The Old Spice Man backlash has started. Is it justified?

So the Old Spice Man backlash has begun.

Time (speaking of brands that could use an update), is calling the campaign a #fail because sales have reportedly dropped by 7% (comparing June 09/10 to the previous year. The blogosphere’s piling on, too, with BNet and Jezebel taking a few kicks at the Man Your Man Could Smell Like (and I don’t know about you, but I get ALL of my marketing advice from Jezebel).

So how could this be? The Man has had over 12 million YouTube views and counting, they’ve had thousands of people participate in their interactive video push, they’ve had more positive earned media mentions than anyone other than their PR agency can count. By every “soft” category of measurement — exposure, engagement, influence — Old Spice Man has been a HUGE success.

So why isn’t that translating into hard ROI?

Jezebel has a theory — it’s about gender (surprise) — and the industry  is starting to play this as a repeat of the old “great creative doesn’t get results” story.

I’ve got another theory: the numbers are bullshit (for now).

Leaving aside the fact that the sales data exclude WalMart, let’s look at the time period. Years ending June 2009 vs June 2010.

Old Spice Man launched in February of 2010, so on the surface it makes sense that you should see some lift in the units sold data for year ending June 2010.

But The Man didn’t really start to go viral until May/June of this year (at least that’s when I first saw him, and I don’t think I’m THAT far out of the loop)[correction: i just looked it up — I first saw The Man in February, although it feels a lot more recent than that]. And Proctor and Gamble (Old Spice’s parent company) didn’t make their REAL viral push — with their “get a custom message from the Old Spice Man” thing — until mid-July.

Last week I tweeted a link to 7 Social Media Lessons you can Learn form the Old Spice Man. Here’s the 8th lesson: social media marketing takes time.

It takes time to build relationships. It takes time for the people that know, like and trust you to develop the intention to become your customers. Heck, it takes time to run out of body wash and to need to go buy more.

Social media marketing isn’t a campaign. It isn’t something that you can flip a switch on and see lift from  next week. It’s a process. A process that’s built on long-term awareness and engagement.

Old Spice Man is building that engagement, so I’m not ready to write him off yet.