Unilever Looks to Turn Axe TV Special Into MTV Series

'Gamekillers' Episode on Inspires Marketer to Do More With Original Content

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CINCINNATI -- Unilever is preparing to take its Axe-inspired scripted-reality show "Gamekillers" from a one-hour special to a series of five or more installments on MTV next spring.
Mother Hen gets between the protagonist and his date in 'Gamekillers.' Unilever hopes to turn the one-hour special backing it's Axe line into a series.

The series is expected to air starting in late March or early April, said William Gelner, group creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York. The agency, which created the show, is working with production company Radical Media and Sydney-based creative collective Glue Society, which directed the original special, to develop the series.

"We're working on a treatment now," Mr. Gelner said. "We've gotten to a place were we all [Bartle Bogle, Axe and Radical, and MTV] feel good about it."

Strategy favors original content

The move also signals that Axe now feels good about taking its entertainment efforts one step further. The company has openly talked about how it is eschewing traditional marketing for original content on the internet or on TV as a way to reach the 18- to 35-year-old male demo and promote its lineup of body sprays, deodorants and body washes. But its previous efforts on TV have been one-off specials.

The expansion of "Gamekillers" on MTV would be the first time the company has turned a project into a series.

Unilever used the "Gamekillers" special, which first aired on MTV in February, as a centerpiece for a broader marketing program behind Axe Dry antiperspirant, including a Gamekillers.com website that has remained up since last winter featuring several characters from the special.

The show's humor is an offshoot of Axe's brand personality, and its mockumentary style plays off Axe's positioning as helping guys in "the mating game," unlike the generically titled characters such as the Mother Hen, Sensitivo and Man Candy who get between the hapless protagonist and his date -- hence "killing" his game.

Favorites from the special, including the Drama Queen, the Neanderthal-like Early Man and British Accent Guy, are likely to figure prominently in the series, Mr. Gelner said.

In talks with MTV

A Unilever spokeswoman declined to comment on specifics, including how much Axe would spend on the series, but confirmed Unilever is talking with MTV about the show. A media buy would be part of the deal with the cable network.

"We're working toward something but as of today there's no signed deal," an MTV spokesman said.

The series, like the original special, will have little direct brand or product placement.

"Gamekillers" was one of two major branded-entertainment projects for Axe this year. The other was "Order of the Serpentine," a 30-minute show produced by WPP Group's MindShare Entertainment that aired on Spike TV as the centerpiece of a marketing campaign for Axe Snake Peel body wash. That show dealt with a fictitious secret society of men seeking to hide their shame about "questionable hookups."

Entertainment spurs sales

Both projects have helped drive double-digit growth for Axe this year, leading Unilever to claim U.S. brand leadership in deodorants (disputed by rival Procter & Gamble Co.) and vie for leadership with P&G's Old Spice in men's body wash.

"We're not looking at [Axe] as a deodorant brand, but as a lifestyle brand," said Kevin George, VP-North American deodorants, Unilever, who sees entertainment marketing as a way to position Axe alongside the likes of Nike or PlayStation, not just against Old Spice. "We're really about creating content that guys want to seek out," he said, "rather than banging them over the head with clutter."
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