Colgate-Palmolive’s Irish Spring soap has been around since 1972. During its existence, it has been manly, fresh, unga-bunga and now, legendary.
“Manly, yes but I like it too.”
Early spots for the deodorant soap were delivered in horrendous Irish accents by B-movie actors dressed as potato farmers. But, even in that sad setting, the line worked and, combined with the cutaway visual of the two-soap soap, was memorable. It conveyed a position and a benefit.
While Karate Kid fans will celebrate the actor who brought the world “Sweep the leg!” in this 1977 commercial for Irish Spring, we see it as a stake in the ground. Freshness for a “strong” man was the premise. And, best of all, the ladies also enjoyed the product. Manly but not too manly.
As far as we’re concerned, Irish Spring struck gold somewhere in the late 1970’s with “Gets a Strong Man Fresh.” It was a time when you could tell genders apart and when product attributes and differentiation still mattered. This saw the product cut open with a gentleman’s pocket knife to reveal the TWO! deodorant soaps that made up the bar. Long-lasting, double deodorant protection. And a fine, fresh scent.
The bar-cutting device was a winner. For that audience, at that time.
Plus, women liked it too.
That may have been the pinnacle as the wheels seemed to fall off from there. Every flight of ads had a slightly different take on the tagline. Some variations were good. Some were bad. The one thing they were not was consistent.
“Leaves you feeling clean and fresh. A long, long time.” Still good. Still ownable.
Still dabbling, Colgate-Palmolive began marketing Irish Spring as the deodorant soap that left a person feeling “Clean as a whistle.” A colonic lavage will also leave a person feeling “Clean as a whistle.” As disturbing as the tagline was, a cat-call whistle was also used in the spots. Clean is not how construction workers are thinking when they whistle like that. Colonic cleanliness aside, the knife and soap were still hard at work.
The 80’s were particularly unkind to Irish Spring. Focus-group testing, the BIG IDEA, awards. By the late 80’s, all bets were off with “More Shower for Your Shower.” It was here where Irish Spring fired the manly man and replaced him with doofae – the plural of doofus.
These spots say it all.
Going back to basics and borrowing from early work that stuck with consumers, Irish Spring began showing the classic “knife through soap” technique again, but this time with new taglines: “You'll Like it Too,” which played to the early days and then “The Irish Never Quit.”
And then, they quit. By 2002 the bar soap was marketed as a soap bought with a coupon at Costco.
Which brings us to today, where Irish Spring is about as manly as Orlando Bloom. New ads feature women and frigid streams captured in a bottle and used by Cosmopolitan Magazine’s idea of a man showering under a waterfall. All wrapped up in “Legendary Freshness.” And finished with the cat-call whistle.
With so much equity built over the years with lines that worked, we are left to ponder why anyone would start with “Legendary Freshness?” And why bring back the whistle when Old Spice owns the whistle? With such a bold tagline, it might be a good idea to create a legend to support it. Either that or find a knife and a bar of soap.
The moral of the story: when something is found to work, despite how old it may seem to the people on the inside, stick with it. No matter how tempting it might be. Refine it, play with it, modernize it, but stick with it. Keep pushing the functional benefits. The reasons to believe. Zest is the eye-opener. Ivory is 99.9% pure soap. Lever 2000 is for all your 2000 parts. Dove is gentle. Irish Spring is meaningless.
Even with a shot of eucalyptus.