By  on March 25, 2005

NEW YORK — Unilever’s Axe brand is telling 18- to 24-year-old guys that maintaining personal hygiene is a good way to get a gal.

“The Axe Effect may result in, but is not limited to, unrelenting female attention and/or late nights,” reads the back panel of Axe’s new Revitalizing Shower Gel.

While cleanliness is already next to godliness for many, Axe’s shower gel launch should nonetheless be a debut well worth watching — especially if the rapid ascent of Axe body spray within the men’s deodorant category is any indication.

“Axe was the fastest brand ever to be tracked by ACNielsen to reach $100 million,” claimed Kevin George, director of marketing for Unilever deodorants. Axe reached that dollar volume benchmark within 18 months of the August 2002 launch of six body sprays in the U.S., according to George.

“Within 2 1/2 years, we became the number-one deodorant in the marketplace,” he added, citing ACNielsen data. The Axe brand now reaps annual retail sales exceeding $200 million, he said. That’s about a 10 percent share of the deodorant category on an annual basis, according to George, who claimed that Axe sales have surpassed those of stalwart brands such as Gillette and Right Guard.

Now, Unilever has set its sights high in the body wash category with Axe shower gel. “We are taking advantage of a huge market,” said George. “It’s booming amongst our target guys.

“When you look at growth in personal wash, which includes bar soap and body wash, 94 percent of that growth came from men’s shower gel,” George said, noting the $754 million category has grown 3.3 percent in the past year. Other players to recently enter the body wash arena include Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice, with its Red Zone body wash, and Suave — another Unilever brand — with its Suave for Men body wash.

“We think [Axe shower gel] will accelerate category growth,” George said. While he declined to discuss sales targets, industry sources estimated the Axe shower gel line could generate first-year retail sales of $65 million.

“As the personal wash category continues to grow,” said George, “we hope to dominate that segment of the business.”

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