Axe asks tough questions to fight toxic masculinity in brand pivot

Dive Brief:

  • Axe, the Unilever brand of body and grooming products targeted toward younger males, asks tough questions in order to "break the cycle of toxic masculinity" perpetuated by negative stereotypes in a new campaign called "Is It Ok For Guys?," per a news release.
  • "Is it Ok for Guys?," which includes a YouTube spot, is part of Axe's larger "Find Your Magic" initiative encouraging Axe users to express their individuality beyond cultural norms and traditional definitions of manhood. "Is it Okay for Guys?" asks fans questions men actually turn to Google for, including whether men can be emotional, wear makeup or experiment sexually.
  • The campaign was created by the agency 72andSunny Amsterdam, and features a hashtag #isitokforguys. Axe is also partnering with the nonprofits PromundoThe Representation Project and Ditch the Label to drive awareness, discourage bullying and do things like campus tours. 

Dive Insight:

Axe repositioning its messaging makes sense in the context of larger cultural forces impacting marketing, but still seems risky for a brand that's long built a reputation on advertising around traditional masculine stereotypes and has also frequently been accused of selling sexism. Millennials and other young demographics have been shown to be more receptive to socially conscious marketing and authenticity, but whether that audience intersects with Axe's core following remains to be seen.

Recent history has also proven that not every bid to attach a brand to progressive messaging works as intended. Dove, another Unilever brand and one known for celebrating diverse types of beauty, found this out the hard way just a few week's ago after new body-positive packaging for its body wash was met with harsh, widespread criticism on social media.

And, of course, Pepsi's now-infamous Kendall Jenner protest ad was deemed a tone-deaf failure in attempting to co-opt social justice movements to sell a brand product. Axe's initiative seems more proactive, however, touring campuses with nonprofits, battling bullying and conducting research to spread awareness about negative masculine stereotypes. 

Filed Under: Social Media Video Corporate News