At the moment Axe (or Lynx) deodorant is broadcasting a commercial that promotes their new fragrance ‘Chaos’. ‘Unleash the chaos‘ more or less looks like any other Axe commercial, except for the fact it’s not just the girls falling blindly for the men, it’s also the other way around. The reason is that Axe is launching its new fragrance for the opposite sex too. What? Axe is becoming female? That is quite a leap; from a virile brand to a unisex brand. I do understand where they’re coming from though; it’s a typical FMCG-logic to try to grow market share by unlocking new target groups. In the short term this might work. But what will it do for the brand on the long run?

The Axe strategy reminds me of another Unilever brand, Dove. Where Axe is known as a somewhat sexist brand in the personal care market, Dove is more or less the opposite, it stands for care and respect for women, cause it is made for women with real curves. An advertising proposition that is based on an extremely smart and valid insight. Dove talks genuinely to the target group and positions the brand far away from all the other skinny model brands.

Three Dove ads; ‘Tested on real curves’; Pro-age; and Men+Care

The success of Dove’s distinctive ad property tasted like more, so in 2007 the brand introduced Pro-age – a euphemism for ‘old.’ Strategically understandable, cause older women are also ‘real’ women. Then Unilever wanted more still, so in 2010 they introduced ‘Men+Care.’ This brand extension made less sense, cause the men that advertise Men+Care are wearing six-packs, instead of love handles. And that’s where I think Unilever is stretching Dove a little too far. From hydration and real women, to basically everyone. The brand attribute ‘care’ will easily survive this stretch, but care alone is not very distinctive in a category called ‘personal care’.

I understand why brand managers want to constantly grow bigger and bigger; it’s part of their corporate ethos. But to stay relevant a brand needs focus. Losing focus weakens the brand and makes it less interesting for more people. Or to put it differently: when you try to target everyone, you will target no one.

Losing focus weakens the brand and makes it less interesting for more people

And now there’s Axe for women. By turning Axe into a unisex brand, Axe will become a brand for every single person that wants to attract the opposite sex – and have the opposite’s sex, for that matter. This is especially a dangerous move since we all know how Old Spice has very convincingly stepped in Axe’s ad property of ‘over the top female attraction’. So with this move Axe just might give away a big chunk of the manly market share it built up so consistently over the past decade. Let’s see what happens. Let’s see if Axe’s strong fragrance will slowly water down.