Axe’s Attempts to Appeal to Women Are Laughably Insulting

What Women Really Think
Jan. 11 2012 12:25 PM

Axe Attempts to Appeal to Women, Fails Miserably

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A bottle of Axe body wash.

Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for AXE

The New York Times reports that Axe, after years of telling teenage boys that they can turn women into sex-crazed sluts by dousing themselves in body spray, is now releasing a scent for women. Axe Anarchy is being rolled out with an advertising campaign so tone-deaf and unappealing that one wonders whether anyone at Unilever or the ad agencies it employs has ever met a woman in real life, or if they’ve learned everything they know about the other half of the human population from Hollywood and pornography.

In a teaser released last month, an attractive male bank robber and an attractive female police officer appear to engage in an exciting chase on foot—but they end up running towards each other and into each other’s arms. (Wow. Did not see that coming!)

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The tagline is “Nothing will ever be the same again,” which appears to have been chosen for maximal irony, given that this spot rehashes some of the oldest and stupidest tropes about gender relations. Consider that the woman in this commercial has been cast in the position of authority, while the man is an outlaw—a nod toward the notion that men are animalistic hedonists and that it’s a woman’s job to control and restrain men’s urges. Consider, too, the female police officer’s pouty lips, buxom figure, and high heels—and the fact that she tears layers of her clothing off over the course of the 30-second spot—and this commercial begins to resemble the intro to a hardcore skin flick for police fetishists.

This, and another TV commercial that depicts the world descending into chaos as attractive men and women find themselves inexplicably drawn toward one another, highlights the double standards of the world of Axe. In Axe’s commercials for men’s fragrances—which you can read about in more detail in this "Ad Report Card" from the Slate archives—conventionally attractive women become so intoxicated by the scent of Axe that they literally throw themselves at not-so-conventionally attractive men and even mannequins. The humor, to the extent that it can be called that, relies on the assumption that women are inherently asexual and need to be tricked or stupefied into wanting to have sex.

But the Axe marketing team is so used to deferring to this cartoonish and offensive stereotype of what men want that it has no idea how to do anything else, which is why its attempts at marketing to women fall flat. Talking to the Times, members of Axe’s creative team didn’t even pretend that they were really interested in genuinely appealing to anyone other than men with the new ads. The creative director behind the new campaign explained that “[g]irls in Axe advertising will always be a little better-looking than the guys,” so men watching the new commercials won’t feel “threatened.” (Thank God!) And Axe’s brand director, Barret Roberts, smugly told the Times reporter, “We’ve been hearing for some time that females have been asking for and looking for their very own scent of Axe.”

A tiny hint to Mr. Roberts: Most women I know prefer to be identified as people, not “females”—and most people, men and women, can tell when they’re being insulted.

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. Follow her on Twitter.