Axe has never been a brand to shy away from the notion that women are merely objects to be sexualised in advertising. As a brand they have long held the torch for the ‘sex sells’ adage so coveted by the Mad Men of the 60s.
However, a new ad campaign in South America is seeking to take the deodorant brand into new Emmeline Pankhurst-baiting territory with a campaign that suggests men shouldn’t opt for platonic relationships with girls.
The concept revolves around the launch of Axe Ex-Friend, under the “Less female friends, More women” tag line which pushes the notion that keeping a hot girl as a friend is not the manly thing to do.
TV ads for the product in Argentina depict various men in scenarios where platonic friendship and the possibility of sex collide, such as being asked to zip up a dress or put suntan lotion on a girl. At the moment the male acts like a friend a giant overbearing man, dressed as either a construction worker of a fisherman, tuts and hands the man an Axe deodorant.
Axe in Mexico has even created a website that derides men who choose female friends, entitled “Hombres con trenzas” (Men with braids) which suggests that too much time in the friendly company of women will see men actually growing Swedish style braids in their hair. There’s an interesting YouTube 'choose your own adventure' style element to this that sees you steering braid wearing Esteban through a series of tasks in order to get the girl – aided and abetted by a large man who’s a cross between Meatloaf and Lou Ferrigno. There's also an online test visitors can take, plus plenty of UGC options including the ability to rate various men on whether they are worthy of braids or not.
The braids premise has its roots in the Pinocchio Disney animation, which saw our wooden friend and his poor associate Candlewick growing donkey ears as they slowly turned into Jackasses during their stay at Pleasure Island. Ironically , Pleasure Island is probably not too dissimilar a destination to the one on offer in a recent Lynx Lodge (the UK version of Axe) holiday competition.
The whole promotion is very much in keeping with Axe’s overall ad strategy - one that places women on a sexualised pedestal yet portrays men as either clueless, geeky or pathetic. A delicate balance that manages to sustain itself on its comedy merits. Whether this particular campaign would wash (no pun intended) so well in the UK and US as opposed to South America is open to question.
That said the ‘men with braids’ website in Mexico has netted 400 000 participants and around 76,000 fans on Facebook so far, which just goes to show how popular this type of promotion can be.