When you were in middle or high school, did you ever have an extremely immature, shit-head of a classmate return one year from summer vacation unexpectedly mature and sophisticated? Well, that’s Axe right now. That’s right, Axe is back and looking shockingly, pleasantly, different. Here, see for yourself:
The latest ad from Axe (created by ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH)), is so out of left field for the brand that the first time I, and everyone I showed it to, saw it, we all exclaimed; “this is an Axe ad?!?” I was sure it was a fake. I mean, we’re talking about the same brand responsible for this shit spray of a campaign from a few years ago:
But that was then and this is now. Axe is (thankfully) singing a new tune these days and just like your suddenly matured classmate, they’re quick to show you how much they’ve grown.
Axe seems to be saying “allow me to re-introduce myself” when those power chords kick in and we hear the words; “come on, a six-pack?” as the camera pans from one six-packed-man to a wrestler looking dude doing the “cool guys don’t look at explosions” bit. “Who needs a six-pack when you’ve got the nose…” the voiceover continues as we see the nose and the skinny kid it belongs to. He’s sitting in the passenger seat of a car, not the driver’s seat where most ads would place him, and he’s looking pretty content. Axe is sending notice that this isn’t going to be your older brother’s Axe campaign.
Then we see things many of us have never seen in male targeted advertising before; positive depictions of men in heels and wheelchairs, men who appear to be attracted to each other and men who supposedly “don’t have the look.” And finally, we hear the main message of the campaign; “who needs some other thing when you’ve got your thing?” Axe, of all brands, is imploring us not to try to be someone else. They want us to be ourselves and develop what comes naturally. That’s quite the shift coming from a brand that’s spent decades convincing teen boys that Axe is the one true key to “getting the girl.”
Does this revamped approach from a personal grooming brand sound familiar at all? If you pay attention to advertising as much as I do (you’re forgiven if you don’t), then it should. That’s because Dove, another personal grooming brand also owned by Unilever has been using a very similar approach since 2004 (interesting side note, Axe which launched in 1983 started advertising itself as the product that will help boys win the girl in… 2003).
Dove has gained a lot of attention for its female targeted Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, which launched in 2004 and claims to be about “Imagining a World Where Beauty is a Source of Confidence, Not Anxiety.” You may recognize it as the campaign featuring women of various body shapes and sizes instead of traditional, emaciated looking models. This means that since 2004, Axe has been promoting a message in direct conflict with the Real Beauty campaign. So for a decade and a half, while one Unilever brand, Dove, was trying to uplift women, Axe, another Unilever brand, was degrading and promoting misogynistic views of women. Unilever took a fair amount of heat for this contradiction over the years but never seemed to care much.
But in 2010 Unilever launched the Men+Care brand, targeting adult men, and pretty quickly launched the Care Makes a Man Stronger campaign. The Care campaign is particularly focused on fatherhood and the ways being a loving and caring father makes a man stronger/better. So now you have Men+Care, the brand Unilever hopes young men will graduate up to from Axe, promoting gentleness and caring as a sign of masculinity while Axe continued to ramp up the misogyny.
Any executive interested in brand synergy (and these days who isn’t?) would recognize this as an untenable situation. When seen through this lens, Axe’s sudden shift in tone serves as yet another reminder that money talks. Where a decade-and-a-half of consumer complaints failed, the prospect of losing long-term customers due to conflicting brand identities succeeded.
Whatever the cause, it’s a long overdue shift in tone that Axe’s older brand siblings required, and the rest of us long pined for. I for one am ready to welcome this more mature, more positive Axe to the world… sadly, the products still smell like shit, but hey we can’t win them all right?
Note: If you haven’t seen the ad on TV yet, you can look for the thirty-second version which will air during this year’s Super Bowl (sadly it won’t be the full sixty-second version posted above).
What do you think about the ad? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you’re reading this after watching the Super Bowl, I’d love to hear how others watching with you reacted as well. Let me know if the comments below.