Axe Unleashes Anarchy

When I last checked in on Axe, it was reveling in the silly, self-aware provocation of its marketing and making the eyes of lab animals bleed with the fetid pong of its musks. Turns out that I might've been premature with my big-picture video assessment dealie, as four weeks later the brand unveiled a monster online push for its first-ever fragrance for women. And it's friggin' amazing… the campaign, that is. Based on previous Axe products, I have to assume the fragrance itself incorporates hints of patchouli, diaper and wet ferret.

As opposed to another round of spots in which a single spritz transforms Johnny Armpit into John HandsomeMaseratiHair, Axe has created a crowdsourced YouTube graphic novel - that's the shortest, most accurate way I can describe it - to promote the debut of its Anarchy For Women and Anarchy For Men fragrances. The graphic novel, which debuted two weeks ago and currently counts two chapters to its name, is in every way a work in progress: Axe has already asked readers/viewers to "cast" a villain and contribute ideas. As the campaign progresses, the comic will be drawn to order and the story tweaked accordingly.

And what a story it is. In "Anarchy: The Graphic Novel," an olfactory experiment gone awry causes men and women to couple with such ferocity and frequency that it undermines the social order, or something ("Designed to unlock attraction between guys and girls, [the fragrances] worked far too well…"). So far, "Anarchy" has introduced only that basic plot framework and a few central characters, but already the nuance and attention to detail has exceeded anything recently seen in the branded-content world. The closest comparison I can think of? "N," a harrowing, darkly funny graphic novel-cum-video series created by Marvel and Simon & Schuster to promote a Stephen King compilation. That's fine, and triple-unlikely, company for a brand like Axe to be keeping.

"Anarchy" gets the graphic-novel tone and feel precisely right - which isn't entirely a surprise, given the involvement of Aspen Comics and comic book scribe Scott Lobdell. The dialogue boasts the requisite genre crackle and the characters look sharp, all angles and arches. Hot cops, hot nurses, hot scientists wearing hot-scientist glasses and tailored lab coats: happily, the tone and spirit of "Anarchy" aren't dampened by association with a big- name brand and the corporate monolith that owns it.

At the same time, "Anarchy" is true to Axe's previous marketing efforts. It doesn't take itself too seriously, in the comic panels or in the social-media efforts that envelop them. Those efforts, in fact, could send this campaign down some freaky alleyways. There's real enthusiasm here; based on the comments and ideas shared to date, readers/viewers appear to be taking Axe up on its invitation to contribute.

As did I. When asked "Where do you want the Graphic Novel to head next?," I ignored the suggestion of a town or a school and instead answered "My Pants!!!!1!!!1!!!!" Then, in the "Shape the Story" box, I suggested that "anarchy girl" Julie, a raven-haired minx who readers chose for inclusion in "Anarchy" over curvy blonde tart Mindy, should "sit down with 'Dr. Yummy' and have a respectful conversation about boundaries and gender norms within the context of the novel's fragrance- drenched dystopia."

So yeah. My conclusion after immersing myself in "Anarchy" and Axe's online videos: the brand is as smart and focused in its marketing as it is skilled in making human beings smell like gently aged eggs. In terms of cleverness, discipline and consistency, few brands are playing in Axe's league nowadays.

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