back to you is an opportunity many (a couple of million, in fact) people simply won’t pass up. Combine that with responses to tweets from famous celebrities like Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Ryan Seacrest, Demi Moore, George Stephanopoulos, and more, and you’ve got viral gold on your hands.

Tate, appearing on NPR yesterday, said that the effect on sales hasn’t been determined yet. However, there’s no denying the revolutionary impact this campaign could have on the web marketing scene. The freedom that the Tait was given enabling his group to produce TV-quality spots in mere minutes is something that the advertising world has yet to embrace.

"If the message that comes out of this is that you can make TV commercials in 30 minutes, then we’re all out of a job. This is something new. We’re operating on Internet time but with a level of quality you’d get on a TV slot. That combination was what really got many peoples’ attention."

The taping finally came to an end on Wednesday, and as Isaiah Mustafa bid a fond farewell to his millions of fans, wearing far too many gold medals around his neck, the world understood that viral marketing would never be the same again.