How Unilever Joined GQ to Put Axe and Dove Next to Target Menswear

Style-Focused Partnership Gives Conde Nast Role in Shopper Marketing

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Deodorant pops up in an unusual place: The Target men's clothing section.
Deodorant pops up in an unusual place: The Target men's clothing section. Credit: Jack Neff

Spending on shopper marketing has grown faster than anything but digital and social media for packaged-goods players the past decade. But traditional media companies rarely get a piece of the action, which usually involves temporary price reductions or other deals along with in-store advertising and the battle for precious end-cap display space.

A new program from Unilever's men's personal-care brands at Target breaks from the usual shopper-marketing approach on several scores. It ties in with Conde Nast's GQ, (including placing magazines in the displays) and puts men's personal-care products in the men's clothing department. The program is meant to rely more on the element of surprise than price discounts. And unlike most CPG promotions, it has no set end date, said Matthew McCarthy, senior marketing director of antiperspirants and deodorants at Unilever, who's led the effort that also involves Unilever's skincare and haircare brands.

"Part of this is that we're learning with Target and GQ. And if it does well, you can rest assured that we're continuing this and will build on it," Mr. McCarthy said, noting that MindShare and Mindshare ESP are also involved. He's pleased that the program, started in July, is now in 1,800 Target stores (out of more than 1,900), with initial sales results looking positive, including the number of shopping carts that have Target apparel along with Axe, Dove, Vaseline, Suave or Clear products.

While the program does involve a media buy -- special advertising sections created by GQ Design Group featuring Unilever products and Target fashions -- GQ's involvement goes deeper.

Mr. McCarthy said he's been working to expand the relationship with GQ beyond media buys in recent years, including early involvement in the recent launch of a new fragrance -- Axe Gold Temptation. While the Target idea originated with Unilever based on a challenge to try new approaches at retail, he said, GQ helped shape the program. "We're sharing more of our insights with GQ," he said, "as a way to come up with ideas of how to engage guys in new ways."

Putting personal-care products into men's apparel departments had appeal on a couple of fronts.

The idea was to help men "develop their own personal sense of style," he said, by linking fashion and personal care. Joining such brands as Axe or Dove Men+ Care with GQ and Target's "fashion forward" Mossimo and Merona brands, potentially creates some cross "halo" effects that helps all the brands. Joint advertising sections in GQ are meant to advance the "personal style development" approach further.

"You don't typically expect to see clothing brands together with men's premium face moisturizer," Mr. McCarthy said. "But they bring something together from a branding perspective."

From a joint Unilever and Target advertising section in GQ.
From a joint Unilever and Target advertising section in GQ.

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