Axe: Clean Your … What???

In efforts to promote the new Axe Detailer, the Axe brand (a men’s hair and skincare line) launched a controversial commercial campaign on Jan. 11, 2010.  This 2:45 video titled “Clean Your Balls” is essentially a satire on a typical home shopping commercial in which a two attractive spokeswomen, Denese and Monica, educate men on the importance of keeping and maintaining clean “equipment.”

The commercial showcases suggestive scenes in which the women clean soccer balls, golf balls and tennis balls while reciting sexually-charged one liners that are meant to garner audience attention.  The video concludes by flashing a telephone number (1-877-3AXE-BALL) across the screen like a traditional advertisement and adding the “Clean Your Balls” slogan.

This type of overtly evocative advertising has caused quite a stir among viewers.  On the video hosting site, Mahalo, audiences have opinions across the board.  One 15-year-old spectator expressed that she wished this type of commercial was available only on adult channels or after certain times at night so that people her age wouldn’t be exposed to something so “disgusting,” while another blogger posted that this type of humor was an excellent marketing tool because younger viewers would not understand the underlying sexual connotations involved.  Is there a right answer?  Does a public relations expert have a responsibility not to offend every viewer when promoting a product?

In my opinion this type of controversial advertising is pertinent in causing enough of a stir to garner significant attention from a large cross-section of the general public. While the Axe “Clean Your Balls” campaign is arguably offensive, its sex-sells mentality and adults-only subtext are exactly what this progressive brand needs to sell this “invention” that is no different than a loofah or a sponge.

What do you think?  Is there an line that must not be crossed in the public relations arena … or are we free to publicize however we see fit?

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17 Responses to Axe: Clean Your … What???

  1. cbaumgar says:

    This blog addresses a great topic that none of the other posts have discussed yet. I can see it from both sides — Axe’s target audience is adults who understand the sexual undertones but they must also be conscious of those who are younger and understand.

    Do you know what channels this commercial was shown on? I think networks and channels such as MTV and ESPN are appropriate to show these kinds of commercials with sexual implications. I think most kids who are in high school and above will understand the sexual content of the commercial. The comment from the 15-year-old girl is probably common for many teenagers, especially girls, and should be a concern for PR professionals. Although they may not be your target audience, they are directly affected by the messages you disseminate. In turn, if a teenage girl is offended by your commercial, what if she tells her parents — they may now choose not to buy your product. It is a concern that PR professionals must take into consideration.

  2. bajohn10 says:

    I had never seen this commercial before your post, but I thought it was hilarious. After thinking about it for some time, I agree that Axe should think about when they wish to air this. Although some children might not understand it, I think it would be an over generalization to say that all children would not get it — they are smarter than we can anticipate.

    That being said, I do not believe that Axe should quit promoting the ad. Instead, I think a solution to this is to continue to promote it as a viral video. That way, people can send links to one another, and it will likely be seen by the appropriate audience. Seeing that this video has more than one million views, it looks like they are well on their way to a great turnout.

    I think Axe has a reputation of “crossing the line” and it shouldn’t stop here.

  3. alervin says:

    It is impossible to please everyone. No matter what sort of campaign is run, there will most likely be someone who is offended by the content. I think that public relations and advertisers should monitor their audience to get a general idea of what they find acceptable or offensive.

    It can also be attributed to social and cultural differences. For instance, there are billboards of topless women in France — nobody is offended. But then in some parts of the Middle East, a woman can’t even show her hair without offending someone. I think in the United States, we aren’t as progressive as we would like to think. Americans are easily offended with sexual content, and are more “uptight” than many parts of the world.

    But this is how it is in this country, so public relations and advertising professionals have to be aware of it. Maybe this commercial should be advertised in other countries, or maybe just on the Internet.

    Personally, I think it is pretty funny, but I could see how some people would be offended.

  4. bmalex says:

    Wow, I was really surprised at how far that video went when I first saw it. I think we’re all familiar with the “sex sells” mentality, but in my opinion, this is taken to a whole new level. The Axe ad didn’t even attempt to tip-toe around the provocative sayings or ideas but rather just came out and said it. What a surprise.

    Sara, I definitely think there is a public for this ad, and this ad would be received well by that group of people. And I agree, like many of us probably do, that sex does, in fact, sell. I’ve seen it on TV shows like The Apprentice or in magazine ads like People. So, good job, Axe.

    But I would throw out some caution flags and push back on Axe for running the risk of offending consumers in a big way. If I were a parent and my young child ever saw an ad like this on TV, I’d be furious because it’s inappropriate for children. Axe needs to be careful where to place this ad and maybe limit it to online or targeted late-night media buys.

  5. shuscher says:

    I agree with Sara, I think ads like this are great at grabbing attention and giving people something to laugh at. Obviously, Axe is trying to target males in their teens and 20s. This is the perfect type of campaign to reach that demographic, because most men around this age will enjoy this type of raunchy humor.

    Unfortunately, the side effect to this is that parents may find it offensive. But honestly, these days I’ve seen suggestive commercials much worse than this. As long as this ad doesn’t appear on the Disney Channel, I don’t really see a problem. Sometimes people may not like what you’re saying, but if it works for your target audience, it’s worth the risk.

  6. jweishar says:

    Although some may disagree, there are values and morals involved in PR and I don’t think Axe had those in mind when they made this commercial. I think the whole idea is ridiculous and really inappropriate. Usually with things like this, it’s not so blatantly obvious what they’re saying. For example, the Dentyne Ice commercials are clever but still a little edgy. Here’s the link for the commercial:

    On the other hand, I think Axe accomplished what they wanted — to get people’s attention and to make them interested in their product. I just think they could have gone about it in a less dishonorable way.

  7. kmcasey1 says:

    It’s very difficult to know where to “draw the line.” Everyone has different views on what they think is appropriate. I personally thought the ad was funny and didn’t take much offense. However, I do understand why the commercial has caused such a stir. I think that if the commercial was aired during certain time slots for certain shows it would reach the right audience.

    For example, the ad should not run on the Disney Channel but instead maybe on FX that has some racier shows. I agree that some younger audiences wouldn’t understand the the sexual innuendos, but I’m sure that some young kids would. That is why it’s so hard to please everyone because everyone has different backgrounds and upbringings which help formulate people’s opinions and views.

  8. pperryve says:

    I agree that there are values and morals involved in PR. However, I believe that those morals maybe refer to doing business and not what is included in a campaign. People who work for condom companies and alcohol companies sometimes create provocative ad campaigns. It is not up to a PR professional to decide whether their ads are appropriate for all viewers, they develop them, and that’s it. There is a place for censorship but it does not lie in the realm of PR.

  9. kzinn says:

    The purpose of PR can often be to attract attention, create “buzz,” get people talking. This is exactly what Axe set out to do. From a PR perspective, you can’t blame them for that. They got people talking with a provocative ad that now has their product on the minds of many across the country. In terms of crossing the line, Axe is certainly teetering. There is no way to please the public at large and we are definitely more desensitized to sex than we once were and thus, I think that is what makes this ad successful. I have seen far more provocative things in the media that involve no innuendo, just pure sex, making them less intelligent and less thoughtful. I believe Axe does a good job of blurring the line and has jump-started what I see as a successful ad campaign.

  10. slarsonm says:

    Axe has a reputation, mentioned in an earlier post, of being provocative and almost crossing the line. That said, I have never seen this commercial before today and I think it is brilliant.

    True, it is blatantly sexual, but that is what gets noticed. If it were a boring ad, it wouldn’t be talked about and wouldn’t do what it is supposed to, which is to sell product.

    There is a time and a place for ads like these, and I agree that ESPN, FX, and other networks whose audiences are more adult should be able to run ads like these. But honestly, even on network television, shows like House and Desperate Housewives present content that is sexual and sometimes crosses a line. But our society has accepted it for what it is, and chooses to watch it or not. Therefore, I think it is okay to air, but only at certain times and during certain shows.

    This is similar to the Old Spice campaign someone blogged about earlier this semester. Though not as blatantly sexual, they are selling the same product. And both are generating buzz. It will eventually become a viral sensation, just like Old Spice, and more people will laugh at it than not. So, I think this is a successful campaign.

  11. kdaoust says:

    Yeah, I have to say that this commercial is pretty ballsy (no pun intended. No, really.) But it’s not like they’re playing it on the Disney Channel or Cartoon Network.

    I think Axe has some brilliant people in their marketing department who came up with this campaign. Why? Their audience is (I’m guessing) late teen boys to 40ish men, and as long as they’re getting a positive reaction from those guys — who cares about the others? Yes, that’s a bit of a cutthroat philosophy, but honestly, I think it works. Their audience is more than likely to get a kick out of the commercial, and that might get them to buy their product when at the store.

    Axe had to come out with something big and balls out (there I go again) to compete with the infamous viral marketing videos of the Old Spice Guy. The only way they were going to compete was to come out with something just as catchy –a nd radical if they wanted to get some buzz.

    It worked. So I say, props.

  12. kpang says:

    When I first saw this Axe commercial, I must say that I was quite taken aback at the sexual undertones — or should I say overtones — that they portrayed. I can easily see how people would be offended by the content of the commercial, and completely agree that it should not be exposed to a young audience, but in a medium such as television, it is nearly impossible to filter content and control who sees what. I think that companies need to take this into consideration when producing commercials. If brands want to be witty and suggestive, there are other, more obvious ways to do so, like in the Dentyne Ice commercials mentioned above.

    Axe took a risk with these ads, and although they offended some people along the way, in the end they were successful in creating buzz and getting people to talk about their brand and product.

  13. fspangeh says:

    Thanks for including the link; I had not previously seen the commercial. I agree that it was a good attention grabber however, I can see why some people are offended by its raunchiness. There is a definite target audience and should be limited to more risqué channels rather than family show timeslots. I do not see a problem using sex in PR to appeal to a certain audience but it needs to stay within the appropriate audience. The Axe commercial is appropriate for college students but should not be targeted to children. There is not one-size-fits-all approach to PR and different audiences require different approaches to gain attention.

  14. jjmock says:

    I think with these commercials Axe reached the audience they wanted: 20 to 30-year-old males. I think these commercials are directly aimed at this group and this type of humor is a great way to reach this audience. In the end, PR is about reaching your target audience and I don’t see this commercial overstepping any boundaries.

  15. mbgiles says:

    Axe clearly knew what they were getting themselves into when they ran this commercial. It was provocative, controversial and clearly offensive to enough people that it garnered attention. The old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” was probably a driving factor in the decision to produce this commercial. There is no denying that sex and controversy sell and all in all, I think Axe ran a successful ad campaign because of the attention paid to it.

    On a personal level, I am disgusted and sometimes even offended when I see commercials comparable to this. As jweishar said, there is a more tasteful, less ostentatious way to run a sexy, successful ad campaign. Dentyne Ice did just so with this commercial While it is definitely suggestive, it is still tasteful.

  16. latipton says:

    Your advertisement, slogan or campaign is never going to please everyone. I like this. If I would have seen this pop up during my commercial break, I would have laughed. Axe is quite popular for ads that may seem inappropriate to a large number of young viewers or possibly more conservative adult viewers. This is why I think that the commercials should be strategically placed on adult shows that kids are not likely to watch. And going back to my most important point, you’ll never please everyone.

  17. jmjohn27 says:

    I agree with you. It may be offensive or not suitable for younger audiences but so are R-rated movies. In my opinion, children shouldn’t be watching Spike TV or Comedy Central anyway. If this is where Axe’s target audience is then it is smart (or at least not bad) for the company to market in any way that is going to get attention and set themselves apart from their competitors. If their target audience is adults, what’s wrong with using adult humor to attract them? I think it is a smart idea. My boyfriend actually told me about this commercial before I read this blog and he told me how funny it was. I’m not sure if he ran out and bought Axe, but the fact that it stuck with him enough for him to pass it on to someone else makes it a success in my book.

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