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Axe Tag Pander to Rutting Instincts

While scouring Spin magazine, I came across a bright orange Axe ad. The multi-page spread began with a headline asking, "Living with shame caused by a questionable hook-up?" Below, a young man held his head in his hands as a thought bubble showed a bikini-clad female body builder. On the next page, I learned that the so-called Order of the Serpentine is a sacred brotherhood dedicated to helping young men confront regret after committing "shameful acts" such as waking up in the arms of the carnival’s tattooed lady. The elaborate ad trumpeted the virtues of an Axe product and left readers with the credo "Clean body, clean mind."

Right, I thought. Clean body, clean mind. As if the right soap can scrub a soul clean after spontaneous fornication. Still, I was surprised at how blatantly this ad promoted promiscuity as a fact of life for normal, well-adjusted young men.

A trip to the Order of the Serpentine website yielded more info on the questionable hook-up: "It’s any romantic encounter that leaves you humiliated. A romp in the park that leaves you feeling like you shouldn’t have done the something—or someone—you did." Risqué online commercials spelled out things even more explicitly. A cartoon depicted a naked man in a hot tub with two women who turn out to be conjoined twins. Other ads were equally twisted.

If Axe’s site is bad, Tag’s is worse. Multiple interactive games give young "playas" the chance to spray an adolescent male with various products, whereupon he’s attacked by women in bikinis, cheerleading outfits, etc. Tag’s products bear names and mottos such as First Move ("The best part of the first move? Getting to the second, third and fourth moves") and After Hours ("Past curfew. But just in time for all the lovin").

Several extremely provocative TV commercials appear on this site too, one of which shows an adolescent and three young women playing strip poker. One blast of Tag and they all begin taking off their tops … just as the father of one girl comes home. The spot is clearly aimed at high schoolers, and it ends with the mock disclaimer, "Tag Wild Card reminds you: Three of a kind beats two pair, a full house beats a flush, and an angry dad, well, he’ll beat you straight up." Add three interactive video games, a MySpace page for Tag’s models, and yet another website listing dates and times to meet the buxom beauties, and suffice it to say we’re a long way past a pretty girl standing beside a new car. It’s hard enough teaching discernment when it comes to helping teens choose music, TV, movies and video games. But advertising can come out of left field. And such immersive, interactive commercials could have the same seductive effect on young men that Tag is supposed to have on young women. The next time you see such an ad, or notice a bottle of Tag or Axe on your son’s vanity, seize the moment. Discuss the worldview those companies espouse:

• What do their ads indicate their product will accomplish? Is it true?
• What do they teach about the value of women?
• What do they imply about the purpose and place of sex?
• What do they suggest is most important about who we are?

There’s nothing wrong with good hygiene. (I’m strongly in favor of it.) But corporate America plays dirty when it disrespects women, cheapens sexuality and preys upon young men’s insecurities in an attempt to clean up.

Published September 2006

Plugged In Plus
Unilever’s Axe brand has continued to glamorize irresponsible, anonymous sexual encounters in online commercials featured on YouTube. In a clip called "The Fixers," memories of a wild night flood back to a guy after he wakes up face-down on his front lawn. He recalls women in various stages of undress throwing themselves at him, a kinky tryst in a motel room, and more. The tag line is "No matter what goes down, Axe will fix you up." Meanwhile, a spot in the brand’s "Hair Crisis Relief" campaign shows three female "strippers" in police uniforms getting a room full of guys at a bachelor party lathered up before disappointing them with a lesson on hair care. [October 2009]