Skip to main content

Strategist Mark Pollard shows us how defining the Problem, Insight, and Edge can help discover a clear brand Strategy. Brands can create breakthrough work when culture is considered in “Edge”, and the “Insight” is based on a powerful consumer truth. President & Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Roach breaks down the how-to.

‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ campaign for Old Spice was a runaway hit. According to AdAge (August 5, 2010):

The stats showed that Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ campaign was the fastest growing interactive campaign in history. There is no denying that the campaign was a huge success for the brand, catapulting them into the number 1 spot for men’s body wash and making Old Spice a legend in the world of online marketing.

Old Spice’s ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ began with a single video, which started out online and then went to television. It was an instant success, with Old Spice accounting for 75 percent of all conversations in their category for the first quarter of the year. But the real success of the campaign came last month, when Old Spice launched their response campaign, in which ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ interacted with fans via an onslaught of YouTube videos.

The success of Old Spice’s campaign was impossible to deny:

  • The campaign received a shopping 5.9 million YouTube views in the first day
  • On the second day of the campaign, Old Spice accounted for 8 videos out of the 11 most popular videos on the Web
  • By the third day, the Old Spice response campaign had more than 20 million views
  • A week after the campaign launched it boasted over 40 million views
  • As a result of the campaign, Old Spice’s Twitter following increased 2700%, their Facebook fan interaction went up 800%, and the traffic to went up 300%
  • The campaign catapulted Old Spice into the #1 most viewed branded YouTube channel of all time
  • Since ‘The Man Your Man Could Smell Like’ campaign first went live, it has generated over 1.4 billion impressions for the Old Spice brand (August 5, 2010)
  • And it’s not just about impressions – the brand’s sales are also up 107%, making Old Spice the number one brand for men’s body wash

W+K’s initial strategy deck for Old Spice that led to the campaign has been making the rounds online in a few circles, and what is incredible about the case was the decision by P&G to follow their recommendation to “shift away from product performance messaging towards emotional brand storytelling”. W+K stated that before somebody will buy your product they need to buy into your brand and what it represents. Which is bang on. They opened with this quote:

But I think W+K did a few things exceptionally well that resulted in a brand strategy that was deeply rooted in culture. By nailing the Problem, Insight, Edge, and Strategy and informing the thinking through culture, they connected the business problem to a universal truth that was relevant. And relevance is what creates the kind of breakthrough brand strategy that results in runaway hits.

Strategist Mark Pollard talks about how “Strategy is an informed opinion about how to win. An account planner needs questions that unearth information and then the account planner needs to unearth his or her own opinion about the problem to solve and how to do it.” To do this, he points to a simple rubric, a matrix that works to clearly identify the Problem, Insight and Edge (or Advantage) in order to help form the Strategy for the brand. And I believe that when W+K did their work for Old Spice, these areas were informed by culture, resulting in a highly relevant brand strategy for the particular moment in time for the campaign, contributing to the incredible success.

This is possible to do for any brand. And although it takes some insightful thinking, you can use Mark Pollard’s rubic, and apply the thinking from Old Spice, to create your own brand strategy that is steeped in culture with a high likelihood for business impact and advertising breakthrough.


Mark calls this “the human problem behind the business problem”, but I like to think of it like the motivating reason why we’re doing what we’re doing. Clients have a lot of problems, and many brands suffer in a number of ways. Our ability as account planners to clearly define the problem, allows us to define the reason why for the brand. And that “why” is powerful. In many cases, it becomes the purpose for the brand and the business, and it drives everything. Sometimes understanding where you don’t have problems, helps you find the problem. In the case of Old Spice, W+K identified that Old Spice did not have a product performance problem. True, people knew that Old Spice works, that Old Spice body spray actually lasted longer than Axe. But that understanding allowed them to identify the Problem. Old Spice had an image problem. Consumers didn’t care that it lasted longer, the problem was they didn’t care about the brand, they didn’t have an emotional connection, a reason to care. The brand image was the problem. And the image was a problem because it wasn’t relevant (more on this later).

How-to: Think about your brand and define where there are no problems, it will likely lead you to the right insight around your problem. And then, when evaluating your various problems, consider how culture may or may not be attributed. If your brand is not relevant to consumer, if you don’t have fans of your brand, strong organic engagement in social media, or other indicators that you are currently relevant in culture, consider why that is and look at your brand purpose. Your problem might be “people don’t care”, and if that’s the case, that’s actually a good thing. Like Old Spice, that’s a problem you can fix.


Mark speaks to how the Insight is “an unspoken truth that sheds new light on the problem”. In the case of Old Spice, W+K highlighted this unspoken truth perfectly: “culture has created a flawed model of masculinity.” Boom. It is simple, almost obvious (which is often the trait of a great Insight), and it captures a very relevant moment in time surrounding the culture. Axe was described as “an oversexed man-boy that trades on this flawed model”, amidst a changing culture that started to recognize how this flawed model of masculinity was becoming an issue in culture. Ads featuring young males being chased by hundreds of women because they used Axe worked for a time. But W+K evaluated current culture, and found a compelling universal truth that shed new light on the problem there. Axe ads were starting to look and feel, well, just wrong considering the context of the national conversation around masculinity, women’s rights and equality. By looking to culture, W+K discovered the Insight that mattered.

How-to: Where do your competitors’ brands currently live within culture? Are they on the right or wrong side of current trends? Where do they live within culture now, are on they on the trend to stay relevant within the next 2-3 years? By considering where your competitors live you can evaluate if they are on the up or down trend of their culture position. And by thinking about culture as trends, you can look to identify the up-trends where you should be, versus the down-trends that are not going to help you position for growth in the future.


It’s in the Edge/Advantage where W+K connected the dots, and did some truly brilliant strategic thinking. For a brand like Old Spice that felt old and tired – “my Grandfather’s brand” as it was often described – what could possibly be the brand advantage? Research (and sales) already showed that a body spray that lasts longer wasn’t connecting with consumers. P&G thought that because their body spray lasted 22% longer that they had a product feature edge in the market, and they focused in on it. They kept telling their consumers that their unique product feature – their longer lasting body spray – was the reason to buy Old Spice. And it didn’t work. But they missed something critical. They missed what was motivating to consumers. Mark defines the Edge as “what makes you unique and motivating in people’s minds”. So what was Old Spice’s Edge that was also motivating? By looking to culture, W+K found it. They discovered that the mens grooming market was exploding, and because of this, many men were uncertain how to navigate the new grooming environment and that this uncertainty craved one thing: Authenticity. Old Spice’s Edge wasn’t that it lasted longer, it was that they were authentic. Now think about Axe. Only the authenticity of Old Spice could be unique and motivating in the new world of mens grooming.

How-to: Be careful by relying entirely on your product features to define your brand edge or advantage. Feature selling is a race to the bottom. There is always someone else who can eventually match your price/innovation/new/special/unique thing. Always. You might have an advantage for a moment, but that advantage will always dissipate over time, and your brand position needs to last longer than that. Talk to your consumers and look at what is happening in culture to find your true Edge. Connecting the dots between where you came from, and where you hope to be, is the key to brand positioning. (Remember, positioning is an elastic band not an infinite line. More on this in a future post.)


Mark defines the Strategy as being “a new way of seeing the business” based on your work in Problem, Insight, and Edge/Advantage. P&G saw Old Spice as being a brand that lasted longer than the competitors. But what was a new way of seeing the business? To get to the Strategy, W+K first explored six brand truths. Brand Truth #1: Old Spice is an icon. Brand Truth #2: Old Spice is male. Brand Truth #3: Old Spice comes from the sea. Brand Truth #4: Old Spice is old. (Accept it.) Brand Truth #5: Old Spice loves the ladies. (And the ladies love Old Spice.) Brand Truth #6: Old Spice is best known (and loved) as a scent. The takeaway from these brand truths is that they embraced who they were as a brand within culture, their ‘net equity’. They worked to understand how they were already perceived and they flipped the narrative on these perceptions. Instead of viewing being old or male as a negative, they considered how to turn them into positives. The result was a Strategy that fully embraced who they were in the past, but re-framed the position for the future – a brilliant strategic play. So what was the Strategy that allowed them to see the business in a new way? Old Spice is the authentic essence of the male being. And what better way to execute on this creatively than to have a half-naked Isaiah Mustafa appear from the sea to gaze at the ladies as he confidently experiences extraordinary situations that help navigate men through the new world of grooming! Wild. Runaway. Hit.

How-to: Writing the Strategy statement is often the hardest, but W+K showed how they once again looked to culture to define it. Al Ries and Jack Trout would say that “positioning is in the mind of the consumer” so by clearly identifying your existing brand truths – defining your own ‘net equity’ – you are getting a sense as to how your brand is currently connected into culture. And then, instead of just creating a random, left-field new direction, you work to make that net equity work for you and build upon the current culture connection and work to pivot it to where your brand needs to go. Turn your negatives into a positive and lean in to your current culture to define a Strategy that will connect with consumers and drive new growth.

Using the framework from Mark Pollard’s rubic by defining the Problem, Insight, Edge/Advantage, and Strategy – and by following W+K’s lead on how to infuse culture-connecting into each step of the thinking – you can create a relevant brand founded on a universal truth that leads to a breakthrough and impactful brand position that drives new brand engagement and growth because it’s culture-connected. Use these tools and your brand could very well be the next runaway hit.

Check out for more information on Mark Pollard.


SCS surveyed 750 US consumers on how their physical and digital buying habits have changed during the pandemic. These insights and more are presented in Omnichannel Overdrive.

Download the white paper →