"Those are really powerful brands for young people, and we want to behave like them," Mr. Rubin says. "The way an 18-year-old talks about iPod-I want him talking about Axe that way, too."
It's a philosophy that has Mr. Rubin, 33, hanging out with teenagers at late-night movies in Chicago or Orange County, Calif.; watching Fox's "The O.C." with them; or tagging along with anthropologists in Pittsburgh to delve into teens' sex lives.
"The locations are not traditional focus groups," Mr. Rubin says. "It's about us going to them, getting our guy in his environment, where he's going to be the most comfortable."
The result has been everything from sexy TV ads to bathroom posters featuring "Pit Man," a walking, talking armpit-not to mention the travels of Quinn, the mannequin from an Axe ad who has "written" a column for Playboy.com. Unilever has spent more than $100 million since the August 2002 launch of Axe.
Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, led a campaign including humorous ads starring Quinn. PR was handled by Edelman, Chicago. All that has propelled Axe to $150 million in annual sales and, in the 12 weeks ended in August, an 8.1% share and No. 3 rank in the U.S. deodorant category, according to Unilever.
Mr. Rubin has worked on Axe since planning began to bring it to the U.S. more than four years ago. His work has helped hook him on Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox. But he's also a marathoner. While he isn't sure he can beat former Unilever Co-Chairman Niall FitzGerald, Mr. Rubin, with an eye always on the pop culture prize, notes that he beat P Diddy in the New York Marathon.