Why everyone is talking about Old Spice's stalking moms

Since its launch during the NFL playoffs, an Old Spice ad in which moms just can't help following their sons around has incited lots of online chatter. Its makers claim it is already "the No. 1 viral video in the world."

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read
She just can't help herself. Old Spice/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I have a friend. Let's call her Berkshire. She has a son. Let's call him Phillip.

On her days off, Berkshire wafts to Instagram and posts the most loving images of Phillip. Here's Phillip playing the guitar. There's Phillip getting his hair dyed green. Oh, look, doesn't Phillip look great backlit?

I tease Berkshire about this, because, well, it almost seems like a girlfriend posting images of her boyfriend. She blushes and gets cross, sometimes simultaneously.

Then the Old Spice "Stalking Moms" ad came out. Should you have missed this artistic opus of modern psychology, it features teen boys on their way out to be teen boys -- and moms who just cannot, will not, must not let them out of their sight.

This has variously been described as creepy or wonderful, uncomfortable or thrillingly true-to-life. Yes, all by me.

However, Old Spice parent company Procter and Gamble is already insisting to Ad Age that it is the "the No. 1 viral video in the world."

I am sure we all have our own measure of virality. However, figures from analytics company Infegy suggest that the "Stalking Moms" ad spawned at least 260,000 online conversations since its launch last weekend. It compares this with the 10,000 conversations stimulated by a different P&G ad lauding the role of mothers in supporting Olympians that was released just three days later.

Those who love to digest big data with one gulp will immediately leap to the notion that advertisers merely have to be a touch controversial in order to get the lightning bolts and dolts of the online world to begin chattering.

After all, Infegy's numbers insist that 93 percent of conversations about the Olympian moms were "positive" (do expressions like "awwwww," "aaaaahhhhh" and "sniff" count as contributions to conversations?). A mere 59 percent of the "Stalking Moms" conversations were also declared positive.

When things "go viral," they might have sheer silliness at their heart. They might have lovable animals, pratfalls, or sheer, exceptional human stupidity as their drivers.

Occasionally, though, people begin to chatter incessantly because a troubling, uncomfortable, concealed truth has shot into the daylight like a escaped convict. The Web is sometimes like a group therapy session in which few know your name, but many soon know what you think and feel. What sometimes emerge are truths that are usually only left to novelists and, in times gone by, Oprah.

Could a tiny kernel of troubling truth be the real reason why so many are desperate to express themselves about the "Stalking Moms"? Just as they seem so desperate this morning to express a thought about New Jersey Gov. Chris "Innocent" Christie?

I must ask Berkshire what she thinks. If she's still (s)talking to me, that is.