For Axe star, it sure helps to think like guy

Q&A: Unilever's Zelen mixes young men's fancies, market research

By Published on .

jneff@crain.com

Behind the axe man is a woman. It's Alison Zelen, 36, who confesses a guilty pleasure in scrapbooking even as she mines marketing insights from fantasies of teen and 20-something males. As director-consumer market insights for Unilever deodorants, she's helping drive a brand that has exceeded Unilever's fantasies.

Why don't you want to be called a market researcher?

I really consider myself a marketer. ... It's really about the expertise and getting to know your consumer.

How is Axe's research different?

There's this whole consumer connecting concept. It's pushing so that the brand team really gets who this person is they're marketing to ... pretending to be the consumer and do what they do ... so we can get off the drug of market research and numbers, and ... make decisions. With Axe in particular, we have stopped validating the way we used to because we're building this collective gut.

Can you really rehabilitate a package-goods type to do this?

We really look for a good balance. It's a challenge to find, but I personally think it's the future of what you'd call the market-research industry.

What's it like being a woman doing research on Axe?

I think like a guy. The stuff I do these days, or have done, I could never do at another company.

What's been your biggest surprise with Axe?

I thought there was going to be more controversy and objection [over Axe marketing]. And there isn't. I think it's because we did our jobs right.
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