Axe Produces a Reality Show for MTV

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The deal: Unilever’s Axe and ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty produce a scripted-reality show for MTV.

Why now: The series is the latest evolution of Axe’s entertainment efforts, which began with a string of popular commercials, games and a Web series for 18- to 24-year-old males.

NEW YORK -- Over the years, ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty has garnered a huge following among young men for Unilever’s Axe brand by creating witty, wry and smart commercials that capture the absurdities, pitfalls and truths of dating.
Axe continues to be a leader in branded entertainment as it gets ready for the premier of 'Gamekillers' on MTV. The brand is never mentioned on the scripted reality show.

Now the New York agency is taking its talents into a new realm. For the first major marketing push behind Axe Dry antiperspirant stick, the agency has teamed with production company @RadicalMedia to create a one-hour show for MTV that premieres Feb. 6.

'The Gamekillers'

Called “The Gamekillers,” the scripted reality show hybrid pits real-life contestants against various characters who all share an uncanny ability to prevent date-seeking young men from achieving success with women.

The TV show’s concept “all started the same way any ad campaign starts," said Kevin Roddy, executive creative director, Bartle Bogle. "We developed a brief, a strategy. Then we put it into a [creative] team. The team came up with the idea."

Game-killers are certain types of people who work against young men trying to get the girl. For example, there’s the Mess, whose favorite pastime is lighting his flatulence -- funny alone, but deadly with a prospective date; the Mother Hen, the matriarch of every female's social circle who keeps the girls together; and the One Upper, the guy who responds to a casual mention of a recent mountain-climbing trip with a saga of his last summit of Everest -- sans sherpa.

BBH and @RadicalMedia

Bartle Bogle and Unilever partnered with @RadicalMedia, which helped take the project to MTV.

The production company "told us about the [Axe campaign] that also had the makings of a good program,” said John Shea, exec-VP, integrated marketing and brand partnerships, MTV Networks Music Group. “They pitched a general idea of what a show might look like. We thought it might have great potential. It’s really scripted reality.”

@RadicalMedia also recently produced a mockumentary Web series for the Ford Fusion sedan and branded entertainment projects such as Grey Goose Vodka and the Sundance Channel’s “Iconoclasts” TV series and the “Meet the Lucky Ones” Web series for Mercury.

TV show production is not wholly unchartered territory for ad agencies. Back in 2000, WPP Group's JWT, in conjunction with production company 3 Corners, developed a show about outdoor activities titled “No Boundaries” that featured sports utility vehicles from JWT client Ford Motor Co.

Unique approach

But Bartle Bogle’s approach to marrying entertainment and brands is markedly unique. Axe Dry doesn’t appear in the show, but all the campaign's marketing elements, such as “The Gamekillers” characters, its visual look and typography, appear prominently in the show. (The campaign breaks a week after the show debuts.)

"The whole show is about making a brand statement without mentioning the brand," Mr. Roddy said.

From Axe’s perspective, TV made sense for several reasons, said David Rubin, Axe’s brand development director, citing “The Gamekillers” rich characters and the potential for onscreen interactivity. MTV was an appealing partner because of its audience and multiple platforms. Combined, the concept and the network was considered a perfect way for the company to reach its target demo of 18- to 24-year-old males.

TV is also the next step for the company, which has aggressively embraced entertainment as a marketing tool, most recently by launching the video-game series “Mojo Master” and the popular Web series “Evan and Gareth,” which was viewed by more than 3 million people.

Axe is also in the midst of producing three short films with ProMotion Pictures that it will distribute on the Internet and via video-on-demand.

'A growing model for us'

“In the past, we’ve used video games and video blogs, and we’ve seen them get picked up as genuine content,” Mr. Rubin said. "[Entertainment] is a growing model for us.”

Though not Axe’s first foray into TV -- years ago the brand sponsored the Axe House Party on Spike TV -- this is its deepest involvement to date.

Axe funded the production of “The Gamekillers” (though Mr. Rubin declined to comment on how much money is involved) and owns the content. MTV brought air time and marketing support. The show, which will have online components at, on the cable channel’s broadband site, MTV Overdrive, as well as on wireless platforms, will be followed by an advertising campaign launching Feb. 12 that includes traditional and interactive print ads, bar media, promotions, radio and TV spots.

William Gelner, group creative director on Axe at Bartle Bogle, believes that Axe’s audience appreciates the subtle approach of the brand’s appearance within the content.

"We are creating a program that’s from the brand’s point of view -- these characters that get in your way from the goal of getting the girl -- but we allow the guys to piece it all together. They can see the show, then see the ads that follow."
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