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Modernize an Outdated Branding Strategy?

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How Do You Modernize an Outdated Branding Strategy?
The Axe Effect

The story of how Axe shifted their marketing message

Effective adverts capture your attention while enticing you to use the product. Something men’s grooming brand Axe (named Lynx in the UK, Australia, and China) definitely accomplished with their advertising campaign known as the “Axe Effect”.

Those familiar with the campaign, know exactly what the premise of each Axe commercial carrying this tagline is. A man sprays himself with Axe deodorant, and immediately hordes of attractive women flock toward him, unable to resist the instant attraction.

Literally promising to make any man a “chick magnet”, the message is clear: it’s all about getting girls. As many as possible! 

During the 20-year span of what was widely considered a sexist advertising campaign, the “Axe Effect” tagline anchored countless TV – and print ads. Some of which certainly didn’t age very well looking back.

Photo by Virgil Cayasa title=
Photo by Virgil Cayasa

How do you understand your target audience?

Axe set out to target young males between 15-25 years old. Hiring Consumer Expert Dr. Vince Vong (CEO of Insights Interactive) was part of a strategy to understand what motivated this target audience on a cross-cultural behavioral level. 

Teenage boys emerging into adulthood become attuned to the societal norms of masculinity. Being considered “cool” by peers is a major concern, with locker room banter focused on their popularity with the opposite sex. 

The products and its campaign played into these findings. The ultra-strong, musky deodorants helped pubescent boys demonstrate how they had grown into young men. And most importantly, the ads showed how liberally spraying it on their bodies would help them attract droves of attractive women.

What stood out is that the actors in these ads were not always super masculine or attractive themselves. On the contrary, they could appear quite ‘geeky’. Another genius strategy, alluding that men don’t need to be handsome or cool to seduce women. All they need is Axe…

It worked. In 2006 the brand sold 71 million dollars worth of deodorant and other grooming products, only four years after entering the US market.

How do you modernize your branding strategy?

Many “Axe Effect” ads won awards, praised for their humorous approach. There’s the ad with the woman who starts spanking herself with a male mannequin’s arm after spraying Axe on it, or the one with sexy angels falling from the skies in search of the man who just sprayed himself with it.

However, the ads continuously sparked controversy too, with advocates saying the sexist ads portrayed women as prizes to be won by men, encouraging sexual promiscuity and toxic masculinity.

Axe representatives maintained that the absurd concepts of the ads made it clear that everything was meant very tongue-in-cheek. Nobody really believes that a deodorant can make any woman chase after you, right?

Yet, after more than a decade of success, Axe’s global sales began to slightly decline in 2013. As this trend continued, brand executives tried to find out why the winning formula was running out of steam.

A global survey among consumers showed that the advert themes didn’t really resonate with most men anymore, and their conceptions about masculinity had shifted. In other words; the audience that made Axe famous had grown up, while the brand had not.

Axe had become synonymous with an old-fashioned view of masculinity, the opposite of “cool”. Moreover, with the emergence of the #metoo era, even joking about sexism wasn’t quite so funny anymore. 

How do you find your magic?

Brand executives knew Axe’s communication strategy had to change, and it ended up making a complete 180-degree rotation. Created by advertising agency 72andSunny, the “Find your magic” campaign launched in 2016.

The campaign had one clear goal; challenging the one-dimensional male stereotype, to show a more nuanced and diverse spectrum of what it means to be a man. Encouraging men to be themselves, and to feel empowered by what makes them unique. 

Whether that is their larger nose, their intelligence, or with a firm nod to inclusivity; being able to dance in stiletto heels.

The celebration of individuality in “Find your magic” helped the brand triple its global growth rate. Needless to say, it was a huge success.

Different concepts and variations of the “Find your magic” campaign were introduced. And though they were applauded for liberating men from the pressure and limitations of traditional masculinity, the brand wanted to reintroduce the humorous approach that made their ads stick.

How do you reinvent your old branding strategy?

 

In 2021, Axe brought back the old tagline they abandoned five years before. Collaborating with The Martin Agency, the brand wanted to target open-minded Gen-Z males by combining elements of the “Axe effect” with the “Find your magic” campaign.

The “New Axe effect” comes with a campaign video showing a man spraying himself with the deodorant before taking a walk. During this stroll, he draws attention from a range of different types of women, men, and even a dog. 

Promoting inclusivity again (the protagonist is black, while the people he meets are from varying ethnic backgrounds, genders, shapes, and sizes), Axe once again promises that its products make men instantly attractive. Only this time with a whole reimagined idea of what attractiveness can be. 

In contrast to the overtly sexual attraction shown in the “Axe effect” ads, some of the passers-by in the “New Axe effect” show romantic attraction, while others just seem pleasantly surprised or inspired by the unexpected whiff of deodorant passing by. 

In essence, this new take on Axe’s old branding strategy is more aligned with what everyone looks for in a deodorant in real life; to feel confident about making a good impression on people by smelling nice and fresh before stepping outside into the world.

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