campaign tactics

Axe Saves Face With Skincare Line as Brand Gets Ready to Head to Space

Posted by Dale Buss on April 3, 2013 01:02 PM

The idea of launching the Axe Face Line with a Facebook promotion obviously was too literal. So the Unilever brand is launching its new line of facial-care products instead with a "Facescore" campaign on Tumblr as a social face-off, supported by ads running on various media websites — and, of course, a presence on Facebook too.

In doing so, Axe is entering a segment of the men's care business of the first time — a more challenging territory than when it had a fairly singular focus on helping young guys simply smell great so they could attract hordes of women.

The launch of the Axe Face Line—including a face wash, shave gel, and post-shave hydrator in four variants—also gives the brand a chance to circle back to promoting Unilever's "Astronaut" marketing platform for the Axe brand (and Lynx brand, in certain territories) grand giveaway of 22 trips to space in 2015.

"Research has shown that a majority of guys don't use facial cleanser; they reach for bar soaps or shampoos or other things to wash their face," Mark Link, Axe US brand manager for Unilever, told brandchannel. "We're launching [the Face line] to address their skincare needs."

Axe's Tumblr "Facescore" promotion invites the public (men and women) to upload their own head shots and vote on others' faces to give them "Face Wins."

The brand chose Tumblr for the launch of its digital campaign "because it's a very visual medium" compared with Facebook, Link explained, "and it's all about people posting pictures and flowing through the idea of voting on different elements on the site."

Axe's YouTube channel also just premiered a new spot featuring a female coffee-shop barista confronted by a uniformed "astronaut," just as previous spots have featured an Axe "astronaut" on the beach, in the bedroom or at a March Madness basketball game. But when he slides away his face mask, presumably to reveal a mug nurtured by Axe Face cleansers, she drops the cup she is holding so she can caress his face instead. The tagline: "New Axe Face Range. Face Care for Heroes."

"Getting guys to care about their faces in general is one of the last remaining white spaces that exist within men's personal grooming," Link commented. The face also "is the part of the body that astronauts actually can show while they're suited up. That fact helps me build on the [space campaign] buzz for Face."

The brand's hero worship made headlines earlier this year, when Axe (and its Lynx counterpart brand in some parts of the world) announced ahead of the Super Bowl it would send more than 100 contestants to a "space camp" for culling out and then propel the 22 winners aboard a plane-like craft that is being built by Space X into the stratosphere.

Expected to penetrate the great beyond in flights beginning in 2015, the seemingly Red Bull-inspired stunt to support the Axe Apollo product line has attracted more than half a million (more than 540,000 so far) applicants for the contest to attend the first branded space academy, with an extended deadline of April 27 to apply.

While the campaign has caught on around the globe—attracting more than 20,000 contestants from the Philippines alone—it has stumbled in at least two aspects.

First, it neglected to secure an airtight trademark for what it's billing as its "space camp" and "space academy," whose uses are owned by a commission that runs the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

For decades, eager American wannabe astronauts have competed to attend the renowned space camp there. Unilever reportedly offered $350,000 to settle the issue, but normally the Huntsville museum charges $1.5 million to license the use of one of "space camp" or "space academy."

A Unilever spokeswoman told brandchannel that the company had reached "an agreement" with the space museum but said that "we can't comment on financial details." (No word on how NASA feels about the use of Apollo in the product brand names, or in the Axe Apollo Space Academy or A.A.S.A. and Lynx Apollo space campaigns, which kicked off in January with a faux press conference featuring real astronaut Buzz Aldrin.)

Unilever also is faced with a more persistent and bigger issue: confusion over whether women would be allowed to participate in the contest.

While Axe clearly is a brand bathed in testosterone and geared at men, the brand hasn't forbidden women from applying for spots on the space flights and has stated that they're eligible to win.

Yet the campaign language implies that it's open to men only, based on the tagline at the Axe Apollo and Lynx Apollo contest websites—"Leave a man, come back a hero."

That message is reinforced in ads running on websites such as Buzzfeed, where the Axe brand is sponsoring content such as "pets that defy gravity" and "15 guys that could use a trip to space."

Still, just as Filipinos will likely get their space astronaut, expect at least one of the final winners in the first Axe/Lynx Space Academy class to be a woman too.

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