Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Smelled like teen spirit.

Our youngest, a strapping lad of 15, has selected his aftershave, an adolescent male rite of passage. He’s picked a tony designer brand, for which I’m proud of him because it evinces some taste. And because it isn’t Axe. It is ever so much more pleasant having a teenager around when they don’t smell like the inside of a taxi.

Axe was an instant cliché. The brand’s proposition was Hai Karate redux: Spray this on yourself and score. And the disarming clarity of that predictably led to a similarly direct advertising strategy: Show a guy spraying this stuff on himself and (almost) scoring. So primitive. So universal. What teenage boy could resist? How could it possibly fail?

Well, of course, for a while there, herds of these lumbering ids bought the pitch. Or, at least, they figured anything that couldn’t hurt and might help was worth adding to mom’s grocery list. Soon, high school corridors reeked of a potent mix of Axe and hopeful testosterone. It got so bad that you began to see news reports of fragrance bans in schools, if you can imagine.

But the flaw in all this was that teenage girls watch TV, too.

What knucklehead really thought that blatantly and publicly telling boys their aftershave was chick-bait was a durable strategy? Not one that knows the first thing about women, that’s for sure. Maybe not even one that’s ever been on a date. As junior junior sagely put it, “Now, girls say, ‘oh, you’re wearing Axe…,’” in the same tone of voice they might use to observe mayonnaise on your chin. Even in grade ten, Axe has become a badge of desperation.

Well, I’m enjoying this all very much. Especially since, this week, a sensation at the Cannes Festival of Utter Social Irrelevance is an exhuberantly puerile promotion for Axe (called Lynx elsewhere). Quoting from the award show entry: “Lynx's problem was that guys 17-25yrs were dropping out of the brand because they perceived it to be for their younger brother (sic). Lynx needed to actively engage 17-25yrs males.”

Might be too late, boys. It seems the girls those guys are trying to impress are on to your game. And so are their little sisters.

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