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UT grad helped put the spice in Old Spice ad

Dale Roe
Isaiah Mustafa is now known more for the Old Spice commercials than for his NFL career.

Craig Allen's not sure which accolade means most to him: the Emmy, the Grand Prix honor from the 2010 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival or the Outstanding Young Texas Ex award from his alma mater, the University of Texas.

"That's a tough question, actually," said Allen, who, as an art director and producer at Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, Ore., cooked up the virally popular "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" television ad for Old Spice. You know the spot — former Tennessee Titan Isaiah Mustafa says "Hello, ladies," and implores female viewers to "look at your man; now back to me," as his surroundings change from a bathroom to a boat and, finally, a tropical shore. "I'm on a horse," Mustafa adds, casually, and magically — seamlessly — he is.

"The Cannes thing was like a crazy, big surprise," Allen says. "I never thought I would win an Emmy that probably means more only because people seem to know what Emmys are. My grandma, you know, you try to explain what a Cannes Grand Prix is and what an honor it is and she's just like, 'Oh, that's nice.' When you say you've won an Emmy, she gets a little more excited."

Allen, 30, is convinced that the Texas Exes award is all a big mistake that the award committee will discover before the honor is bestowed during May's commencement ceremony. "The other people that are nominated and have won in the past are just so — you know, do actual great things in life. I feel like I just make jokes on TV," he humbly explains.

Allen graduated from UT in 2003 with a double major in studio arts and advertising. He interned at New York's TBWA\Chiat\Day agency and, five years later, took the job at Wieden+Kennedy.

He and his wife, April, whom he met when they were both UT students, maintain local ties. "We love Austin. My wife would like to move there tomorrow, I think," Allen says. The couple return several times a year for UT football games and an annual New Year's Eve trip.

Allen wishes he knew what what made the Old Spice spot catch fire (since Old Spice uploaded the spot to YouTube in February, it's been viewed more than 26 million times).

"In everything we've done, we've tried to just make the funniest thing we can or the most engaging thing we can, but it's just such a crapshoot," says Allen, who worked with writing partner Eric Kallman on the spot.

"I think it's just the magical combination that you never really know you have until afterwards."

Allen claims the spot's conception was mundane: He and Kallman sat in a room and bounced ideas off each other, each trying to make the other laugh. "I said, like, 'Hello, ladies blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,' and he laughed, and I was like, 'Man, maybe that's something,' and then we just kind of talked back and forth until it came out, you know?" The hilarious "I'm on a horse" line at the end of the spot was nearly an afterthought. "That was thrown in at the last minute and is obviously what made it, I think," Allen says.

Director Tom Kuntz gets high praise from Allen, who says he made the commercial look even better than he'd imagined it. And he credits the fact that the campaign was aimed at women, but also crafted to appeal to men, for its success. "I would say it's 90 percent luck, too, as everything is," Allen adds. "I wish I could say we wrote it and we knew it was going to be the best spot we'd ever do. We didn't have a clue."

Allen says he and Kallman are working on non-advertising projects, including an unnamed television pilot with director Kuntz. That's been fun, Allen says, "because we can kind of take the gloves off and don't have to answer to anyone."

He expects that his career will receive a boost from the success of the campaign, but could not comment on whether there would be further entries in the series. In the meantime, he says, "my parents can brag at their church very successfully now, you know, as all parents do."

He's not on a horse, but it still sounds like the ride of a lifetime.

droe@statesman.com; 912-5923