Axe, Old Spice in Fragrance Fray

Unilever's High-End Scent Opens Fresh Front in Battle for Men's Personal Care

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Axelab's marketing is naughty. OS Signature's is Nice.

Nice Ltd., New York, developed the package and store displays for OS Signature, a mass fragrance from Procter & Gamble's Old Spice, along with print advertising in October magazines with a conventional fine-fragrance feel. The ads feature fashion models on a tropical beach and are designed for guys who have "a laid-back confidence that women find irresistible," a spokesman said.

Unilever's rival scent AxeLab is a lot more lean-forward. "It seemed like if it's called AxeLab, there needs to be an actual lab," said William Gellner, group creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, which created the ads but was also instrumental in developing the product, including helping select the fragrance and package developers. "In this lab they will conduct various sorts of sexy experiments. Their mission is to be the leaders in pharma-sexual research."

scientific methods

To introduce the brand, the company opened "labs" in-store last week in Milwaukee and Indianapolis that will expand to six more cities next month for one-week runs.

In the labs, test subjects get computer terminals where they can buy cologne online. Some of the "experiments," such as suggestive inkblots, carry over to the magazine ads breaking in November. The brand's website, axelab.net, allows "virtual experiments." In one, a subject exposed to high doses of the scent rubs her thighs together so vigorously that smoke rises.

The divergent tacks come as Axe and Old Spice-the leading combatants in a widening war for supremacy in men's personal care-take to, er, higher ground, or at least higher price points much more lofty than the norm for men's mass fragrance.

The prices may be high, but expect plenty of baser notes, particularly from Axe, which is outfitting Playboy Playmates and other women in white lab togs. "It's not Axe in a can selling for $20," Mr. Gellner said. "It's a fine fragrance in a different league. So it's a different way of communicating about the brand."

Unilever already claims Axe has unseated Old Spice as the leading men's deodorant-which Procter & Gamble Co. roundly disputes-and Axe has been closing in on Old Spice's lead in men's body wash. AxeLab, priced at $22 to $28 but still sold at mass retailers such as Wal-Mart, takes on Old Spice's last bastion of undisputed supremacy in the $1 billion-plus mass cologne and aftershave market.

AxeLab marks a return to high-end fragrance, if not department stores, for Unilever, which last year sold its prestige business, including such brands as Vera Wang and Calvin Klein, to Coty.

P&G, meanwhile, is defending its turf with OS Signature, priced at $18 to $23. The "masstige" entry supplements and uses the same fragrance house as a growing P&G prestige business that includes Hugo Boss and Lacoste.

"You have more lifestyle fragrance brands like this in Europe, and we think there's an opportunity for that in the U.S.," a P&G spokesman said.
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