Alan Jope, chief operating officer of Unilever Home and Personal Care, North America, called Axe the leading global men's deodorant brand and said he thinks it can be the product that pushes Unilever ahead of rival Procter & Gamble Co. for leadership in the antiperspirant/deodorant category here, a position Unilever already holds globally.
Double-digit market share
Mr. Jope told AdAge.com that Axe has double-digit market shares in many key global markets, including the U.K., Germany and France.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, will be agency of record for Axe in the U.S., though Mr. Jope said creative for a TV and event-marketing campaign, likely to break this fall, will be drawn from work by Bartle Bogle and
Mr. Jope said Unilever may draw entirely on existing overseas copy for Axe or produce new ads for the campaign breaking this fall.
'Time is right'
"We've been getting our business right for [this launch in the U.S.]," he said. "And the time is right for this product."
He said Unilever tests show 80% of young men in the U.S. indicate an interest in using the product, and 50% say they would use it in addition to their existing antiperspirants.
"Guys right now are spending $7.7 billion a year [on grooming products], and that has been growing very rapidly, so that by 2004 it will be more like $8.8 billion," Mr. Jope said. "It's becoming acceptable for guys to groom themselves more."
Axe follows by two years the launch of Unilever's Dove, which began the company's efforts to gain share leadership in North America. That effort, combined with countermoves by P&G, Colgate-Palmolive Co., Gillette Co. and others, have made antipersperants and deodorants among the most hotly contested corners of package-goods marketing over the past year.
P&G, which has been on guard for the Axe launch for more than a year, earlier this year launched an aerosol version of its leading men's brand, Old Spice, along with new gel and "Cool Contact" wipe versions.
Bartle Bogle is 49% owned by Bcom3 Group, which is set to merge with Publicis Groupe, owner of Saatchi & Saatchi, which is the agency for Old Spice.
P&G's stated conflict policy allows for rival brands to be handled by different agencies in the same holding company, but a P&G spokeswoman could not be immediately reached for comment by press time.