FULL DISCLOSURE: One of my clients is the Axe brand. I did not work on this campaign, so I am not fishing for compliments or disparagement, either. I just want — and have still to personally formulate — an opinion on this campaign.

(But please, as our mothers said, if you have nothing good to say, hit me offsite on my email).

 Here's the gist of the campaign, as written in the New York Times (the New York Times!):

Unilever owns Axe, the personal care line that goes after young men using unusual marketing tactics, like taking over a Hamptons club for a summer. To introduce a leather-scented deodorant called Axe Instinct, Axe sought out about 20 street musicians and college bands in several cities, using Craigslist, MySpace and other Web sites. In exchange for an estimated $1,000, Axe asked the musicians to put up “Axe Instinct” signs, offer free deodorant samples when they play and, a few times a day, sing a ditty “Look Good in Leather” that Axe is using in its commercials. The musicians’ stints started in September and run through the end of the year.

“Our biggest thing is not about what they look like but the authenticity of them,” said Jay E. Mathew Jr., marketing director for deodorants at Unilever USA. “We want people that, this is what they do every day.”

Asked if it was authentic to have street performers singing a corporate jingle, Mr. Mathew said he thought it was. “The song itself is a song that was created in 2002 and not something we created for just the ad — it was an existing, organic type of music. We thought it fit perfectly with the campaign.”

So, waddaya think? I think that reading the article is a good idea, because it concludes with this:

A guy with a backpack dropped in a dollar and walked off smiling, and a man in an old-fashioned train conductor’s cap carefully placed a brochure in the case as if it were a $20. If people noticed the Axe sign, they didn’t say anything or appear to do double-takes.

“You know, when I’m playing in the middle of the subway, I’m noticing how there’s so much commercial branding all over the subway now, the stairs have products on it, logos, every single space in the subway is kind of a big commercial now,” Mr. Ryan said. Maybe the Axe effect was supposed to be subliminal, he shrugged. At least he supported the cause of deodorant use.

“If there was more of that stuff going on in the subway, it’d be a better place,” he said.

You decide.


  1. Max,
    My guess is most people walking by think the dude’s “stage” name is Axe Instinct.
    If they think at all… too bad Axe didn’t see this one, indicating nobody sees buskers at all no matter what they’re doing:
    Joshua Bell could have told them there’s not much chance of getting a huge bump from such a campaign.

  2. I’m surprised to see Axe do this. It’s been done by Chock ful O’Nuts coffee, Bank of America and Dunkin Donuts (if not more). So is this authentic? I’d say 5-10 years ago, yes. What I typically like about Axe’s marketing isn’t necessarily only the messaging but the unique ways it goes to market. Buskers-over and done.

  3. Even though its been used before singing/playing the Axe jingle will stick in your head while waiting in the subway listening to a busker.
    Not seeing buskers during rush hour is true it has to do with placing the busker in the right area as well.
    I always have some sort of tune appear in my head that I can’t place. It just might appear when buying deoderant.

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