Axe vs. Old Spice: Whose Media Plan Came Up Smelling Best?

Optimedia's Antony Young Analyzes the Media Strategies Behind Two Leading Men's Brands

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Antony Young
Antony Young
March Madness reaches its conclusion next Monday, when the top two teams play for the 2010 NCAA college basketball championship. I'm sure locker rooms and gym bags of the teams competing will have been stocked with body wash and deodorant products from the two brands, whose media plans we're evaluating this month. Unilever's Axe and Procter & Gamble's Old Spice have played more than their fair share of one-on-one ball in recent times. Axe has delivered some irreverent and sometimes controversial campaigns over the years, while Old Spice has rejuvenated the brand to make it more relevant to a younger user. Here, we check out their form and stats across both media plans.

Creative Campaigns

Axe's marketing included unique executions and sponsorships meant to trade on the interests of its core consumer base, young men 18 to 24 years old. Its TV creative for deodorants featured separate spots showing BMXer Adam Jones and professional skateboarder Ryan Sheckler each performing airborne "double pits to chesty" -- in English, a mid-flight spray under the armpits and across the chest. Last summer, it launched Axe Instinct, a leather-inspired scent, with creative that was alternately funny or sexy but either way tagged "The Power of Leather." And in January 2010, Axe introduced the "Clean Your Balls" campaign for the Axe Detailer Shower Tool and Shower Gel on Facebook, YouTube and the recently launched The "Cleans Your Balls" video is a three-minute HSN spoof filled with double entendres that stress the importance of maintaining clean "equipment," all while demonstrating the product.

Old Spice, for its part, has targeted men over the past couple years with humorous creative featuring the tagline "Smell Like a Man, Man." But it has also branched out to other themes and strategies. Old Spice's most recent work has sought to target not just the core male user, for example, but also women buying personal care products for guys. THIS YEAR IT PROMOTED Red Zone body wash with a spot starring retired NFL running back Isaiah Mustafa, who urges women to get their men to stop using "lady-scented body wash" so they can "smell like a man." It has also developed ads promoting its range of products, tagged "different scents for different gents." And last summer it ran a campaign themed "residue is evil" to promote its Ever Clear formulation (which uses less powder and wax), by warning against the social consequences of underarm residue.


5 stars Outstanding
4 stars Highly effective
3 stars Good
2 stars Disappointing
1 star A disaster

Video Media Strategy

Axe 4 stars
Old Spice 3 1/2 stars

Old Spice topped its video effort around the Isaiah Mustafa spot by including non-traditional, female-saturated vehicles -- Facebook and cinema -- in its ad launch in February. The video ran, for example, in theaters on Valentine's Day weekend. Its TV run included placements on female-skewing cable nets E! and VH1. The clip has become an internet sensation, garnering 5.1 million YouTube views in its first 30 days, spawning numerous video parodies (some not-so friendly), an entry for Mustafa at and even a Betty White-like Facebook petition to get Mustafa to host Saturday Night Live. The popularity of the ad even led Mustafa to appear on the Ellen Degeneres show earlier this month. There was an incredible amount of buzz and blog activity around this film.

Axe's YouTube-promoted video "Cleans Your Balls" garnered close to 1.5 million views, which was impressive in that it was done without much support beyond online promotion. Axe also ran a number of brand integrations within shows. It was a featured sponsor of the College Humor prank segment on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live, for example, and bought brand mentions on NBC's "Parks and Recreation" and The CW's "Life Unexpected."

Axe actually outspent Old Spice in traditional TV three to one. It placed about 41% of its TV buy across 36 cable stations skewing towards younger, male-targeted networks such as MTV, ESPN, Spike and Comedy Central. It promoted inside the NBA and NCAA basketball play-offs. Additionally, it placed a significant budget (nearly 40%) in syndication to give it unrivaled presence in "Family Guy," "King of the Hill," "South Park" and "Scrubs" re-runs. Old Spice bought a narrower schedule of cable using 17 networks and a wide cross-section of sports broadcasts where Axe had little or no presence: NASCAR, Major League Baseball, the National Football League and college football.

Social Media

Axe 3 stars
Old Spice 4 stars

The Axe Facebook page features brand information, a "what's new" section, a sports ticket giveaway featuring NFL quarterback Matthew Stafford and news on upcoming Axe events. Its YouTube channel features recent videos relating to Axe products, particularly the "Double Pits to Chesty" skating and BMX trick.

The Old Spice Facebook page has an impressive 535,000 fans and has posted content that its fan community seems to respond well to. Its wall postings very often have a high number of "likes" and comments. Old Spice's YouTube channel had a plethora of content I hadn't seen before. I chuckled my way through it.

Old Spice is supporting its new line of deodorants through a contest in which two qualified "interns" will travel to exotic locations and report on their scent-inspired adventures through Facebook, Twitter and a blog on It is enlisting professional snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler and professional surfer Anastasia Ashley as internship mentors.

Online Advertising

Axe 2 1/2 stars
Old Spice 3 stars

Axe ran banners promoting the "CYB" campaign on sites such as Adult Swim,, PGA TOUR, The Smoking Gun, CBS College Sports,,, and Yahoo!

Meanwhile, Old Spice ran the ResidueIsEvil campaign on a combination of male-targeted and video sites such as,,, BlogSpot, College Humor,,, GameSpot, Veoh, Yahoo! and YouTube. The click-through destination was an off-putting but probably effective illustration of what residue can look like.

Branded Websites

Axe 4 stars
Old Spice 3 stars

In addition to their social media presences, both Axe and Old Spice had multiple brand website destinations.

The Axe home page is currently featuring the Axe Rise Dirty Morning Test, a pop-up site that promotes the company's new scent, Axe Rise. Axe Futbol, part of the company's Hispanic web presence, features a "find the differences" photo-hunt game.

Axe CYB is a page on featuring the full 3-minute mock-infomercial for the Axe Detailer Shower Tool.

The Old Spice home page features a promotional animation and links to several of its newest television spots.


Axe 4 stars
Old Spice 3 stars

There were some customized ads that gave Axe an impressive presence in Playboy and Rolling Stone to promote "Axe Instinct." Other titles that were run included GQ, Maxim, Men's Fitness, ESPN the Magazine, Spin and Vibe.

Old Spice ran magazine ads between September and December of 2009: Details, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Fitness, ESPN the Magazine, Maxim, Sports Illustrated and Men's Health.

Sponsorship/Event Marketing

Axe 4 1/2 stars
Old Spice 3 1/2 stars

While some of Old Spice's online and TV advertising was directed at women, its event marketing remains focused on men with sports being the conduit of choice. In August 2009, Old Spice and the NFL announced a multi-year sponsorship, while it has been an active sponsor of Tony Stewart's car and Nascar for several years now. Finally, to resonate with younger males, Old Spice also has an active sponsorship with Major League Gaming, and every Thanksgiving weekend since 2006 the Old Spice Classic college basketball tournament airs on ESPNU and ESPN2.

Axe has shown a fair bit of enterprise in creating its own branded events. To celebrate and generate PR for the launch of "Clean Your Balls" and, Axe threw a celebrity-filled party during the Sundance Film Festival. Parties and music have become big business for Axe. While many brands sponsor parties, Axe kicks it up a notch by rebranding popular nightclubs with the moniker "Axe Lounge," as it did all last summer at the Hamptons hot spot Dune, and at Miami's LIV nightclub during a weekend last February. Reaching out to more public areas, Axe scoured Craigslist and MySpace for 20 street musicians and college bands and gave them one thousand dollars to put up "Axe Instinct" signs and give out deodorant samples wherever they played. The buskers even played Cody Chesnutt's "Look Good in Leather" soundtrack from the Axe TV commercial. During New York Fashion Week, Axe promoted its "Rare Leathers" body spray by distributing it at the Duckie Brown show in leather bags.

Other Content

Axe 4 stars
Old Spice N/A

Rather than just releasing another iPhone app, Axe showed some extra flair in mobile. It created a print campaign that used mobile phone MMS functionality to encourage readers (after 9 p.m.) to text a number to Axe to complete the missing pieces of a scantily clad model.

It also launched "Pogo Xtreme" a multi-platform gaming initiative including, yes, a game for the iPhone, but also executions for the web and gaming consoles -- part of an "education" campaign to teach guys how to properly use deodorant body spray.


Axe 4 stars
Old Spice 3 1/2 stars

Old Spice pulled off a terrific online/offline video strategy around its Isaiah Mustafa Old Spice Red Zone campaign and consistently impressed with its social media programs. But Axe slam dunked the media with a high reaching and comprehensive TV and magazine program, complete with imaginative and relevant events and content, delivering a deeper brand media campaign. Axe wins in extra time.

Antony Young Young is CEO of Optimedia US, a Publicis Groupe company headquartered in New York. He is a regular contributor for Advertising Age on Brand Media Strategy. He can be followed on Twitter @antonyyoung.

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