Unilever's Axe effort warps into reality show

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Can an ad campaign be the genesis of a TV show? Can an ad agency be a major branded-entertainment creator? Can a major client like Unilever be persuaded to back an hour of programming even though its brand will never get an overt mention in the show?

Bartle Bogle Hegarty has proved that the answer to all of those questions is yes, with the creation of "The Gamekillers," a new show on MTV that has its genesis in the agency's work for the Axe brand.

Over the years BBH has garnered a sizeable following among young men for Unilever's Axe brand by creating amusing commercials that riff off young men's attempts to attract a member of the opposite sex. Now the New York shop has teamed with production company Radical Media to create a scripted reality show that pits real-life contestants against various characters who all share an uncanny ability to prevent date-seeking young men from achieving success with women.

"Gamekillers" are certain types of people who work against young men trying to get the girl. For example, there's the Mess, whose favorite pastime is lighting his flatulence; the Mother Hen, matriarch of every female's social circle who keeps the girls together; and the One Upper, the guy who responds to a casual mention of a recent mountain-climbing trip with a saga of his last summit of Everest.

The show, which premieres on MTV on Feb. 6, is the first major marketing push behind the new Axe Dry antiperspirant stick. But, unusually for branded entertainment, Axe Dry doesn't actually make an appearance. Instead the "Gamekillers" characters and the show's visual look and typography will be tied to the brand when they appear in an ad campaign that breaks a week after the show makes its debut.


"The whole show is about making a brand statement without mentioning the brand," said Kevin Roddy, executive creative director, Bartle Bogle. He said the show's genesis was like that of any ad campaign-with an idea, a brief matched to the idea and a creative team being handed the project. Then Radical was brought in to help produce it and take it to MTV.

John Shea, exec VP-integrated marketing and brand partnerships, MTV Networks Music Group, said: "The production company told us about the [Axe campaign] that also had the makings of a good program. They pitched a general idea of what a show might look like. We thought it might have great potential."

Axe funded the production of "The Gamekillers" and owns the content. MTV brought air time and marketing support. The show will have online components at MTV.com and on the cable channel's broadband site, MTV Overdrive, as well as on wireless platforms.

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