Ad of the Week: Axe Peace, Call To Arms

Can a deodorant spray bring about world peace? Even for just one day? The new spot for Axe from BBH London marries some lofty ambitions with a fresh demonstration of the power of the ‘Lynx Effect’

Can a deodorant spray bring about world peace? Even for just one day? The new spot for Axe from BBH London marries some lofty ambitions with a fresh demonstration of the power of the ‘Lynx Effect’

The commercial (titled Call to Arms) promotes a new version of Axe (known as Lynx in the UK), Axe Peace. In a number of vignettes, potential conflict is averted by the power of a modestly-priced deodorant spray to bring hot men and women together. Hooray!

 

 

But wait… at the end of the decidedly tongue-in-cheek spot, a logo for Peace One Day comes up (the organisation which campaigns to establish an international Peace Day once a year), while a voiceover intones ‘Make love, not war. Axe Peace.’

CR readers may be familiar with Peace One Day via its relationship with D&AD – Peace One Day was the organisation which entrants to the inaugural D&AD White Pencil were asked to help promote. Unilever (owner of the Axe brand) also has a relationship with the organisation. It is a founder member of the Peace One Day Corporate Coalition, a group of companies supporting the organisation and its aim to establish September 21 as a day on which “a child will not be bullied, a woman will not be hit, a gun will not be fired”.

The Axe ad, then, is what this kind of CSR-related activity looks like in practice. When brands talk about harnessing their power ‘for good’, this is how it plays out. Along with the commercial, there is a print campaign (below) and there will be various unspecified complementary local activities, we are promised.

 

 

So the ad has two functions – to raise awareness about Peace One Day and to sell more Axe body spray. How much it is weighted in the cause of one or the other perhaps depends on your level of cynicism.

Can an ad for a deodorant spray bring about world peace? No, of course not, not directly anyhow. Can it raise awareness of an organisation that is trying, among other things, to create breathing space in conflict zones during which progress toward conflict resolution may happen or help may be given to those caught up in conflict? Certainly. And that’s important. Peace One Day founder Jeremy Gilley makes the argument rather well in the Axe PR bumf when he says “awareness of peace is everything. Awareness inspires action, and action creates change”.

Charities and not-for-profts have to compete for attention and resources just like everything else. Certain causes become fashionable and get themselves onto the agenda of those in power. Activities like this help in that process. If you take the ad at face value its ambition seems faintly ludicrous, but when seen as part of a wider push to establish a worthwhile project, enlist young people and lift Peace One Day up the decision-making agenda, it has real value.

But what about Axe?

The Lynx (Axe) Effect was a powerful, memorable line which positioned the brand perfectly in the eyes of its adolescent male audience. Recent campaigns have moved away from its cheeky, successful positioning. Of late the ads have felt rather oblique and self-referential, or in the case of last year’s Apollo ad, downright bizarre.

In Call to Arms, the love aspect of the spot suggests a development of the brand’s unfeasibly powerful effect on womenkind but the charm and out-and-out comedy of previous ads is missing. It also plays very safe in its targets – Vietnam, a Gadaffi-style dictator, the Prague spring? Contrast this with what Benetton has done when advocating peace.

Perhaps the problem here is the CSR element. Lynx/Axe’s great strength was that it didn’t take itself too seriously but Peace One Day is a very serious enterprise. The press release describes Call to Arms as an “epic campaign which aims to bring young people across the world together to make love, not war”. BBH’s goal, we are told, was to get Axe users “to start thinking of peace as cool. By shifting their perceptions, hopefully it will lead to a behavioural shift too. More love, less conflict.”

It’s an awful long way from the brand’s initial promise of ‘spray this on and you’ll pull’. Too far, perhaps?

 

Credits:
Agency: BBH
Deputy ECD: David Kolbusz
Creatives: Daniel Schaefer, Szymon Rose, Jack Smedley, George Hackforth-Jones
Product design: Rosie Arnold
Director: Rupert Sanders
Production company: MJZ
Print photographer: Jean-Yves Lemoigne

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