Smell me, bonk me

When products have little to talk about on a functional level, they have to jump to the other extreme in terms of product benefits, and play to the emotions. This is what Lynx deodorant – or Axe on the continent – has been doing for years. A typical Unilever product, it is marketed purely on hope and image.

Screenshots from some past campaigns from the UK, France and Germany:

UK: Lynx UK

FRANCE: Axe France

GERMANY: Axe Germany

All three ads adhere to the same “creative story”. 1) Man meets woman. 2) Woman takes an instant liking to man. 3) Woman is so overpowered by her desire for this total stranger, she goes for it.

Basically, this is a teenage boy fantasy. A woman you have never met before suddenly wants you. These days Unilever call this “The Axe Effect”. Only because you wear the deodorant, women do the most unbelievable things.

The reason all three ads follow this plot is that it has been engraved in the brand advertising strategy for years. Like Impulse (also made by Unilever): a woman dropped something, a gentleman picked it up just before her, he smelt her body spray, their eyes met, so she dropped it again to repeat the whole process. For years Impulse followed the same basic format. Another Unilever brand, Harmony hairspray also had a strategy cast in stone (“Is she, isn’t she?”). The Lynx/Axe format is slightly different but Unilever has stuck to it for years.

After these campaigns, Unilever centralised the production of their Lynx advertising. But the format was kept the same, with women saying things like “Wow, I collect comic books too” or “Please talk to me about football” or “You look so sexy playing air guitar”. Dream on. With the full backing of Unilever.

Wait a moment – this is a deodorant!! Is there NOTHING to tell the viewer about the function? No, because on a functional level, many Unilever brands do nothing more than the competitors. The only USP is the carefully crafted image. Plugged by major spends. The products often skirt around the issue of function – it’s often there only implicitly.

Charles Revson is quoted as saying that, “In the factory we make cosmetics, in the drugstore we sell hope.” And this is the tack taken by lots of products made by Unilever. Timotei shampoo being another of their corporate babies (by the way, Timotei is Finnish for grass, where the product was originally developed) – the UK advertising campaigns were crammed with dreamy countryside, a blonde meandering her way through mountain meadows, to be picked up by her hero on the back of a white horse.

Timotei UK 1985

Now, what would arch enemy Procter and Gamble (P&G) have done with a star product like Timotei? Well, they like to take things from the opposite direction. Function. Function. Function. Just look at Head & Shoulders ads and you’ll see what I mean.

In my opinion P&G would have taken Timotei and gone for the functional benefit. This, incidentally, was: “a shampoo so mild you can wash your hair as often as you like”. So my guess is that they would have had a split screen:

– On the left a blonde washing her hair everyday with a standard product. After a few days her hair looks lifeless, the ends are split and her brittle hair has lost all shine. Sad looks, disappointment.

– On the right another blonde. Her hair is shiny and healthy looking. All smiles. Thanks to Timotei.

Problem – solution. That’s P&G through and through. Unlike Unilever, which extrapolates sweet smelling armpits into male teenager fantasy.

More on P&G’s approach: here.

Alex Woodruff

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