Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 04/23/2009

The Axe Effect (gag me)

And there you have it. Axe is just so enticing, women revert to their animalistic instincts, beating each other off, running miles just to reach this delicious piece of man meat. I’m actually surprised that they’re wearing bikinis. Why not go the whole way and just have them be naked?

Where’s that subtler sexism I’m getting so used to now? You know, the kind where there’s no doubt in your mind it’s sexist, but it’s not as easy to convince people about it as you’d think. Not true for this commercial. Axe has brought back the good old sexism we were just getting around to missing: mass numbers of blatantly sexualized women craving just one studly guy. 

The biggest problem with this commercial is it falls into that category of: Why Can’t Feminists Ever Take a Joke? I’ve tried to talk about this commercial with guys. It’s always “they’re just kidding,” or, “it’s not like it’s real, it’s just a fantasy, so what’s the problem.” 

Here’s the problem the way I see it: Of course we’re all supposed to know better than to actually buy into the media. But we LISTEN to the media. Guys may take this as a joke, but in reality it IS their fantasy, and the more guys fantasize, the more their expectations of real life are formed to those fantasies, whether they realize it or not. And girls who see this take away the message that boys only like aggressively sexualized girls. ALL GREAT LESSONS TO BE LEARNED. 

So, is this a joke? Am I over analyzing the effects of this commercial? Even if I am, I don’t think this goes without consequence. 

Also- just something to think about: Axe is owned by the same company as Dove. Interesting, that this commercial should come from the same company whose main marketing ploy is that of “Pro-Age” and centered around the idea of natural beauty. More on that in a later post…

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  • A. Jones @ at 3:15 am, May 8th, 2009

    Why I (like most men) are less annoyed by those ads than you are.

    Each medium has its purpose. Video conveys emotion very well, but is a poor way to deliver factual information. Consider pharmaceutical ads. For the first ten seconds they show happy people paddling a canoe over smooth waters with that glowing smile that (we are told) comes to those who are forever free of bowel problems. Then they’ll spend 20 seconds reading information off the FDA warning label. If viewers actually absorb half the warning label information they’ll stay away from the drug as if it carried swine flu. The advertisers aren’t worried. They know that nobody will remember any of that information. The feeling of paddling a canoe with a beatific smile—forever free of bowel worries—will stick with the viewers and they’ll ask their doctor for the drug by name. It works.

    The information in the Axe ads is laughable. Spray cheap deodorant on a guy and women go wild—and not a broad cross-section of the female population mind you—just bikini models. While male the viewers either ignore or laugh off this information, the emotional content of the ad, “You will feel attractive wearing this stuff” sticks to them. Cynic though I am, I did see Axe on a supermarket shelf and actually looked twice at it. I noticed myself having a positive feeling about it. Just like the men you talked to, I laughed off the information content of the ad, but the emotional content stuck to me. I manned up and didn’t buy the Axe.

    What emotional content is likely to stick to women from these ads? As a wild guess I’ll say the same crap as the rest of commercial media. Women can feel unattractive because they don’t look like those bikini models. Women can feel that the world is unfair because they can’t compete with bikini models (but for some stupid reason they feel like they have to try.) Or women can feel degraded because once again female sexuality is apparently a commodity to be obtained at the drugstore.

    The reason your male commentators dismiss the ads as being harmless is that from a male point of view the ads are only insulting on an information level, a level which satirizes itself. From a woman’s point of view they are insulting on an emotional level, the level that people remember after the ad has gone by.

  • Lobelia @ at 7:56 pm, July 13th, 2009

    It’s interesting to notice the power balance in the commercial. Hundreds of aggressive women are descending on the one guy, and they look like they’re going to tear him to pieces. But he’s not scared! Because they are “just women,” therefore weak, he has supposedly nothing to fear; they can’t harm him. If the genders were switched, and thousands of men were going after one woman in the same manner, she would be worried for her safety (at least I would).

  • Rebekah @ at 1:08 pm, July 15th, 2009

    @ A. Jones– I think it’s a little insulting that you felt the need to take apart why an average woman would probably be insulted by this ad and an average man would not. That is blatantly obvious and is a complete tangent to the issue. The issue is that it exists, and it sucks. Why do women have to be marginalized to sell a product? And isn’t it a problem that the average man doesn’t care how a certain commercial would make a woman feel? It’s called empathy.

    @ Julie Z- excellent post. You have used a great example to point to a much larger problem in our culture. Thanks for putting it out there!

  • Sara Anderson @ at 5:49 pm, July 15th, 2009

    I have to admit that I’ve always liked the Axe ads. They’re meant to be silly and they are. Someone is laughing all the way to the bank with their cute objectification of women, and probably doesn’t just roll his eyes when he sees his stock go up.

  • ceolaf @ at 7:13 pm, July 15th, 2009

    It’s a dumb ad.

    It’s aimed a the kind of people who buy Axe body spray — young men who think that it’ll help them to attract chicks.

    Now, stop of a second and think of the the top ten charactistics of guys near your age that might make them attractive to you (e.g. height, hair, eyes, sense of humor, ability to maintain eye contact, ability to tell a story, whatever). Is the use of cologne or scented body spray on that list?

    So, what is this company supposed to do, given their audience and their product? They’re trying to sell some sort of sex appeal aid, even thoug it is not a particularly effective one, right.

    Is it offensive? I don’t know. I know its dumb. It paints woman being wildly and controllably driven by scent — at least the boucy ones in bikinis. But it also suggests that guys have little to offer other than scent. It’s not a lot nicer to them.

    One the other hand, it’s kinda cool that these sex objects are being portrayed as fiece, physically capable and potentionally even a little dangerous. At least that’s better than vapid and weak.

    I don’t like the ad. I don’t defend the ad. But I don’t find the ad the least bit surprising.

  • Nellie @ at 9:01 pm, July 19th, 2009

    The reason why feminists can’t take a joke, in my experience, is because so much of what our culture construes as funny, acceptable content is created with the unspoken norm that it’s okay to objectify women. When you realize and say that objectification isn’t funny, you no longer play into the “harmless” construct of male superiority and are thus labeled a humorless feminist.

    Your comment about conflating fantasy with real life is spot on.

  • Emma @ at 10:56 pm, July 27th, 2009

    Well, Axe says it’s a joke.
    Men say it’s a joke. And to chill out.
    So I guess they’re right. I mean, we feminists are just cold, hard nuts who have no sense of humor and can’t take a joke.
    Yeah. No.
    Whether Axe and men laugh about it or not, it’s sexism, there’s no way around it. All the Axe commercials, where women rush to men from across malls (or in this case, desert island types) because of the smell of their products, is just degrading. Like we’re fruit flies who can be lured to sweet water, and it’s not funny. What would they write if Dove or Suave did a commercial about new lavender shampoo that made all the guys at the office turn their heads-the media would probably wright about how creepy we are, having to catch men’s attention with our shampoo. Not so here.

    I don’t know if anybody got my point right there, but thought I should wright it anyway.

  • Casey @ at 7:57 pm, October 29th, 2009

    Me and my boyfriend boycott axe products because of commercials like this. They disgust me everytime I see them and I consider them to be degrading to both men and women.

    They claim its supposed to be a joke and claim that lots of women in focus groups and other pre-ad testing think its clever. Did the people at axe ever consider the fact that a lot of people lie in focus testing to fit in with the other people being tested in their group?

    I think some women actually like this ad, and I KNOW a lot of us think these ads are garbage. But I also think that there are women out there (and outside of the testing groups) that try and act as if they do accept the ad or do think that it is funny, just because they know that an oppositional opinion might make guys think that they are prude, and thus, unattractive and even demanding.

    It’s sad really.

  • kay @ at 6:39 pm, April 23rd, 2010

    I hate cologne like AXE. its too strong, and makes me feel ill!

  • kay @ at 7:00 pm, April 23rd, 2010

    I’d rather smell butt!

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