Axe body spray and the target audience “trap”

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

9 December 2015

Axe body spray and the target audience “trap”

There are many gears that must work in unison to make a brand work: A compelling promise, consistency of message and the ability of the brand to fulfill the promises, etc.

Here is another: Clearly define who your target audience is. That means you must also say who is not your target audience.

Think about Axe body spray, the body spray that has taken the industry by storm since Unilever launched it a few years ago. For many of us, its juvenile, women-go-absurdly-crazy-for-the-dudes-wearing-it brand feels utterly stupid.

But most of us are not in the target audience.

Make no mistake about it. Axe knows who it is for.

It might not be for you.

That’s why when I saw a print ad, for example, that shows two bowling balls soaked in suds with the headline, “Wash Your Gutter Balls” or hear about the video campaign centered around “How to Clean to Your Balls,” I know immediately it’s not for me.

But in every focus Axe has – packaging, messaging, social media, etc. – it strives to resonate with the same target audience over and over again: Teenage males. It does it without variance with the knowledge that the rest of us find it silly or even that some may be appalled.

“Think about Axe body spray, the body spray that has taken the industry by storm since Unilever launched it a few years ago.

For many of us, its juvenile, women-go-absurdly-crazy-for-the-dudes-wearing-it brand feels utterly stupid.”

The Axe target audience, however, finds that the brand speaks directly to them. One of my co-workers has two teenage boys that swear by the spray. (Although, interestingly enough in terms of an appalled target audience, they make the boys go outside to spray it.)

The target audience is male, find things slightly off color to be funny and allows them in on the joke (which has a powerful pull), and even places them in a sexual environment they don’t find as absurd we do and even seems less threatening because of its mocking, absurd style.

Men’s toiletries as fashion

Smart. Very smart.

Where will Axe Body Spray go from here?

If Axe, as some reports have suggested it might, expands its brand to attract a larger audience (say, going after males in their 40s), its market share would shrink.

The core demographic would not believe in its “specialness” anymore, and the older one would not give it permission to speak emotionally to them.

Some might call that a trap. I call that a brand.

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