Pete Jones sent me this commercial for the new Axe odor replacement product, which will apparently render meaningless all previously articulated principles of morality and real estate. Those are three jewelry stores next door to one another in the opening shot, and they’re not in the diamond district. They appear to be on Lafayette Street, but that’s not important. What’s important is that everyone understand the premise of this deodorant ad: jewelry store robbery, apparently involving machine gun fire. You can hear it for the first two seconds of the video, followed immediately by our robber emerging from a store that is definitely in the diamond district now. Since the glass windows are unbroken and there’s no blood on him, I can only assume that all six of his shots hit center mass.
As you can see, Axe Anarchy is not your grandfather’s body spray. Your grandfather called that “perfume” and regarded armed robbers as a social problem, but times have changed. Now, as anyone who goes to the movies will tell you, jewelry store heists are for protagonists. One would think that the classic conflict of the deodorant commercial would be man versus himself, but the good people at Axe have opted here for man versus environment, known to modern audiences as man versus authority. In this case, authority is a hot cop, also known as a stripper.
To be fair, she keeps her clothes on longer than pretty much any woman to appear in an Axe commercial. Besides, around the :09 mark, the man begins stripping, too.* This spirit of parity is the unifying theme of Anarchy, Axe’s first body spray for both men and women. Granted, the company is making different, gender-specific versions of Axe Anarchy for men and for women, so it’s less a revolution in role ascription within the beauty industry than in marketing. But seriously, you guys: it’s totally a marketing revolution. According to David Kolbusz, creative director at the Bartle Bogle Hegarty agency, the new ads are about “subverting expectations of what an Axe commercial is.” In other words, the new Axe commercials are new. Hegarty elaborates:
Before, an Axe commercial was always about a guy spraying himself and a girl being attracted, and Axe giving him an edge in the mating game, whereas now women also have something to spray on themselves, and consequently there’s more of an equilibrium between the sexes.
So in answer to your question: yes, the people selling Axe are the people who wear Axe. Also, let us consider how this Axe commercial differs from previous Axe commercials. Granted this new one contains gunfire and shoving people, which is a real step forward in, you know, violence. But the important thing is how the narrative—man robs bank, is pursued by woman, gets touched by her—compares to those of previous Axe commercials, like this one:
As you can see, the ad from five years ago differs in two critical ways: one, the women take off their clothes before they start running, which conforms to what I will call The Baywatch Principle, and two, the man in this commercial uses Axe. The guy from the robbery is just a good-looking sociopath. It is indeed an innovative marketing trick to leave the product out of the commercial entirely, thereby implying a world in which everyone is just assumed to be reeking of Axe all the time, except A) I thought about it for one second and it’s not, and B) “Anarchy” is the same ad Axe has been making for years, right down to the sweat.
Like that spot, essentially a commercial for rough sex, Axe ads rely on a premise from pornography: female dominance subverted. The women in Axe commercials are usually in a position of authority. Sometimes the authority is only implied, as by the cool regard of that terrible wrestler’s girlfriend. More often, though, it is the authority of the host or the teacher, or simply the very large group. In the Axe Anarchy commercial, the woman is a cop. She and her fellow ladies try to preserve their authority, but they are overcome by the awesome power of sexual attraction, because you smell like a baseball mitt with an orange in it.
In this way, Axe neatly combines the two primary fantasies of the modern world: (1) you are a rebel who contravenes authority at will and (2) people want to do you. Fantasy number three—that this rebellion/sexery can be achieved by purchasing a product—is the one we find least convincing. It is also the one we indulge in most often. As with the relentlessly same new subversive Axe commercial, we can’t help but hope that everything would be different if we smelled like something else.