Axe, Old Spice Make It Cool To Be Clean

Axe started it with commercials implying that even the geekiest guy can become a babe magnet by using its products. Then, Old Spice broke out with manly man Isaiah Mustafa showcasing charm, wit and the perfect physique to make the case for personal hygiene.

Thanks to Axe (Unilever) and Old Spice (Procter & Gamble), it's cool to be clean. And not just among older teens and 20-somethings. By poking fun at a category that has traditionally taken itself very seriously, these brands seem to have parlayed hyperbole, satire and, well, silly, into sales with the not-so-unlikely market of young teen and tween boys.

If you know boys in the 11 to 14-age group, hygiene might not be the first word that comes to your mind. For years, teachers and moms and dads have had to have uncomfortable conversations with boys who just don't see the point of deodorant. Or who see stink as symbolic of hard work and athletic prowess -- and who would want to get rid of that?

For boys, these years are the time when all things masculine get wrestled with, if not figured out. Talk to boys in this group, and you're likely to hear assertions of their manliness peppered throughout casual conversation. But getting it right isn't as easy as it seems. And, thus, they are often uncomfortable with traditional expectations of masculinity and relish seeing any chink in that armor.



So the exaggerated image of the ideal man portrayed by the Old Spice Guy -- riding a white stallion, diving from the top of a waterfall, straddling a very large motorcycle and cooking a gourmet meal for good measure -- tickles their funny bone and speaks to the needs of their psyches. Indeed, this campaign has been one of the most viral ones on YouTube, where tween boys are practically the ruling class.

Neither Old Spice nor Axe may have had these segments of boys in their sights in launching their campaigns. They may have been targeting college-aged and 20-something guys with their quirky humor. And bringing news to the category by launching daring new fragrances every year may be a formula for success among more markets than just tweens. But both brands' success at winning these boys over -- inadvertent or not -- serves as a model for disrupting mature categories. Happy accidents happen. Who knew that young teen and tween boys would be paying such close attention to deodorant ads?

Actually, we might have, here at YouthBeat. Our data show tweens, for example, have the most influence over the purchase of three items: Clothes, shoes and ... deodorant. In 2009, 51% of tween boys said they had "a lot" of influence over this purchase -- and in the youth market, influence counts. And let's face it, any help moms can get with their boys on the personal hygiene front will have them smiling as they shop the deodorant and soap aisles at the grocery or drug store.

Old Spice and Axe risked alienating their more traditional customers with these campaigns. Yet, appealing to the younger set (including tweens) means taking a few risks and changing the rules.

While its Twisted Humor Tour and "Undie Runs" for charity are ostensibly geared to college kids, don't think their younger brothers aren't getting engaged (and sold) at the same time. And replacing its old-fashioned Red Zone campaign with the distinct aesthetic of the Old Spice Guy shows that this brand is not afraid to leave a few good men behind as it builds new relevance with boys and the loyalty of their mothers.

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