My 16-year-old nephew has a foolproof strategy for meeting girls. First, he puts on his letter jacket signifying to young and old alike that yes, he is a member of the Pelham High School football team. Next, and this is the most important step, he liberally sprays on Axe body spray (he alternates between Tsunami and Dark Temptation). The only action left at this point is to find a place to pose inconspicuously and wait to be attacked by girls in heat.
Now, if you believe the very entertaining advertising, it's actually not necessary to be out in the open. These sprays along with a little of your innate charm (you do have innate charm don't you?) will cause women to go to great lengths to find you.
When Unilever's Axe came on the scene in the early '90s with its almost overpowering combination of cologne and deodorant (why didn't I think of that?), the appeal quickly caught on. Soon came an adjustment in its marketing to target peer-influenced 15- to 25-year-olds with the universally appealing (even if a complete fabrication) idea that by using Axe you are compelling the girl to make the first move.
The TV ads, website and engagement tactics used by Axe have been entertaining and effective and have spawned competition from Gillette and Old Spice. Even Dove recently introduced a line of men's body washes.
The men's grooming category is exploding and expected to grow from about $20 billion this year to $28 billion by 2014.
Recently, Old Spice created a winning series of spots using former football player Isaiah Mustafa, who urges men to "smell like a man, man." The spots got millions of hits on the Internet on sites like YouTube, and Mustafa became an overnight sensation, even going on "Oprah" to parody the spot and talk about its popularity.
Even though Axe owns a little more than half of the market share, with sales of more than $50 million in the U.S. last year, the Old Spice commercials target a slightly older man and imply that there might be a progression as you grow into their product.
From my perspective, it's just fun. It's the reason I fell in love with advertising in the first place -- from the Hai Karate aftershave ads when I was a kid (instructions in self defense were in every package because you needed to defend yourself from aggressive women after using the product) to the Old Spice spots where the nerdy guy took lessons from the manly man who always got the girls with no problem. Of course, the only lesson was: Use Old Spice.
The advertising and websites are entertaining, but what really drives the innovation is the competition. When brands find compelling messaging and create effective communication that drives sales, the competition is usually right behind them. The market leader gets the early sales and market share, and then innovation and differentiation create a dynamic in the category that usually benefits the consumer by creating more choices, a better product and, in some cases, even lower prices.
I would love to see the same dynamic happen in other categories. Certainly, when the Japanese began to build better cars, American manufacturers were forced to build their products better.
But back to body sprays and washes.