The Axe Man
The Axe Man
Advertisement, itself, is a creative genre in these post-modern days of ideas. If people in the future were to search for artifacts of our culture, in hopes of finding something that gives them insight into our culture and our life, they will be able to see what we leave behind in this consumer-driven world. Our ancestors left behind arrow heads and pottery, and we will leave behind a lot more that can easily communicate about who we are and what is important to us. Commercials and the products they advertise are some of the most important cultural artifacts in our society. They communicate what is important or true to our culture, the good and the bad, because within any culture it is natural for the many different aspects of that culture to be portrayed on the screen or the page, from our stereotypes and biases, to what makes us proud and what makes us ashamed. One commercial that seems to represent an artifact of American culture is the recent AXE commercial, where a young man on a beach begins to spray AXE cologne, attracting literally hundreds of buxom beauties in bikinis, with the slogan being “Spray more, Get more”. The implications here about the way our culture stereotypes gender and what types of images we find to be suitable becomes part of the artifact and what it stands for in our culture.
If the Axe commercials are to be marked as anything of immediate interest, the popular tags that come along immediately are as “pornographic advert” or “advert with sexual overtones.” Such terms are quite befitting as we find the women who are running from different topographical extremes have svelte, well-maintained physiques with sexual appeal, and the man on the beach stands armed with Axe cologne to attract more such women by spraying more of the heart-smashing fragrance. Commercials stand as an important artifact that can be used to understand a culture, and this commercial in particular says a lot about certain gender-related issues. Commercials such as this are not only for entertainment value, they are subconsciously sending messages to a population of people that view what they see on television as truth and fact. Someday, people will study such commercials in search of something historically or culturally important to our generation and will quickly realize that for all of our advances in our way of thinking and our technology, we were still submitting ourselves to the humiliation of gender-related stereotypes and sexually explicit material.
If sexual excesses are not used deliberately, then why has such a slogan been floated in the air: Spray more, Get more? Is it not somewhat pornographic, tickling the fancy of men with the promise of winning an armful of femme fatales at one sprinkle of Axe? Why again a horde of belles are needed with immense sexual charms if no sexual implications are intended? When a condom, a bra or lingerie is advertised, the same types of images are blatantly paraded across the television screen, the sexual overtones not even subtle anymore. Even in odd places do we see such use of sexuality to sell a product, like the commercials that are for car insurance but are cartoons, using the cartoon character of a cute, busty girl to try and sell insurance for someone’s automobile. Even Pizza Hut commercials use Jessica Simpson’s sexuality to sell pizza, and Pepsi has been notorious for using stars such as Madonna to sell their product. The fact is that sex sells. Thus, if categorically the artifact is to be judged, then it is a piece of advertisement in the first place and then it is pornographic i.e. an advert with sexual overtones.
In my view, whatever nomenclature may be piled on the term “advertisement”, it is a creative way of presenting an object or a commodity. So I would like to call it innovative advertisement. If we move a step further we will be able to see that innovative and sexually-exploitive adverts apply to all sorts of business tricks to catch the consumer youth. There is yet another genre that this advert falls into, and that is humorous. Despite its sexual overtones, the commercial is filmed in such a way that, at first glance, it appears to be harmless, comedic tone and all. The public seems to be very forgiving of any images or messages that are not politically correct when there is humor involved, as in this case. There is no complaining from the public even if a salacious picture or video clipping is used in order to make a commodity attractive to the target audience. It may appear denigrating in the eye of a few thoughtful, conservative people, but to hit the bull’s eye of consumerism, it is a weapon, a necessity, the need of the hour.
I never considered myself to be a conservative person, not even a little bit. I really thought the AXE commercial to be a great one with a sense of humor, but after I observed it many times closely, I felt there are several things really bothering me. While it is common knowledge that marketers are using sex to sell their products, the issue that arises with this commercial is that it tried to hide the sexual content behind the product itself. The text did not imply anything sexual and therefore no one can accuse Axe of intentionally telling men of the benefits of using their cologne in terms of their becoming attractive sexually, but the imagery is enough to convince the viewer that it is selling the product through sex. In other words, Axe is using the fantasies of young men to bring them in as consumers of their product by promising them, visually, that there is something about their product that attracts women.
If there is a law regulating sexual themes in advertising then it seems that the Axe advert is trying to beat the system. Those who do not agree with the blatant use of sex in advertising, be it implied or explicit, must heed the words of Tom Reichert when he wrote, “…other forms of sexual information is woven into ads […] sexual content can vary in form and meaning, it is important to provide an overview of recurring representations of sex in advertising” (Reichert, 2003). The bone of contention here is how to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. J. Sivulka had made the warning that “when scholars have explained the changing nature of sex in advertising, they have often viewed this shift as an evolution from a relatively innocent representation of a sexually alluring woman to a new type of image, in which sex is explicit” (Sivulka, 2003). The world it seems is divided over what kind of judgment to give this sort of TV commercial, but for those who are looking for substance there is only one verdict. For those who are tired of being given information that is not based on truth but rather on assumptions and pop culture, the verdict is not positive.
In the Axe commercial the first thing that does not escape the viewer is the stereotyping of the female. Geral Tellis observed that, “One of the most common criticisms of advertising is the gender stereotyping […] endorsers are typically presented as young, beautiful, and sexually attractive…” (Tellis, 2004). As a female watching this commercial I felt it not only was the dreaded stereotyping being used but also the fact that women were depicted as not having the intellect to comprehend what was going on and furthermore, that women were not valued for their intellect at all, but for their appearance. The women were portrayed like buffoons, parading themselves with no regard for their self-worth, with no obvious intelligence. Instead of showing a commercial where the images show an intelligent, well-mannered male using Axe cologne and attracting an intellectual and strong woman, we are bombarded with yet more images of the stereotypical buxom bimbo and in my opinion, that is an insult to the feminists out there who are championing woman’s equal rights, access to power and control. The Axe commercial made them look like they have no ability whatsoever to control their destiny, much alone their lives and they are purely driven by instincts. Lorraine Code asserts that this kind of reaction is not new and she wrote that in fact, “In the 1970s feminists criticized advertisements for portraying stereotypical images of women…” (Code, 2000).
Forget about the feminist stereotype, what is disturbing about the way women were depicted in the AXE ad is the fact that there is no truth to what was being communicated. Granting that commercials are not supposed to be whole truths, still the fact that something can be created wholly out of imagination is a bit of a stretch. Adding another aspect of then forcing people to accept it or maybe worse, manipulating people to behave in a certain way are actions not acceptable for a highly influential medium. A casual survey of the real world will immediately inform the observer that women do not behave like those in the said commercial. If the producer of the Axe commercial would come back and say that this is the whole point; that making fantastic claims and using pure imagination to sell something is the reality of advertising, then it is going to be hard to argue that line of reasoning. Even if this were the case, not everybody will agree with the producer. Many believe that advertising is no longer a neutral medium but that it is an artifact that has the capacity to transform society, especially how people think, and therefore it is a medium to be regulated.
If one allows the producer of the Axe commercial the benefit of the doubt, that there was no intention to demean women and to insult their intelligence, then the problem keeps on compounding because the next group that would be insulted by this commercial is the male population, because while it is common to hear women being exploited, more and more men are being devalued by the media as well. There is a movement out there that forces the world to recognize the place of women in society. It is almost a normal experience to constantly hear of women being abused and misrepresented, but it may be taken for granted that men can also be stereotyped. That there is a whole assumption out there that men are savages and no smarter than wild beasts who are being controlled by their carnal instincts would be insulting to me if I was male, and I cannot believe that the media can stereotype both genders in such simple terms.
To be honest, however, no man would stand up and say that his reputation is on the line because of such media exploitation. For them, it is somewhat absurd, but if truth can be told and truth be the standard of knowing what must be done in this society then someone has to point out the problem with the Axe commercial. What exactly is wrong about it in terms of the male image is that this time men are not depicted as buffoons in the same way that the ladies were depicted running around half-naked and half-crazed when a potent brew aroused their senses and they could not control themselves. This time men were assumed to be buffoons, period. There is a whole line of assumption here. It is basically a belief that when men will see the commercial then they will not stop to think and evaluate what is being projected on screen. They will simply instinctively pick up their wallets, head for the store and buy a crate full of Axe cologne – and spray more.
It is interesting to note that marketers are well aware of what they are doing to the male stereotype and the projection of an image that will make men want to buy the cologne. As suggested by Stephen Fox in his study of the history of American advertising, marketers in the past made the generalization that, “…all men are fools” (Fox, 1997). They have expanded this theory into something more useful, “…that while men may be fools and sinners, they are everlastingly on the search for that which is good” (Fox, 1997). Advertising is the guide that leads them to the path of bliss and truth; yet, there is one more weakness of the male psyche that is being exploited here, but it must first be understood that this commercial was not created with the general public in mind. It is quite probable that the target-segment are young men between puberty and their twenties. It is possible that the target-market are adolescent males who lack the confidence to take their place in the world and establish relationships with the opposite sex and therefore need a touch of courage, in this case in the form of Axe cologne.
There is evidence pointing to the fact that the target market is indeed the teenager segment of the population. Buddenberg pointed out that, “…despite being more knowledgeable about advertising, teens are still very susceptible to it” (Buddenberg, 2004). Fox enumerated the common behaviors considered normal for teens: a) struggle with sense of identity; b) feeling awkward or strange about one’s self and one’s body; c) concerns regarding physical and sexual attractiveness to others; and, d) worries about being normal (Fox, 1997). If Fox’s theory proves right then what a powerful effect the Axe commercial must be having on the minds of the teenage males that watch it. The video suggests achieving power and control where there is none – by simply spraying more of the cologne.
To be fair, however, I must say that the humorous nature of the commercial was, even to me, funny at the beginning and I did not take it serious on first glance. The women, making funny faces and rushing this geeky-looking young man whose eyes are huge as he watches the scene unfold before him was more of a comedic event than anything. In this way, the producer of this commercial was not, perhaps, trying to use stereotypes about men and women to influence our culture, but perhaps just trying to make an impression, something that is hard to do in a society filled with a flood of advertisements at every turn. Despite my misgivings about the commercial, I do not remember any other cologne commercials vividly, only Axe, and perhaps that was the point all along.
The advertisement used in this study can make people react in many different ways. The more important issue to address is the offensive effect of the commercial to both men and women, at least to those who are sensitive enough to really analyze the content of the video. The problem with the video is that it depicts women as stupid and at the same time assumes that young men are stupid enough to believe what they are seeing and will not take the time to verify it. Moreover, the commercial is trying to hide its sexual content and that is not acceptable for those who are shielding children and the rest of the public from too much exposure to indecency. Still, at the core of the problem is the unceasing evolution of advertising. This time what is perceived to be improper will soon change in a few years time. This will continue until one day, parents and concerned citizens will one day wake up to see sex in advertising being shown explicitly without shame. At some points, American advertising will turn the corner and, just as now, we will simply sit back, watch, and let the images convince us of something just as ridiculous as the assumptions made in the Axe cologne commercial. The artifacts our culture is leaving behind are, sadly, not a representation of who we really are, but who were are told to be.
Axe TV Commercial. “Spray More. Get More.” Available:<http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v=IC–kPtv534>. Accessed: 04 February 2007.
Reichert, T. (2003). What is Sex in Advertising: Perspectives from Consumer Behavior and Social Science Research. In T. Reichert and J. Lambiase (Eds.). Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum
Sivulka, J. (2003). Historical and Pyschological Perspectives of the Erotic Appeal in Advertising. In T. Reichert and J. Lambiase (Eds.). Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Tellis, G. (2004). Effective Advertising: Understanding When, How, and Why Advertising Works. CA: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Code, L. (2000). Encyclopedia of Feminist Theories. New York: Routledge.
Fox, S. (1997). The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising. Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
Buddenberg, L.J. (2004). Who’s Raising Your Child: Battling the Marketiers for Your Child’s Heart and Soul. NE: Boys Town Press.