Now speculation is growing that Unilever will launch its No. 1 male deodorant brand, known as Lynx in the U.K. and Axe in the rest of the world, in the U.S. in the next year to compete with brands from marketers such as Gillette Co. (Right Guard), Procter & Gamble Co. (Old Spice) and Colgate-Palmolive Co. (Speed Stick).
The long-running seductive Lynx Effect was created five years ago by Bcom3 Group-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, London. Spots have featured a nerdy young man whose girlfriend, Jennifer Aniston from "Friends," happily irons his shirts, and an unprepossessing guy who enters an elevator after a Lynx-wearing hunk and is mobbed by women when the scent clings to him.
Last year's Axe/Lynx campaign, "Ideal Woman," was a big winner on the international awards circuit with quick cuts of women and lines "women never say but men dream they would," said Ben Fennell, group business director for the brand at Bartle Bogle. Lines include, "You forgot my birthday. I'll have another one," and a provocative "Can my best friend join us?"
TV spots that broke this month compare the Lynx Effect to animals' less-appealing practices. In one, a young man enters a restaurant, sticks a raw fish in his mouth and rubs slimy fish all over a beautiful young woman's face, supposedly a mating ritual of the black-tipped seagull. "Thank goodness humans have the Lynx Effect," intones a voice-over.
There are clues indicating a U.S. entry. Unilever has withdrawn marketing support for its Brut gift sets, possibly to make room for similar Axe products. And in trademark-registration activity, names like Axe, Axe Apollo and Axe Xerxes are surfacing. Last year, Unilever introduced a deodorant version of Dove in the U.S. for women.
Executives at Helene Curtis, the Unilever division that would handle a U.S. launch, declined to comment except to say that Axe/Lynx is the company's largest global deodorant brand. Mr. Fennell said he didn't know whether the brand was coming to the U.S., or if it would be handled by Bartle Bogle's New York office in that event. Should Bartle Bogle handle a U.S. Axe/Lynx launch, however, it would give the agency a brand directly competitive to P&G's Old Spice. Bcom3 sibling Leo Burnett Co. handles P&G business, though not Old Spice, which is assigned to Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi.
Gwyn Jones, Bartle Bogle's managing director, said his agency's growing relationship with Unilever hasn't posed any conflicts with P&G business at Bcom3, which has a 49% stake in Bartle Bogle.
"Our autonomy within the Bcom3 Group is completely intact and sound," he said.
To see the future Unilever hopes to create for Axe/Lynx, visit one of the two Lynx Barbershops opened in London late last year, where men can get a facial or a shave with new Lynx-branded razors, watch MTV and play video games. In the last year, Unilever extended the Lynx body spray and deodorant into shaving products and shampoo in the U.K. Lynx-a longtime brand in the U.K.-claims a 35% share of the male-grooming market.
Unilever is so pleased with the Lynx Effect that this month Bartle Bogle beat Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Lintas & Partners in a pitch for the $19 million international launch of next year's Lynx/Axe fragrance. Unilever introduces a new variety every year, a task usually handled by Lowe Lintas. The company also recently moved the pan-European account for Impulse, the female body spray, to Bartle Bogle from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, London.