Males aged 18-24 are the primary target for Unilever's Axe, which built a $50 million business in the U.S. last year for its body spray. Ironically, Church & Dwight Co. is also targeting college students to give a new lease on life to an orphan brand it bought last year from Unilever, Close-Up toothpaste.
College-age consumers are often making purchases on their own for the first time and "developing brand loyalties," says Jeff Frumin, CEO of Universal Consulting.
But the age group is harder to reach with TV than others, Mr. Frumin says. So Universal has organized for Johnson & Johnson's Acuvue contact lens brand a 10-month "RV Road Trip" aimed at letting college students experiment with different eye colors, while also tying in sampling for O.B. tampons and Clean & Clear skincare.
Axe has been one of the most successful at hitting the target, says Michael Wood, VP-research at Teen Research Unlimited. "If you were to ask college-age guys three years ago if they were interested in a spray-on body spray, they'd look at you like you had three eyes," he says. "Today, sales are pretty much going through the roof."
Late-night TV has been part of a media picture that also includes radio spots on Westwood One's risque sex talk show "Loveline." The radio spots mock trial-lawyer commercials they run adjacent to by urging callers to get redress for sexual harassment due to their Axe usage. Restroom posters in college bars have focused on "Pitman," a walking, carousing armpit that pitches Axe Dry antiperspirant.
David Rubin, senior manager-Axe brand development at Unilever, recalls visiting a college bar recently with his wife and pulling her into the single-stall men's restroom to see a Pitman ad. Bartenders told her she was the second woman that day taken in to see the ad.
`WE'RE TALKING SEDUCTION'
"We're talking about hooking up and seduction, but we're doing it with a wink and a smile and a certain wit and cleverness that you don't often find in that genre," says William Gelner, group creative director at Publicis Groupe-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, which handles Axe.
For Close-Up, targeting college-age men and women aims to give the brand a niche where rivals Colgate-Palmolive Co.'s Colgate and Procter & Gamble Co.'s Crest can't easily follow, says John Yengo, partner in Barefoot Advertising, Cincinnati, which handles the brand for Church & Dwight.
Close-Up began in April by sponsoring spring break events, such as a contest where couples on stage roll dice, one listing body parts and the other types of kisses, to come up with combinations such as "butterfly kiss on the navel." The event garnered coverage on Viacom's MTV.