I am intrigued by what the global VP of Lynx/Axe, Rik Strubel, calls "the biggest re-positioning of the brand in the last 20 years", in a recent Marketing column. Check out the first global ad in this re-launch campaign below on the blog, or here.
Now, the words "re-positioning" should set your alarm bells ringing. It is a horribly hard trick to pull off, with few examples of success, as it involves trying to break the "memory structure" associated with the brand. Revitalisation, where you refresh what made you famous, is easier to do and is actually what I recommended for Lnyx/Axe in this post back in 2010.
Below I use some revitalisation frameworks from the Grow the Core book to work through what Axe has done.
1. The brand balancing act
Managing any brand requires a balance between freshness and consistency. Consistency comes from creating, amplifying and reinforcing a series of distinctive brand properties to help build memory structure linked to a clear positioning. You then need to refresh the brand's presentation to keep it contemporary, as done with incredible success by James Bond.
To help figure out the right balance between freshness and consistency, it helps to take a hard look at the health of the category, and then the brand (see below). In the case of Axe, the male personal care category is pretty healthy. Therefore, we would only recommend such a radical re-positioning of the brand was in sharp decline. Perhaps the Axe business is weaker than I thought? Already back in 2010 I posted on UK sales dropping 2%.
2. Look back, look forward With an idea of how much change is needed, the next task is to look back at what made the brand famous, look forward at trends, and look at the competition. I am guessing that this is at the crux of the Axe branding challenge.
Looking back, the brand became famous with the idea of "grooming men to seduce", by providing "products explicitly designed to help you get the girl". Fragrance was at the heart of this, including using perfume experts to design products. Then there was the signature Axe style: provocative, laddish, funny and irreverent. You might not have approved of the stuff the brand did, such as this film about "cleaning your balls", but boy it was distinctive.
Looking forward in terms of market trends, the analysis from my 2010 post still seems relevant:
"The big challenge for Lynx is the scary way the teen male consumer has moved on. This generation want to dress in expensive Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch gear, not Top Man. Their aspirations are much higher. And if we look forward, this is likely to continue as a trend. With this in mind, the Lynx pack now lacks style values and seems even a bit cheap.
Also, I wonder if the style of humour in the Lynx brand is past its sell-by date. In the UK we call this humour "laddish": over the top, sexist, women as sex objects etc. Another unsavoury truth could be the rise of internet porn. Young boys no longer need a Lynx ad or website to be titilated. They can find much harder stuff a click away if they want to, whereas before it was on the top shelf of the magazine rack."
And the same in terms of the comments on competition from the 2010 post:
"Direct competition is also a challenging area for the brand. There is fellow Unilever brand Sure. But also the arrival of Dove for Men. In addition, P&G have bought Gillette and are pushing the deo part of it hard. Then there is Nivea. And L'Oreal. All of these brands have a huge advantage in their deo performance credentials: the product "sausage". They are high-tech Formula 1 machines. Unfortunately, this leaves Lynx starting to look like an out-dated Formula 3 car with an under-powered engine.
Beyond deo Lynx is also competing in image terms against the fine fragrance brands like Calvin Klien and Polo Ralph Lauren. If I was picking a birthday present for my 16 year old nephew I'd get a Polo gift pack, not a Lynx one."
Net, the brand faced a massive challenge back in 2010. Given a lack of revitalisation since, I can only guess this has got more severe.
3. What to keep, add, update and loose?
Based on the work above, you can then create a renovation brief like the one below I've done for the Axe re-positioning. This flags up a few of potential issues for me.
First, regular readers will know my first question: "Where's the sausage?"! For the last 20 years Axe's marketing has combined a product sausage, fragrances that help you get the girls, and the emotional sizzle of a distinctive tone and style. The new communication is all about the physical and mental attributes of the portrayed Axe users who are "finding their magic". The brand's "The Axe Effect" is no longer the catalyst or hero.
Second, doesn't the communication feel much less distinctive? We've lost the irreverent, laddish humour without creating any new distinctive brand properties.
Third, the re-launch is at first sight only using "the image wrapper" of communication. The products and packaging in the end shot look the same.
Net, the new positioning, based on this one global ad, feels like a watered down version of Axe 1.0, not a revitalised new positioning to take the brand forward.
4. The "double jeopardy" of re-positioning
"We have been catering to teenage guys and we are now talking to his older brother, who is in university," says Rik Strubel. This attempt to re-position Axe by targeting older user risks falling foul of what I call "the double jeopardy of re-positioning".
On the one hand, those teen boys who liked the irreverent humour and sexy girls of Axe's marketing may be lukewarm about the new positioning, so you risk turning off or even alienating users in your core user group.
Second, will the older brothers at university really see this new ad and ditch the more aspirational brands they are currently using? I suggest most of them won't, given that these guys grew up with Axe and then moved on.
Aiming as high up the age spectrum as possible is a smart move to maximise potential, but needs doing when you launch a brand. Raising this "age ceiling" for an established brand is very tough to do.
In conclusion, Axe/Lynx may be suffering from the same problem that led to demise of "lads' mags" such as Nuts and Loaded. At its peak, Nuts sold 300,000 issues a week. But by 2013 sales had dropped by 2/3 and the magazine was closed down a year later. "Sales went into longterm decline, not least because readers who wanted to look at scantily clad, topless or naked women could find far more risqué material online for free," as this article explains.
The brand needed to revitalise itself to stay relevant, but my concern is that a lack of ongoing renovation over the last 10 years means that it is now attempting "too much, too late"
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