Scientists Prove the 'Axe Effect' Is Real. Sort of

Unlike the Risque Ad Campaign, Women in Scent Study Never Actually Smell the Deodorized Men

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Could the Axe effect be real?

By now everyone is familiar with ads for Axe deodorant showing women chasing men who use products from the Unilever personal-care brand. And a new study in the U.K. by Craig Roberts, a University of Liverpool professor who focuses on the role of scent in mate choice among humans and mice, indicates that there might be a whiff of truth in it. The research found that men who used Lynx deodorant, Axe's British-brand cousin, were seen as more attractive by females than men who used a "placebo" deodorant with no fragrance.

While the study found that men who used Lynx deodorant, Axe's British-brand cousin, were seen as more attractive than men with no fragrance, no women in the test group went to unusual lengths to get the men they found more attractive.
While the study found that men who used Lynx deodorant, Axe's British-brand cousin, were seen as more attractive than men with no fragrance, no women in the test group went to unusual lengths to get the men they found more attractive.
Does it pass the sniff test?
Of course, the findings might not pass everyone's sniff test, because the women didn't meet the men face to face, so technically did not smell them. And the effect was not quite as profound as those portrayed in ads globally over the years from agencies Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Lowe. No women in the test group went to unusual lengths to get the Lynx-wearing men they found more attractive.

But the research indicates a statistically significant proportion of the women did find Lynx-wearing men more attractive than their non-deodorized peers when they watched 15-second videos the men made describing themselves. The fragranced men got an average rating of 4.2 on a 7-point scale, 0.4 points higher than the 3.8 recorded for the wearers of placebo deodorant.

The study, to be published in an upcoming edition of the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, covered 35 heterosexual men in their 20s. About half were given an unmarked can of Lynx fragranced spray deodorant, and the other half got the placebo -- an unmarked can of spray deodorant with no fragrance. All the men were asked not to bathe for 48 hours, after which they made their videos.

In an effort to control for the innate attractiveness of the men, the women also rated photos taken of the men. The fragranced men's attractiveness rating was 27% higher in the videos taken after they used the deodorant than in their photos.

Self-confidence
Men also graded their self-confidence before and after the 48-hour trial. Those in the unfragranced group showed a slight and gradual decrease in their self esteem, according to Unilever, while those in the fragranced group had a slight boost in their confidence.

The confidence gap apparently was what made the difference for the women, said Monica Garcia, a consumer scientist for Unilever in the U.K. "We wanted to know if this confidence would actually translate into anything that's really brand relevant," she said. "And we saw that link, which was a really nice bonus we got out of the study. ... Deodorant is supposed to make you feel good about yourself and give you confidence in the mating game, which is what Axe says."

One caveat: The Axe effect could evaporate when men open their mouths. Women rated the fragranced men as more attractive when the sound on the videos was off, but had no statistically significant preference when the sound was on.

That clearly indicates body language played a decisive role in making the fragranced men more attractive, Ms. Garcia said. "One way you could look at it is that the Axe Effect works as long as you're very quiet," she joked, though she added: "We shouldn't tell the guys not to speak. ... Inevitably, what you say will also contribute to your overall attractiveness."

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