Earlier this month, Unilever’s male deodorant brand Axe announced a substantial repositioning that will see it drop its bro image to focus on a modern take on masculinity.
Instead of showing how Axe can get you the girl — or a throng of very attractive girls — Axe wants to “explode” the idea of masculinity, The Drum reported, and focus more on how people’s individuality is their most attractive trait.
Business Insider sat down with Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos to ask why the time was now right, in 2016, to announce such a dramatic rebrand.
He told us it’s all to do with being culturally relevant and recalled a presentation he gave at the Cannes Lions advertising festival three years ago all about 30 years of Axe’s advertising.
“What was striking even then, looking back, was how much the brand had actually changed over the years,” Weed said. “It literally was the story of men and women in the 80s and 90s changing and I think if you look at how people feel about themselves and their identity, what you see in that [marketing] solution is men in the modern world. I think that’s quite an exciting thing to do and definitely the right decision.”
Axe has run some fairly provocative campaigns over the years. From a commercial that featured headless breasts (implied to signify the first thing a man notices about a woman,) to an ad that suggested a man helping a female friend choose what to wear would make him a girl (with braids,) the brand has often been criticised by some viewers for being sexist or promoting an out-dated and unhelpful masculine image.
We asked Weed whether it was fair to say Unilever would veer away from running those types of controversial campaigns again.
“Have you ever gone back and looked at some of those old films that you thought were so good and looked and felt so relevant at the time, but then you look at it now?” Weed said. “Go back and look at John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ At the time that you did not feel that it was at all out of sync. I think it’s the same thing with what we’re doing: Cultural relevance. You need to penetrate culture to build great brands. Axe has done that brilliantly well over the years and I hope we are about to show it is set up to keep doing brilliantly well now.”
Here’s the new-look Axe’s latest ad:
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