Did you see Axe’s latest Super Bowl ad? Here it is:
“Much passion. Very feeling. Wow.”
It’s worth remembering how campy and sexist their past ads were.
A quick search on YouTube will reveal that Axe’s history of making ads that are cringe-inducingly sexual, often getting bad press for objectifying women. The young male demographic was supposedly demanding such blatant objectification, and marketers gladly served it up to them.
So it’s interesting to see how Axe’s latest 2014 Super Bowl ad seems to have changed tack. Completely.
The ad starts off powerfully, with intense scenes of war zones and what appear to be dictators. The music is pulsing, preparing the viewer for some sort of conflict. And then… the tension breaks. The men are revealed not to be violent, aggressive or power-hungry. Rather, they relinquish violence to celebrate the women in their lives.
Notably, the women in the ad are fully dressed.
Marketing is evolving to meet “social mores”, and consumer values are changing.
Just compare the following quotes.
In 2007: Unilever’s chief marketing officer Simon Clift said that the sexist Axe commercials should be taken with a pinch of salt: “It’s a spoof on the mating game. The joke is on the boy. It’s just a few bloggers in the US who don’t get it.” (Unilever owns both Axe and Dove, by the way.)
In 2014: “Social mores are changing and guys are changing and there’s more of an equilibrium” between the sexes now, said David Kolbusz, the deputy executive director of BBH London. (These are the folks who made the ad for Axe.) “It’s not us-versus-them anymore, but rather more of a symbiotic relationship.”
Where did all this change come from?
I think that’s the most pertinent question of all. It’s unlikely that Axe or BBH made such a decision lightly, or at random. Clearly, they’re responding to real change, and that real change has to have started somewhere. I think the answer is buried in the 2007 quote. The “bloggers who don’t get it” have been, amongst others, leading the charge for greater accountability, greater responsibility. They never relented, and with time, consumers rallied with them.
The past few years have seen much of the world adopting more accepting, inclusive attitudes towards LGBTQ, women’s rights and social justice. People in general are now are more critical of overly photoshopped magazine covers, of blatant sexual objectification and damagingly oversimplistic ideas of masculinity.
The personal became political, and the political became fashionable, and the fashionable, naturally, becomes marketable.
Aspirational marketing is in.
Rather than reduce men to their sexual urges like they usually do, Axe (like Guinness before it) now appeals to a more sophisticated idea of masculinity, one that is confident and regards women as peers, equals. No more “boys will be boys”.
Ultimately, Axe is a business, so it might all ultimately be about the return-on-investment. They could very well just be coldly, calculatively responding to market analysis. But it’s nice to contemplate the fact that there are real people involved at every step of the process, from the filming to distribution. And ultimately, there’s a positive message, a reminder to everybody that marketing can appeal to our better nature, not just our base instincts. And why shouldn’t it? It’s progress. I’ll take it.
Here’s hoping that this isn’t a temporary fad. I don’t see how it could be. Go Axe!
Read next: The 10 Best Marketing Slogans… Ever!