Axe has completely flipped its branding around. Since 2003, this deodorant has promoted itself as a way to attract women. Their commercials show this in the extreme with bikini-clad cuties crazed by the spray from a typical teenage boy. Often, he becomes the main dish of their feeding frenzy as several tackle him to the ground. For over a decade, Axe has rubbed this into us as its single driving association.
How surprising to find Axe at the Super Bowl promoting the exact opposite of that feral irrational lusty attraction. In its stead, Axe shows us a mature love demonstrating both strength and vulnerability in the men who cherish the one woman they want to attract as opposed to making several women aggressive mindless beasts in heat.
Part of the reason for this shift may have to do with the fact that their young demographic has finally grown up. Most of their original customer base likely has a wife and kids at this point. If they want a life-long loyal customer, they can’t be selling teenage fantasies forever. It’s time to grow up. Another motivator may come from their new competition with Old Spice. Old Spice rebranded in recent years with its well-known, “Look at me. I’m on a horse” commercial. Previously popular only with grandpop and aging parents, Old Spice made a move for the youth. In doing so, they cut into Axe’s territory. To recoup its loss in revenue, Axe has to chop into new demographics, which is where this Super Bowl commercial appears aimed.
Axe begins anew with 4 vignettes. As in the other commercials, quick repetition is the game here. You might predict each vignette will repeat the same theme, mature love.
The ad shows 4 men of immense power and therefore men with excess virility. Remember that Axe is extending to new demographics, and it wishes to do this without abandoning the old. Therefore, Axe may do well to touch upon prowess, while not “selling” it as it has done in the past. In the current commercial, power is displayed by military might wielded by average men. We see a tank moving through a war-torn city. We see a military dictator and his orderly hordes of soldiers filling an arena with the strictest of discipline. We are shown military copters transporting GIs. Also, a politician opens a briefcase of mass destruction containing a detonator or missile command device of some sort.
This is where Axe takes a wildly new swing. Axe shows women, strong women, standing up against the might of men. While crowds flee the tank in the city, a lone woman approaches it with fear yet determination in her eye. It may very well just roll over her. While villagers flee the landing of the military copters, a lone woman walks towards them, confronting a dismounting soldier who is now pointing his gun at her, ready to shoot.
Then the most amazing thing happened in the history of the Axe universe, these women, both brave and fragile, beautiful in their vulnerability, disarmed the men. These women take away the men’s might, and not by force but by their mere presence. It is the affection men feel for their love that they willingly, happily, abandon their machines of power. Such might, such tools of domination, are inappropriate in the gentle caress of love. Axe demonstrates this by showing a soldier pop out of the protective armament of his tank. His lover calls out his name in delight and rushes to the top of the tank where he snuggles on her shoulder. We are shown the GI, now out of his copter, dropping his automatic rifle into the mud as his lover embraces and kisses him. She pushes his war helmet off his head as those things get in the way of the affection they wish to share together.
The other 2 vignettes tell the same story in a slightly different way. Whereas the first 2 stories show the men physically disarmed in their affection, the next show the men using their physical power for a sweet and soft display to their lovers. The Asian military dictator, heretofore emotionless, gives a slight nod, commanding his horde of soldiers to each hold up a large colored square. In total, the squares reveal an “I love you” heart picture depicting the dictator and his lover. She reaches over to hold his hand, and a sweet smile breaks through his repressed manner in a way that tugs the viewers heart strings. Finally, the politician pushes the big red button in his brief case. Fireworks explode harmlessly and beautifully outside the window from which he and his lover are looking. Subtly, the fireworks shape a heart, then dissipate. His lover shares a surprised smile with him as he he reaches across the couch to kiss her hand.
Have we not been each of these men? Who hasn’t traveled long miles to be with their partner like the GI did in his helicopter? Whose heart hasn’t sat well-protected in walls of reinforced tank steel only to have the hatch pop open once a certain someone gets close enough? Who hasn’t tried to quiet and repress their emotion yet be unable to stop that love-struck grin from spreading? It is because we relate so well to these men that we can easily “wear” them for a moment and immerse ourselves in the story. We can feel the mature love they feel. That is part of the magic of the commercial, in addition to the quick repetition of the theme. Because the theme is so powerful and shown so frequently, we begin create a new association with Axe. This association happens in our minds and also physically at the neurological level.