If You Thought Axe Ads Couldn’t Get Worse

This one proves you were mistaken. Before fifteen minutes ago, I was blissfully unaware of this ad. Now I’m forever tainted.

You can also see it on YouTube by clicking here or on the little YouTube logo in the corner of the vid.

If you would like to spare yourself, a brief synopsis: The setting is a social gathering – perhaps a party. The camera follows a man walking through a room full of people- we see his back. As he walks through the room, a woman comes to attention, stands up and trails after him with a determined look on her face. The man exits the main party room; the woman does too. They’re alone now. She is very close to him. The first (and only) bit of dialogue we get is her saying, “I just want to bury my face in your backside.” The man half-turns at her words, but before he reacts more than that, she turns him back around, bends him over and begins running her hands through his hair as she sniffs it. He looks partially stunned, partially confused and partially aroused while she does this. Then the commercial cuts to a quick shot of the product with a voiceover of “get some hair action with Axe shampoo.”

Wow. Just … I didn’t think Axe ads would ever leave me at a loss for what to say. So much is wrong with all their ads, but this one? How is this acceptable in any way? It’s squicky enough on its own, but imagine it with the gender roles reversed to get the full magnitude of how gross and wrong this tiny little fifteen second spot is. I can’t see how it’s okay because it’s the hot woman bodily forcing herself on a man and not vice versa, and there’s no actual, physical harm being done. It’s doing nothing short of glorifying assault.

Am I overreacting? It’s not like Axe is renowned for anything but sleaze. Appalling, obvious sleaze. This ad is horrifying.


  1. Nialla says

    I consider the “Axe Effect” to be a potential sleaze alert system. The ads don’t even need Smell-O-Vision to convey the level of sleaze.

    It also smells awful, especially when guys use it in lieu of soap and water.

  2. sbg says

    I don’t know why anyone would want to parody something like sexual assault, let alone a freaking marketing department/company. Axe is generally made of fail; I had this idea in the back of my head that even they would have a line to not cross.

    I’m sad that I was wrong.

  3. says

    I think there’s a commercial for Secret deoderant which has the same form–a woman checks into a high class hotel and calls in a bell-boy. She’s going to wear a high fashion, shiny black gown out on the town (one assumes). She pushes the bell-boy’s shirt up and runs two deoderants down his chest to decide which of the two is not going to leave a white film on her long black dress. It still makes me very uncomfortable watching it. I’m glad I haven’t seen this particular Axe advertisement.

  4. sbg says

    Gategrrl, that one has always skeeved me too. Like, it’s not necessary to exert power over someone to … determine your clear anti-perspirant actually is clear. I think it’s the self-satisfied way the woman struts around in her gown afterward that really tips me over the edge.

    Karakuri, yes. That is an example of how it can be done successfully. Frankly, though, it should never have been attempted. There is nothing kinky about the set-up Axe created, no cue at all for us to think this might be something other than a random encounter between strangers.

    As a woman, if some dude followed me into an empty room and proceeded to grope me like that? I would be fighting and screaming.

  5. SunlessNick says

    The body language clearly implies a gender-swapped parody of sexual assault, and that isn’t something that holds up well in parody.

    Considering how many of Lynx ads (seeing as the ads are the same, I assume this is the British brand name of the same product as Axe) choose imagery centered on women having their free wills erased or reprogrammed, it could be argued that it implies a parody of assault in both directions. Or, and perhaps worse, that it implies assault according to apologism myths.

  6. WemaShore says

    there are few conventions for my generation to break anymore–there are no original movies (if you want success, write a screen play), and the style of performance is so fractured and eclectic that there is no way for things like advertisements can break out. since there are no more legitimately original ways to make yourself stand out through convention/breaking convention–how to you rebel against the norm if the norm is rebellion?–our methods of being heard are drifting to shock value.

    there is a really good article Susan J. Douglas (u. of Michigan) that discusses this sort of thing. she calls it “Enlightened sexism: “woman’s success” means it’s fine to resurrect–even celebrate–sexist stereotypes”

    it is a really good article if anyone wants me to send it to them.

  7. says

    WemaShore, same thing was said about my generation. The 80s was all about opulent waste, rampant consumerism, “Greed is good”, Eddie Murphy and SNL saying things you used to not be allowed to say, Madonna slinking around like a woman of ill repute, etc. It was all SO SHOCKING, but then so were the Beatles and Elvis’ thrusting pelvis, and before that, so was the jitterbug. I’m pretty sure *every* generation gets accused of Shock!Horror! by the one before, so does shock value really get anyone heard? I really think it’s expected. Ultimate irony there.

  8. sbg says

    Honestly, though, I’m not convinced they were going for a shock value response here. I think they were going for a “wow, look guys – women will be all over you if you use this shampoo, isn’t it awesome?” approach, not really considering for a second it could be viewed as something disturbing on a much deeper level. I mean, I’m shocked either way – if they didn’t care it was assault played opposite of the norm or if they didn’t think about it.

    But I’m not shocked by the sleaze at all.

  9. WemaShore says

    haha, i guess you’re right, jennifer. i guess i was speaking from a performance studies point of view–there really are few conventions left to break. in forms of expression of earlier centuries, if you wanted to freak the h out of people, you would instruct your actor to sit down on stage. but now we–both our generations, our century–are used to seeing stark nudity and (perceived) sexual perversion presented on a silver platter.

    i think that you are right and that i was less right (not that it is a competition). i don’t think the shock value is really what they were going for.

    but without conventions to stick to and to play it safe with, and faced with the challenge of making oneself heard, advertisements (in my opinion) deal with a liminal space.

    and sbg, i think you’re right too. that they broke no conventions and yet made (at least three) people really uncomfortable for reasons completely unconnected to shampoo (until now) is far more revealing than i think i gave it credit for at first.

    thanks you two.


  10. Charles RB says

    Every time I see ads like that, I think of the Andy Parsons gag “Lynx: for the cheap, teenage smell of desperation”. They’re not even _trying_ to appeal to people who aren’t gullible and desperate.

  11. Jenny Islander says

    Axe/Lynx is the TV equivalent of those spam e-mails that offer a surefire way to get any woman you want into bed.

    I kind of like the competitor’s ad that features teenage boys saying things like, “If they can’t smell me from around the corner, it isn’t strong enough,” and selling the competing product as something a grown man with some taste would wear.

  12. Robin says

    I hadn’t seen that particular Axe ad before. It’s… icky, to say the least. My initial reaction was pretty much, “Did she really say–? That’s not okay!!!” Assault just ain’t funny in my book.

    I do enjoy the current Old Spice campaign, because it’s clearly meant to be over-the-top in a silly way. I also liked one from a few years ago — can’t for the life of me remember which brand, but mocking Axe’s pitch — featuring a woman walking closer and closer to the camera while repeating “I don’t want to smell you from here,” until she got very close indeed. That’s a sentiment I can get behind for men and women.

  13. sbg says

    I hadn’t seen that particular Axe ad before. It’s… icky, to say the least. My initial reaction was pretty much, “Did she really say–? That’s not okay!!!” Assault just ain’t funny in my book.

    That’s it exactly, Robin. It’s one thing to know that Axe/Lynx is marketing directly to adolescent types with their shallow “this stuff is a literal babe magnet” shtick … but this one? It’s awful.

  14. Jen says

    There’s a Lynx advert where a man walks by and women (two at a time) RUN at full speed into each other violently and combine explosively to become one ‘perfect’ woman. It’s to advertise some kind of dual lynx fragrance where one isn’t enough, you need both smells at once or some shit.
    It’s a very violent advert.
    Can’t find it on Youtube. Here’s a recent one though.
    A man pictures all attractive ladies in their underwear. When he uses Lynx, the ladies can’t help but picture him in HIS underwear! genius! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAIt6Z8aW6M

  15. Patrick says

    I just saw another Axe ad on Hulu (during ExoSquad, for some reason). It seems comparatively inoffensive at first – guy is chatting up a woman who seems bored with him, robot arms give him a shave and haircut and she becomes interested. Then he’s dropping her off at her place, the robot arms give him another makeover and she invites him upstairs.

    The voice-over narration then advises us the “Women get bored easily, so blah blah blah…”

    I don’t think there’s really anything I can add to that.

  16. SunlessNick says

    Yeah, that hit British screens a while back. I never saw the voiceover part of it though… ugh indeed.

  17. says

    Here’s the new Axe print campaign in Germany. The title is: Makes women rash, not your skin. Somewhat clunkily translated. There were complaints to the advertising council, but they were rejected since:

    “The ad campaign contains erotic elements, but not in a way that women are debased or discriminated against. On the contrary: the woman takes the dominant position on the poster. The playful-provocative way that seduction and the relationship between men and women are incorporated allow for a more ironic reading.”

    And regarding the online game – Use your hands skillfully:

    “The online game deals with seduction in a comic manner: men flying (without planes), the woman changing several times. At no point is the woman shown in a submissive or debasing position.”

    And the fact that you mostly see her behind, never see her face?

  18. says

    Originally Posted By The Other Patrick
    “The ad campaign contains erotic elements, but not in a way that women are debased or discriminated against. On the contrary: the woman takes the dominant position on the poster.”

    And the fact that she’s been rendered “rash” by the product and therefore isn’t fully in control of herself? Not exactly dominant, fools. This is a really old trope from movies – it was debasing then, and it’s debasing now.

  19. sbg says

    I wish I owned a dictionary and encyclopedia set in which whatever I wanted things to mean and be, they could. What a wonderful world that would be … for me.

    Best thing: everyone else would always be wrong.

  20. Steven says

    I just found this page by googling the partial phrase “I want to bury my face in your”… simply because I couldn’t figure out what the last word was that she says. Granted, I had the volume pretty low because my wife was sleeping. I’m surprised that the comments on this page are from over a year ago… and I just saw the ad now… because that means they’re still running this offensive piece of crap ad.

    I didn’t get the sexual assault angle. Probably because I was so confused since I didn’t get what she said. But you people are right, that if the roles were reversed we’d expect it to be an opening scene from Law and Order: SVU. Rape isn’t humerous in any fashion. Reversing the roles is only conceivably funny BECAUSE the makers (and those that approved, paid for, acted in, etc) at some level accept rape as “normal”. That’s the only way that reversing it could be “abnormal” and abnormal is the only way they can conceive it as humerous. I know I’m not articulating my feelings very well… I’m not really sure how to word it. But in general… as a marketing professional myself, my advise (obviously) would be to never associate sexual assault with your product in any way, shape, or fashion. It just simply can’t end well. At absolute best you don’t offend some people. Its really not going to impress anyone.

    It would have been real easy to “fix” the ad simply by having the guy be OBVIOUSLY into the girl (and act) and not have him look somewhat horrified.

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