Axe brand strategy / positioning case study

BrandStruck
Axe Brand Strategy Analysis
Axe
Brand essence

Helping men look, feel and smell their most attractive and celebrating their individuality.

Brand values

Empowerment, individuality, authenticity.

Brand character

Bold, fun, humorous, masculine, inclusive, provocative.

EVIDENCE
Comments
1

For many years, Axe (also called Lynx in some countries, e.g., in the UK) was famous for its iconic but provocative brand strategy revolving around the benefit of “male irresistibility”. In particular, “the Axe effect” was humorously dramatized in video adverts for Axe deodorants, in which the main hero was usually a nerdy young man who, after using the deodorant all over his body, was chased by tens if not hundreds of beautiful women who were suddenly sexually attracted to him (e.g., “Spray more, get more”[1]).

2

Axe’s approach changed for three reasons. First of all, as a Unilever brand, Axe was expected to be more socially responsible (like, for example, its sister brand, Dove) in order to comply with the Unilever corporate brand purpose (“to make sustainable living commonplace”[2]) and to better fit into the company’s portfolio of products designed to make people “look good, feel good and get more out of life”[3]. Secondly, the brand was mostly attracting teenagers and wanted to expand its target audience to also include men in their 20s. Finally, times, as well as men’s needs and expectations, have changed, something which was confirmed by research undertaken by the company.

3

The Axe team commissioned a study to substantiate the new positioning, which was rolled out in 2016. The two most important insights it uncovered were a) the fact that only 15% of men strongly believe that they are attractive and b) that 90% of women prefer men who are themselves[4]. This led to a new brand strategy focusing on empowering men to feel attractive and proud of who they are regardless of their looks, skin colour, sexual orientation, etc., and celebrating what is unique about them. Axe launched the new approach with a humorous campaign called “Find Your Magic”[5], which has also become the brand manifesto. Stephanie Feeney, Strategy Director at 72andSunny Amsterdam, the agency responsible for the campaign, said: “Where we’re trying to move the brand is towards a celebration of individuality … whatever your thing is, as long as it’s true to you, then be confident in it, express it, and work it.[6]

4

Even though nowadays, the brand gets involved in more serious initiatives, particularly in the UK (e.g., “Men In Progress”[7], a series of videos showing that men can be vulnerable and sensitive, or the “#BiggerIssues” campaign[8], raising awareness of male suicide), its overall tone of voice is still humorous and light-hearted. Nic Owen, 72andSunny Amsterdam Managing Director, commented: “But we’re still Axe, and we still want to have some fun. We’re still around attraction as well, it’s just actually you can be more attractive by not following a stereotype and attraction is beyond a spray-and-get-laid advertising conceit, it’s about building bigger relationships with women or men. It’s about being a more rounded individual with everyone you interact with.[9]

5

Together with these changes at the brand level, there have also been changes to the Axe product range. It now includes, on top of more traditional Axe deodorants and fragrances, antiperspirants, body wash and hair care and styling products, as men are using them more frequently. Matthew McCarthy, Senior Director of Deodorants and Men’s Grooming at Unilever, explained that it came along with an increasing level of social acceptance: “Men are curious about experimenting and trying different things and are spending more time in front of the mirror. It’s much more acceptable.[10]

6

Axe is predominantly a Regular Guy brand, as it promotes authenticity, and for years the main heroes of its communication have been average men. In its equity there are still elements of the Jester  brand archetype, as the brand consistently applies humour in its advertising.

Tagline
Most important campaigns

1. “Fresh As Fr*sh” (2022)

2. “You’re Hotter When You’re Chill” (2019)

3.  “Find Your Magic” (2016)

4. “Men In Progress | Boys Don’t Cry” (2017)

5. “Make Love. Not War.” (2014)

6. “Axe-Lynx Getting Dressed” (2004)

Official brand statement:

For over 34 years, we’ve helped guys look, feel and smell their most attractive. Men across the globe in over 90 countries reach for Axe – also known as Lynx in the UK, Ireland, Australia and China – to start their day.
We know that what matters to them has evolved. We know that the rules of attraction are changing and that it is about connection, not conquest.
We also know that being a guy is more complex than ever: there is more freedom, fewer rules and a whole world of possibilities.
There is also more pressure than ever: to fit in and to stand out – and much of it gravitates around attraction.
We know from years of research that what makes a guy attractive is… himself. His strengths, his weaknesses, his individuality and most of all how he expresses it.
But despite that, many guys don’t feel comfortable being themselves. Because they’re afraid of what people will say. Afraid that what’s unique about them isn’t considered attractive or acceptable.
We want to change that.
We say “be yourself”.

Our research among over 3,500 guys in ten countries shows that almost half are afraid of looking different for fear of being judged and labelled. That’s why we’re on a mission to awaken guys to the limiting labels that hold them back – and to destroy them.
On top of this, nine out of ten women find guys more attractive when they’re being themselves. Only 20% find stereotypically ‘manly’ guys more attractive. In fact, 57% would rather go out with a guy who is ‘unique and different’ than a guy who is traditionally ‘manly’.
These findings will help us to liberate guys from the pressure to conform and help broaden the definition of masculinity.
We want guys to be their own man. On their own terms. Without pressure from anyone else.
No right. No wrong. No labels.[11]

Interesting facts:

Before conceptualizing Lynx’s original positioning, Unilever did a segmentation of the male target audience, by dividing them into six groups based on their attitude towards women. The segments were called: “The Predator”, “Natural Talent”, “Marriage Material”, “Always the Friend”, “The Insecure Novice” and “The Enthusiastic Novice”. “The Insecure Novice” was chosen as Lynx’s core target.[12]

Must-reads

1. Ad Age on the “Don’t Overthink It” campaign
J. Neff, “Axe Veers From The Cerebral And Advises Guys ‘Don’t Overthink It’ In New Campaign From Mullenlowe”, Ad Age, Mar 2020,
https://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/axe-veers-cerebral-and-advises-guys-dont-overthink-it-new-campaign-mullenlowe/2243261

2. Campaign’s case study on Axe
N. Kemp, “How Axe Redefined Masculinity”, Campaign, Apr 2017,
http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/axe-redefined-masculinity/1430092

3. The new Axe positioning explained
E. Williams, “Axe Ditches ‘The Axe Effect’ And Grows Up”, Creative Review, Jan 2016,
https://www.creativereview.co.uk/axe-ditches-the-axe-effect-and-grows-up/

4. Business Insider on Axe’s original target audience segmentation
K. Bhasin, “How Axe Became The Top-Selling Deodorant By Targeting Nerdy Losers”, Business Insider, Oct 2011,
http://www.businessinsider.com/axe-advertising-unilever-brandwashed-2011-10?IR=T

Sources:
References:
  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pio5Uiupa8Q
  2. https://www.unilever.com/sustainable-living/the-sustainable-living-plan/our-strategy/about-our-strategy/
  3. https://www.unilever.co.uk/about/who-we-are/introduction-to-unilever/
  4. Radical New Axe Campaign Reveals What Makes Guys So Damn Hot”, Marketing Communication News, Jan 2016, http://www.marcomm.news/radical-new-axe-campaign-reveals-what-makes-guys-so-damn-hot/
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzTSE6kcLwY
  6. E. Williams, “Axe Ditches ‘The Axe Effect’ And Grows Up”, Creative Review, Jan 2016, https://www.creativereview.co.uk/axe-ditches-the-axe-effect-and-grows-up/
  7. A. Jardine, “Real Men Discuss The Last Time They Cried In Lynx’s Latest Work”, Creativity Online, Apr 2017, http://creativity-online.com/work/lynx-uk-men-in-progress/51447
  8. L. Roderick, “Lynx Looks To Shake Off ‘Jokey’ Image As It Teams Up With Charity CALM”, Marketing Week, Nov 2015, https://www.marketingweek.com/2015/11/02/lynx-looks-to-shake-off-jokey-image-as-it-teams-up-with-mental-health-charity-calm/
  9. E. Williams, “Axe Ditches ‘The Axe Effect’ And Grows Up”, Creative Review, Jan 2016, https://www.creativereview.co.uk/axe-ditches-the-axe-effect-and-grows-up/
  10. Ibid.
  11. https://www.unilever.com/brands/personal-care/axe.html
  12. K. Bhasin, “How Axe Became The Top-Selling Deodorant By Targeting Nerdy Losers”, Business Insider, Oct 2011, http://www.businessinsider.com/axe-advertising-unilever-brandwashed-2011-10?IR=T
SIMILAR BRANDS

Want to hear more?

Sign up here for our weekly

BrandStruck Express News.

Check the newly added brand strategy case studies and get our latest blog post.