Luxon bucks convention and takes no-sweat approach for men's Degree

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"Learning to love risk" was the title of a Unilever corporate training initiative a couple of years back. But for Christopher Luxon, brand-development director of the company's Degree antiperspirant, it's also something of a personal creed-and inspiration for an ad campaign about guys who do precisely the opposite.

Hoping to jump-start Degree for Men, the 2-year-old variant of the gender-ambiguous brand, Mr. Luxon advertised it on the Super Bowl for the first time, breaking with the tradition of men's deodorant ads heavy on jocks or sex in favor of very odd action figures.

The ad introduced "Mama's Boy," a grown-man doll who lacks the gumption to part with his mother. He's the first in a series of "In-Action Heroes" for Degree, soon to be followed by the Wuss and the Suck-Up and sponsorship of the World Series of Poker on ESPN. Online ads direct users to, where they can place advance orders for the dolls (Mama's Boy comes with a magnetically attached Mama).

"We spoke to a lot of consumers about what it was to be a man, and what we discovered was that taking calculated risks to live a life without regrets was the really big thought and a big motivation for a lot of men," Mr. Luxon said.

The In-Action Heroes are about poking fun at those "other guys" who avoid risks in the name of selling Degree to risk takers. "The point," he said, "is showing men their worst nightmare."

risk management

To do that, Mr. Luxon managed another risk-switching from Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe, New York-known for its well-chronicled troubles and serial restructurings.

Lowe already handled Rexona, Degree's global sibling and the world's biggest deodorant brand, outside the U.S. "Clearly for us, there are big synergies," Mr. Luxon said. But beyond that, he believes Lowe's work has been strong in deodorants. "We asked them to give us very creative, standout, attention-grabbing advertising," he said, "and they certainly delivered."

"You can't shake up the world without a client who wants to," said Dean Hacohen, exec VP-creative director, Lowe. "Christopher Luxon champions the unorthodox. ... He's out to make things happen."

The 34-year-old New Zealander joined Unilever at 22 and made a five-year stop in Australia before moving on to London in the late 1990s to lead a efforts to counter Procter & Gamble Co.'s rollout of Secret in Europe and Latin America. He uprooted his wife and two children last year to relocate to Chicago for the U.S. relaunch of Degree.

But at least part of his heart-and two antique British Riley autos he's collected-remain in New Zealand. While he loves the Midwestern friendliness of Chicago and dreams of visiting all 50 states in the family Ford Explorer, his children still have Kiwi passports and he entertains dreams of someday becoming New Zealand's global brand manager.

focus on consumer

Before that, more risks lie closer. Unilever is restructuring its global management and its two biggest deodorant competitors in the U.S. and globally-Procter & Gamble Co. and Gillette-are merging. No sweat, Mr. Luxon said.

"The big thing we have to do, regardless of what's happening in the competitive environment and within the Unilever environment, is just to keep focused on the consumer," he said. Unilever has its problems, but deodorant, where sales have doubled globally the past seven years, isn't one. "The challenge for us," he said, "is to keep our heads down and keep doing what we're doing well."

Embracing risk is part of that-and something Mr. Luxon believes separates Unilever ads from those of P&G. "They have a much more functional, traditional approach that I think doesn't lead to deep emotional connections [or] great advertising," he said in an interview shortly after arriving in the U.S. last summer. "You can't systematically create inspiring, emotionally engaging advertising. You really have to have the consumer running in the bloodstream of all your marketers."

Just Asking

Q. What's your dream job?

A. My ultimate job would be as minister of tourism and trade for New Zealand. That would be the ultimate brand manager's job - at some point.

Q. Degree is for both men and women - are you afraid of turning off women with your ads for men?

A. If you're a brand for everyone, I think by definition you're a brand for nobody. ... We want it to be like a brother and sister with a very strong family resemblance.

Q. What's the strategy in merging Degree [a Helene Curtis brand acquired in 1996] with Rexona, an existing Unilever global brand?

A. It wasn't just mindless globalism to simplify our brand portfolio. The consumers, be they in Argentina or New Zealand or here, all want top performance. When you can start conversations that start with the consumers first, that's a powerful way to drive convergence.

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