Axe Grows Up

July 20, 2012 / Signed/Unsigned

By Alex Reeves

A typically juvenile brand matures into a shockingly poetic beast.

When a brand leaps into the unknown, willing to go against the lures of habit, the result is usually interesting. Axe’s new ad, Fear No Susan Glenn, is certainly interesting. Directed by the decorated Ringan Ledwidge of Rattling Stick, the commercial engulfs and enchants the viewer, presenting a world of romantic phantasm with genuine emotional depth. It’s got levitation, demons and an earthquake. Then there’s the small detail of Kiefer Sutherland starring in the work. This is not your average lads’ ad.

Product: Axe
Title: Fear No Susan Glenn
Production Company: Rattling Stick
Director: Ringan Ledwidge
Production Producer: Charlotte Arnold
Ad Agency: BBH New York
Creative Director: John Patroulis
Art Director: Nate Able
Copywriter: Peter Rosch
Agency Producer: Calleen Colburn
Editing Company: Work
Editor: Rich Orrick
Music Company: Woodwork Music
Sound Company: Lime
Post Production House: The Mill, New York

Axe, known as Lynx in Britain, has relied upon a well-known, well-established and feminist-goading message: wear this deodorant and women will flock to you like zombies. Sexy, obliging, mindless zombies. For years this has worked, pitching to the level of teenaged boys perceived to be ruled exclusively by their hormones.

But in creating this new campaign, BBH NY has stopped this old juggernaut in its tracks. They’ve given Axe’s audience the benefit of the doubt, choosing to assume teenaged boys are slightly more three-dimensional. Could it be that they think about things other than sex? Might they have hopes and dreams? Would it be insane to suggest they may even have emotions? This is madness.

Even for those of us who have been teenaged boys, the answers to these questions are uncertain, but Axe have shown incredible trust in bringing them into the debate. Almost every component in this new commercial is out of their comfort zone, systematically breaking down conventions that the industry has tacitly created.

Firstly, the copywriting is ambitious. Sutherland’s lamenting voiceover compares his high-school crush to a queen as he remembers how “in her shadow others became goblin-esque.” It’s wordy, to say the least. Apparently, the spotty hormone-machines have a soft spot for metaphorical abstraction now. A scary thought.

Then monogamy and romantic devotion are thrown into the mix. The camera’s focus remains on Susan throughout, never wandering to other girls. This must be pretty difficult with the unfeasibly high proportion of hotties a commercial set in a fantasy high school is bound to have.

As if focusing on one girl wasn’t enough sexual repression for teen Kiefer, she’s not giving him much to work with here. While beautiful, there’s not glimpse of cleavage, no tank tops and there are certainly no hotpants. She even rocks a bit of an indie tomboy look in one shot – jeans and a chequered shirt. Has the director been drinking with Germaine Greer or something?

Finally, it’s worth considering just how much of a downer the message of this film is. Of course, the obvious thread is that Kiefer and Susan could have been “a thing” if he’d used Axe. But the implicit narrative is that even this gruff alpha male has grown full of regret for not acting on his surprisingly wholesome desires. Jack Bauer didn’t have the stones to talk to a pretty girl. Now that’s sad.

But, speaking of stones, breaking so many taboos of the lads’ ad genre took some. Stepping away from stereotypes is always something that the media generally finds difficult, but the corporate nature of advertising means more is at stake there, so change comes slowly. Axe’s chips are down. Let’s see if they win this hand.

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