Friday, 15 January 2016
Axe your magic?
After 20 years of a positioning that could be summarised as 'Get sprayed, get laid', Unilever's male grooming brand Axe/Lynx has been repositioned. A new commercial from 72andsunny, Amsterdam features a guy with a prominent nose, a hipster with kittens (of the fluffy rather than the sex- variety), a guy wheelchair-dancing and a catwalk model (male) sporting killer heels. There isn't a bikini-clad babe in sight.
It's a nice-looking ad, and ticks all the 'inclusivity' boxes - except the lack of subtitles for hard-of-hearing, as one YouTube wag pointed out - and the message is less about getting the girl and more about 'finding your magic.' 'Find your thing - now work on it!'
Unilever and their agency say it's all about 'inspiring and supporting' young men, and the 'e' word that we know and love from Dove has already been used. Only 5% of men in the UK, according to Unilever's research, agree that they 'feel like an attractive man.' Well, that could have been something to do with the way the question was phrased, but there we go. Unilever say: 'The pressure to conform has gone up. Guys have lost their confidence to express themselves. The moment you show individuality then people get bullied, and this is the big issue.'
Maybe that could be re-phrased as 'the moment you show something that could be construed as sexist, then you get bullied.' I have seen no evidence that Axe sales are on the slide, or that the product is no longer relevant to the target group. What I have seen is plenty of commentary of the sort - how can Unilever promote Dove as empowering women, while producing those awful sexist Axe ads?
But were they? History seems to have been rewritten here. Yes, Axe have produced some notoriously sexist ads (although I always regarded them as tongue-in-cheek) that probably don't belong in the 21st century any more than Benny Hill or Carry-On films. But there have been some brilliant films, too. which have shown how the basic brand idea can be brought up to date and executed in a way more fitting to the values of the day:
This one is over 10 years old and still looks good.
Or this, from a couple of years back:
If I'd been on the Axe team, I'd have asked what was the magic of Axe, what was its 'thing' and tried to bring it up to date. There are plenty of examples of that around - James Bond, Sherlock, Star Wars, even Old Spice.
As it is, I worry they have diluted the magic, or lost it altogether. From moving from sexual attractiveness (which doesn't have to be exclusively to women, by the way) to being a 'beautiful human being'/empowering/building confidence or whatever the idea is now, they have lost the link to the product and the uniqueness of the brand.
In fact, the whole campaign seems to smell a little bit of 'attractiveness to yourself', but maybe that's the method behind the madness - to appeal to the narcissistic generation.