Old Spice might not be a company you associate with cutting edge technology, but in a new series of commercials, it seems to be pondering some of the nuances of human-robot interactions.
The basic premise is that using Old Spice body wash and deodorant makes the robot protagonist “smell like a man from head to toes.” In one scenario at the beach the android tries to seem cool by getting in on a game of soccer. But when it goes to kick the ball, it misses, loses its balance, and falls on a woman who’s sunbathing. “I think you crushed some of my ribs,” she says. “But you smell amazing!”
In another spot that takes place at a nightclub, a woman comes up to the android on the dance floor and compliments its hair. The android replies with things “men” say, like, “I love rollerblading and pepperoni pizza.” Instead of being weirded out, the Old Spice smell makes the woman ask if the android wants to “get outta here.” As the android starts to reply, its face falls off, revealing its circuitry, and it starts emitting a loud electronic tone. “Is that a yes?” the woman asks, smiling.
These ads are heteronormative and reductive, but they also offer some intriguing questions about human-android interaction. Can people be attracted to or fall in love with humanoid robots? Do things like smell make it easier for humans to accept androids? Maybe Old Spice holds the key to minimizing the uncanny valley (the aesthetic gray area in which humanoid robots are unsettling to some humans because their look or movements aren’t convincing enough). But if Old Spice makes you smell human, then none of us should need it.