The Axe Effect 😵💫
Warning: Today’s newsletter might take you back to the cringiest years of your life. #sorrynotsorry
If you grew up in the 2000s, you’re familiar Axe.
Remember them? The obnoxious body sprays with names like Voodoo, Vice, and Black Chill.
Teenage boys used these scents to announce to other 15-year-old boys that they were now cool.
Unilever created Axe to replace deodorants and perfumes.
But it wasn’t until the early 2000s that the brand appeared on the cultural radar - 20 years after its launch in France.
During its first decade, Axe “had flattening sales and stale marketing that leaned on the kind of self-serious fragrance tropes — stock jazz tracks, square jawlines — that you see in 101 different ads,” a Vox Highlight explains.
Then in 1995, Unilever hired Sir John Hegarty.
And he put Axe on the map.
The brand had already been clumsily leaning toward seduction, but nobody is dumb enough to think that a body spray could make you irresistible.
Folks at BBH London argued that the missing ingredient wasn’t sex.
It was irony.
And they leaned into it all the way.
In the same interview with Vox, Hegarty explained, “Really, you were talking to 15- to 18-year-olds. And you were talking to a group of kids who were emerging into adulthood and needed confidence. I mean, the background to all this is they were very insecure.”
That’s why the first Lynx commercial (Axe is called Lynx in the UK) shows an awkward young man making a complete fool of himself at a sophisticated cocktail party until he turns suave by drenching himself in Lynx.
Axe promised awkward young boys to not only ‘get the girl, but to help them navigate a world that punishes inexperience.’
Advertising works best when it tells us something we already believe.
Despite the iconic ‘across the chest’ application and the ‘spray more, get more’ tagline, Axe didn’t replace deodorants or perfumes.
Because it’s hard to change minds, you run into resistance, and it takes too much money even to make a dent. (Axe spends over 100 million dollars a year.)
But their ads taught millions of skinny, nerdy and awkward teenage boys (I was one of them) that using Axe was a socially recognisable, affordable and quick way to show that you’re a grown-up.
Looking back, I’m a little ashamed that I used a product that made ads like this.
But then I’m reminded, that I liked being liked and that ads like this bypassed whatever fledgling bit of logic I had as a teenager.