Axe, the male personal care brand that made its name partly on puerile advertising, is trying to grow up.
The Unilever NV-owned brand is launching a new line of products, including body wash, antiperspirant and shampoo, aimed at an older target consumer.
The "white label" line is aimed at men around the age of 25 – as opposed to the classic black label products, which represent the unofficial (and overpowering) scent of high school hallways everywhere. Unilever hosted an event in Montreal last week, and will host another in Toronto on Monday, to announce the launch.
The expansion of Axe's target demographic is part of a wider shift for the brand that began in earnest with this year's Super Bowl.
Unilever's big-budget Super Bowl ad for a line called "Peace" eschewed the usual advertising strategy of showing gorgeous women incapacitated by lust for men who used the product. While the heroes of the Super Bowl ad still wooed women, it had a more earnest tone.
"This is a continuation of the maturing of the brand that started with the Peace campaign," said Jess Grigoriou, marketing director for hair care and deodorants with Unilever Canada. "... I think you'll notice a more mature tone [to the advertising]. Less about the guy getting the girl, and more about the guy himself, how he feels, and the confidence that he exudes."
It's the first time Axe has explicitly catered to a consumer as old as 25. It started with the scent, which Ms. Grigoriou said is "fresher, cleaner and lighter" than the trademark musk of its original product. It is designed for the first phase of adulthood, "where [customers] feel that they might have outgrown the brand a bit," she added.
It's an important strategy for Axe: If the company can convince men to stay with the brand for a few more years than they might otherwise, they will expand their consumer base. The "mature" line will also cost a dollar more than the traditional black line of products.
Ms. Grigoriou would not say whether the company is considering attempting to market to men through more life stages. That's something other brands have attempted as well. For example, Kraft Canada has been attempting to sell more Kraft Dinner by convincing adults to see the macaroni and cheese as a vehicle for childhood nostalgia.
For Unilever, the idea is not just to sell to a more mature consumer; it seems to be moving toward more mature advertising as well. The "Peace" campaign was hardly a progressive marvel – it simply showed men in loving relationships with women that they appeared to value – but it was an improvement, even if the bar was set unusually low. The marketer plans to continue with its new tone.
"When we look back at where we were, it was definitely a tongue in cheek, playful look at the dating game," Ms. Grigoriou said. "... We're trying to move into a new stage where confidence for a guy means confidence in himself."