April 3, 2006
The Axe Effect (on 11 year-olds)
Some of the most pervasive and eye-catching ad campaigns in recent years have been those for Unilever's Axe body spray and related male grooming products. The fridge full of cans of whipped cream, the women humping their apartment building's water drainage pipe, the woman with the image of a coat hanger imprinted on her back (I have to admit, I still don't 100% get that one.) They're all sort of clever, and they all have an unmistakable message: this shit will get you so laid.
Convincing American men to use body spray (a product I had always associated with "when a man you've never met suddenly gives you flowers, that's Impulse!") may have been an uphill battle, but somehow Axe has managed to associate itself in our minds, as a Slate reporter wrote a while back, with getting "crazy, spontaneous monkeysex."
That same Slate writer predicted that, although Axe was the top-selling men's body spray on the market in 2004, it wouldn't be for long. The problem is, he wrote, "when you promise spontaneous monkeysex, you run into a couple of problems. 1) You won't deliver on that promise. This leaves the customer disappointed and sours him on the brand. 2) Your image gets linked with the guy who is desperate to get laid and who needs some sort of magic potion to help him. Which is not a great image."
But apparently the middle schoolers of suburban Washington, DC don't have a problem with 1) or 2), probably because at age 11, they don't have much hope of getting any monkeysex anyway. The Washington Post has a piece today on the overwhelming popularity of Axe among pre-pubescent boys, who have whole-heartedly bought into the Axe marketing strategy.
"I was watching the commercial, and there was this guy and he was mobbed by a bunch of girls, and I thought, 'Wow, that's tight! ' " said Asean Townsend, 12. "So I went to CVS and bought it."
The article includes many other wonderful testimonials from middle-school boys about their allegiance to Axe, and some concerns from gym teachers that boys may be using it as a convenient replacement for showering. Some boys have already been using Axe for so long (the $5 retail price encourages brand loyalty) that they've moved onto other more grown-up fragrances offered by Axe:
"Eighth-grader Klima Arrola started wearing Axe when he was 11 after seeing a TV commercial in a which a good-looking guy was mobbed by a bunch of even better-looking women. He found the ad appealing, he said. Now 14, he prefers Axe's Orion fragrance, described as an 'aromatic citrus/fruity fragrance with a transparent watery top note composed of minty accents, orange flower, geranium, citrus and musk.' But to Klima, who doesn't have a girlfriend, 'It just smells good.'"
And what about the girls? Do they find their musky, Axey classmates appealing?
"Someone by my locker uses it, but he uses so much that you can taste it in your mouth," said Allison Testamark, 14, scrunching up her nose in disgust.
Remember, boys: girls do appreciate personal grooming, but in achieving the Axe Effect, less is more.
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