Unilever’s Axe is trying a new approach from Interpublic’s MullenLowe, Los Angeles, with a “Don’t Overthink It” campaign that hearkens to its roots of humor and heterosexual pursuit.
The campaign, which kicked off with a 30-second spot on NBA games Monday, marks the brand’s first U.S. TV support since August, per iSpot.tv estimates. Brand spending, at least on TV, has fallen for two straight years, totaling just under $10 million the past 12 months vs. $39 million the prior year and $52 million the year before.
While MullenLowe long has been part of Unilever’s global agency roster, MDC’s 72andSunny, Amsterdam, has taken the lead globally and in U.S. work since the “Find Your Magic” campaign launched in 2016. While 2019 figures aren’t yet complete, Axe’s share of U.S. men’s grooming sales fell from 21.9 percent to 19.7 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to Euromonitor.
On the agency move, Axe Brand Director Mark Lodwick advises to, well, not overthink it. “I wouldn’t read into it any more than it is,” Lodwick says, noting that MullenLowe “historically have been a roster agency. We had a unique opportunity to say, ‘What can we do in the U.S. that’s really grounded and rooted here, and who’s the right agency within our roster to take up this challenge?’ And we really liked what they came up with.”
With “Find Your Magic” Axe diverged from the humor and “babe magnet” ads it was known by for decades into more cerebral work encouraging men to get past gender stereotypes. More recent ads veered back toward humor, slapstick and the heterosexual chase, albeit via longing glances rather than the old jokes about Axe scents turning women mindlessly sex crazed. But they kept the “Find Your Magic” selling line.
That tagline is nowhere to be found in the new “Don’t Overthink It” work, in which Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook makes a cameo appearance as a disembodied Fathead image. It’s a combination of slapstick and heterosexual chase with a clear message to scrap the cerebral part and just use Axe body spray as a way to combat body odor and attract women.
It’s part of a broader campaign aimed at Gen Z males that includes branded content developed with agency RanaVerse in which Westbrook headlines a cast of social comedy creators that include King Bach, Donte Colley, Salice Rose, Kenny Knox and Mytypolife.
“We took a look at our business and asked, ‘What do we need to do to evolve our approach?’ and decided it was time to have our own U.S.-specific creative,” Lodwick says. “We asked, within confidence and attraction, which are the roots of the brand, is there an insight that would specifically resonate with Gen Z?”
In that process, he says, the phrase “Don’t overthink it,” kept bubbling up, Lodwick says. “Guys said they would begin to have moments of anxiety and self-doubt about themselves and talk themselves effectively out of making the first move to have that conversation.”
Axe survey research shows 42 percent of U.S. teens find the rules and advice around modern dating confusing. Axe has turned to Westbrook and the social-media team to help clarify things as a broader social content effort kicks off next week. In that vein, Axe earlier this year also paired in a social content partnership with Netflix show “Sex Education” around dating-related subjects.
Capturing Gen Z males is crucial for a brand now roughly a generation old, 18 years since its U.S. launch.
“The brand is a classic recruitment brand into the category,” Lodwick says. “What we’re doing is just evolving for that next generation.”