How Axe Found Its (Marketing) Magic

For any male who went to high school in the 2000s, Axe body spray was an inescapable part of life. Every boys locker room in the country reeked of Axe, and the guys who used the deodorant seemed to care less about masking odor than making sure everyone in school knew they used the product. Axe wasn’t about deodorant; it was about dominance. Spraying some on was supposed to let everyone know that you were a man, and you were looking for a woman.

This was the philosophy Axe sold through its advertising. All of the commercials followed a formula: A guy uses Axe, and every woman in the area suddenly wants to have sex with him. At first, it seems like a narrative of control, that Axe gives men the ability to instantly seduce women. But besides being deeply misogynistic, these ads don’t even say much about men. The actors in these ads need Axe because they have no other redeeming qualities. The ads tell us that in order to attract women, these men only succeed when they “cheat” with this deodorant.

And that sort of guy became exactly who associated with Axe. Men and women alike assumed that if you used Axe, it was because you were a guy desperate to get laid and unequipped with the faculties to do so. The man who used Axe was someone who—in the absence of ability, charisma, charm, or intelligence—wanted to seduce women by removing their agency.

But earlier this year, Axe changed with a single ad: “Find Your Magic.” Instead of the same, tired formula, “Find Your Magic” displays men of all sorts of personalities and body types embracing what makes them unique and attractive. It’s an anthem of body positivity and modern masculinity. It’s also a fun, colorful, and inclusive ad that actually has relatable characters.

People seemed to appreciate the brand’s new approach. For once in your life, it’s worth it to read the YouTube comments. In addition to over 10 million YouTube views and positive comments, publications both inside and outside of advertising circles praised the ad. And according to Reel SEO, the ad coincided with a 7 percent lift in purchase consideration for Axe between January and February.

What’s the fundamental difference between this commercial and Axe’s previous approach? “Find Your Magic” makes the men the subject of the ad instead of the product. It opens up masculinity to be about more than just getting laid. By making the men the subject of the ad, and giving them the agency to choose Axe, it makes the men who would buy Axe look less desperate.

Still, the ad isn’t prudish; it clearly acknowledges that all men want to feel attractive. But it also conveys the idea that they already are. The ad sells the idea that attractive men use Axe, not that using Axe makes unattractive men attractive—a crucial distinction.

The campaign shows why it’s important to stay away from objectifying your audience, especially as consumers look for brands to promote social equality. Axe’s new look is effective because it validates its audience.

In other words, with a more inclusive advertising strategy, Axe can finally pass the smell test.

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