With millions of dollars on the table it’s easy to see why we, as marketers, go to such incredible lengths to learn everything we can about the consumer. It’s all about working the right angles to get move product into the hands of the target demographic. It may not always be pretty or politically correct, but hey, if it works, you don’t really see people complaining too often. At least, that’s usually the case. Sometimes it works a little too well though, which it seems was the case with Axe body spray that I recently read about.
I’m sure by 2016 you’re familiar with the hazy cloud that wafts off of every middle school boy that bathes in Axe body spray. If not, consider yourself lucky. Apparently, in a conversation between author, Martin Linstrom, and Unilever executive, David Cousino, Cousino revealed a hilarious and somewhat shocking secret about what they did to figure out who to target with Axe body spray when it was first developed. To begin with, Unilever broke down men into six separate groups based on how men pursue women. (where do you fit, boys?)
The Predator: That guy who shows up at college house parties years after he’s graduated with the intention of taking advantage of some poor drunk girl. He probably brags about things he may or may not have, doing things he probably hasn’t done, and a luxurious job he probably came up with during all the free time he spends at his parents’ house.
Natural Talent: This guy is sharp as a razor and a pure athlete. He doesn’t need to do much to find a girl that likes him with confidence exuding from every pore.
Marriage Material: Here you have the sweet guy with manners that knows how to be respectful when it counts. He’s also humble and comfortable in his own skin. This is the guy girls want to bring home to the folks.
Always the Friend: Similar to Mr. marriage material, he’s a pretty sweet guy, but he somehow always manages to hit the wall when it comes to his romantic pursuits.
The Insecure Novice: This guy has no idea what he’s doing when it comes to the ladies. This is your “feels like a bag of sand” man that makes a normal conversation something awkward and uncomfortable. He’s probably most often referred to as a geek or a nerd, or in today’s lingo, a neckbeard.
The Enthusiastic Novice: Finally you have the guy who has no idea what he’s doing, but never stops trying and always tries to improve his game. You’ve got to respect the hustle.
So, after breaking down half of the human population into 6 broad groups, Unilever had to make the decision of which one to pedal their product to. Like any good marketer would do, they chose to go with the insecure novice because out of all of them, these guys probably needed the most help with the ladies, and were the most likely to purchase a product that appeared to mask their nerdy insecurities. Simple logic here isn’t it? “These guys can’t get women, so lets advertise a product that shows guys like them using Axe and being swarmed by perfect 10s.” Love it.
The next step in the equation was making the commercials. The Axe TV ads, as I mentioned/made fun of above, showed guys being swarmed by women or simply having a lot of women around them, wanting them, simply because they used Axe and were now irresistible. Apparently this method of advertising Axe came after research showed that the ultimate male fantasy is to be irresistible to multiple beautiful women at the same time, a thought that no one had ever come up with before.
All sarcasm aside, what happened next was truly remarkable. Axe became the number 1 selling deodorant brand in a very short span of time. However, every rose has its thorn. Axe actually became so successful so quickly that it became associated with the “Insecure Novices” that it was being advertised to, and they had to backpedal to dig themselves out of the loser rut. On top of this, it also became associated with terrible smelling middle and high schoolers who would drench themselves in the stuff and later have to be taken to the hospital as well as more negative press as some school districts began to crack down on the brands use and ban it. (I’m seriously wondering how much axe it takes to have to be taken to a hospital.) Moving forward, the brand began to dial it back a bit and started to broaden its target market.
All in all, despite the setbacks, axe has continued to see success as a brand and is a shining example of hilarious but outstanding marketing. As the adage goes: Sex sells. It was true then. It’s true now. And for Axe, it will continue to be true well into the future as they continue to take advantage of mens’ sexual fantasies.