Unilever’s (UNA:NA) top-selling line of men’s personal-care products has spent the past 12 years telling men that if they spray, roll on, or wash themselves with one of its scents, women will fall for them. “We can help you with the girls,” it literally promised men as recently as 2012.
And men seemed to believe it. Axe’s lustful marketing strategy has been wildly successful, making the brand a top-selling men’s deodorant with more than 70 percent of the body-spray category. In fact, Axe became so popular with adolescent boys that some schools banned the product. As one eighth-grade teacher told Canada’s CBC News in 2005: ”They spray it all over their heads and their necks. They don’t realize how powerful the odor is.”
But there was one problem: Women don’t really like it. Instead of thinking of Axe men as modern James Bonds, they take one sniff of the stuff and immediately assume the person wearing it is a backwards baseball cap-wearing dude-bro. The promise of irresistibility has remained, for most Axe users, nothing more than fantasy.
So Axe is switching gears. It’s still selling sex and lust, but it’s going about it in a different way. The change happened slowly, starting with a 2014 Super Bowl commercial in which soldiers and dictators—presumably wearing Axe, although the commercial never says—abandon violence for romance. Then in May came an ad for Axe styling gel, in which a sailor applies hair product and a young woman is inspired to fit him with a life preserver—nothing more.
Now comes a commercial for the brand’s newest fragrance, Gold Temptation, which is an iteration of its chocolate-scented Dark Temptation. When the product was introduced in 2008, the ads featured sex-crazed women tearing a man apart and eating him because he was made from chocolate. But in Axe’s new commercial, no one is ravished. Instead, men simply shower with ground up bits of gold and chocolate.
Axe’s ads are still outlandish. They still imply that Axe products will make users appear manly and desirable. But they’ve at least broadened the definition of desire. Even if that definition appears to be “making yourself smell like a ground-up gold chalice.”