Looking to "shed outdated views of masculinity," Axe is veering from its historical girl-chases-guy storylines to show guys chasing guys, if ever so subtly, in a new campaign from 72andSunny.
The first work for the Unilever brand from the agency it appointed last year features the tagline "Find Your Magic" and a video showing one man dancing in women's clothes and two others exchanging looks in a record store. Another out-of-home ad, titled "Androgynous Kiss," shows two men preparing to kiss.
The brand hasn't left the heterosexual chase behind, but approaches it in a less macho way, such as a man discounting the need for six-pack abs to impress women when he can rely on his big nose.
"If you look at all the vignettes in the campaign, it really represents a tremendous spectrum of masculinity," said Matthew McCarthy, senior director of Axe and men's grooming for Unilever. "That includes personal attributes like hair, nose, body type, clothing type, lifestyle. We want to make it clear it doesn't matter how you define masculinity, which is very different than some of the storytelling we've done in the past."
"There's not one single-minded, one dimensional idea of masculinity out there," said Carlo Cavallone, executive creative director of 72andSunny Amsterdam. "We wanted to make it as inclusive as possible. We wanted to give to guys a sense of confidence and liberate them from stereotypical bullshit about what it means to be a man."
The ads aim to show the diversity of masculinity without becoming a sociological study or "losing a sense of fun or irony," Mr. Cavallone added.
The new creative backs the launch of a premium-priced Axe Advanced range of grooming products in the U.S., including Axe Adrenaline, Axe Urban and Axe Signature. But the campaign and tagline will extend across the brand's product range globally, Mr. McCarthy said.
The ads and product launch continue an effort in recent years to steer Axe toward a more sophisticated audience and message, more than a decade after the initial body spray became associated in many minds with overuse by boys in middle and high school. Axe continues to grow, and while it's only lived about half its 30-year global life in the U.S., this is its biggest global market, Mr. McCarthy said.
The video will run in 60- and 30-second cuts on TV and online. "Right now I have no plans to put us in the Super Bowl," Mr. McCarthy added. "That could always change."
A broader effort includes the Axe Collective with John Legend, which aims to mentor musicians and filmmakers and help showcase their work. "Aspiring creators" can visit Axe.com to learn about a chance to be mentored by Mr. Legend and be featured during an event at SWSW or the Toronto International Film Festival.
The campaign also includes an "Instagroom" series of 15-second videos that answer grooming questions for men "in the spirit of 'Find Your Magic'" Mr. McCarthy said -- and to address men's growing interest in how-to videos.