A few weeks back, I participated in my first-ever olfactory intervention. I did so on behalf of a way-younger cousin, who showed up at a family event smelling like he'd spent the night submerged in goat slurry. The stench was sufficiently pungent as to clear crowds out of his general vicinity, as if nudged by an invisible force-field. He made my eyes water; I was treated on the scene for chemical burns and released.
When we sat down with the lad, we emphasized the importance of attentive self-maintenance, using sock puppets and other props to act out a host of cleansing techniques (showering, laundry, etc.). He got confused and defensive, arguing that he rarely left the house without a cache of Q-tips and a wet/dry nostril hair trimmer. We found ourselves at a sort of hygienic impasse… until he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a tube of Axe Hold + Touch Cream Wax.
As he sculpted his locks into a cement fortress of hair, the stink suddenly made sense: The kid had bought everything that Axe sells and applied each product abundantly. Fragrances, deodorants, shower sprays, shampoos, hair-care products - my poor, sweet cousin was all-in on Axe.
After the lab guys identified the offending odor as a sulfur-rich amalgam of Cool Metal body spray and Rise shower gel ("with Himalayan minerals and lime extract"), my fellow interventionists and I asked my cousin what he liked about the Axe brand. His response was telling: "It's cool. It's funny."
Shrewd analyst that I am, I have to think this has something to do with Axe's marketing - specifically, the TV ads and extended/unrated/too-hot-for-Telemundo videos it looses on the web with metronomic regularity. Whether or not one can tolerate the medley of feral pongs, Axe may be one of the most disciplined marketers out there. It doesn't tout product features or its brand virtues vis-à-vis the competition. It says, with a thematic clarity seen only in the video oeuvre of Motley Crue, "If you use Axe products, you will make the acquaintance of many super-hot chicks."
The Axe videos are little miracles of innuendo. The men who populate them stammer like a skipping record and leak sweat out of their every orifice - that is, until they apply the appropriate Axe balm, which magically transforms them into neo-Jeterian babe-traffickers. As for the women, they're divided into two types: eager-eyed house fraus who dabble in triple-ensembles ("you're here to service my pipes?") and slinky nymphs who major in suggestive popsicle-licking.
Everything about the Axe videos is adolescent and preposterously silly, which is precisely why they work. Compare two of Axe's web-only videos - a recent Halloween horror-movie parody and a mock infomercial featuring a veritable cornucopia of "ball" puns - with the Dr Pepper Ten campaign tagline, "it's not for women." The Axe videos are so over the top as to pull even the most literal-minded oaf in on the joke, while the Dr Pepper campaign oozes generate-controversy-or-bust desperation.
I'd no sooner allow an Axe-branded deodorant, fragrance or soap-like substance to touch the surface of my body than I would lye or patchouli oil, but I'm impressed by the lowbrow glee of the marketing and the message discipline. The Axe videos, ads, tag-team Twitter feed, Facebook presence (which teases an upcoming awards program of some sort) - they may not be a traditionalist's idea of classy, but they know what they are. Self-awareness is a virtue, in marketing as in personal grooming.