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Axe Takes Swing at Body Wash

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.<BR><BR>“The Axe Effect may result in, but is not limited to, unrelenting female attention and/or late...

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.”

This story first appeared in the March 25, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The 12-oz. Axe shower gels, which hit shelves last month, are $3.99 at mass retailers and $4.99 at supermarkets. They come in five scents: Touch, Essence, Kilo, Phoenix and Tsunami. George noted that the brand has not experienced “any kind of reaction” to the latter name since the Dec. 26 natural disaster in Southeast Asia.

Separately, Unilever North America has donated $2 million to relief efforts, according to a company spokesman, and has established a fund to match employee contributions two to one.

Axe’s five new shower gels bring the total number of Axe items in the U.S. to 23. After the original 2002 introduction in the U.S., the brand launched two new body spray scents, called Essence and Touch, in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Axe also launched solid antiperspirant sticks and antiperspirant gels in January 2004 in the same five scents found in the shower gel collection.

During the last two holiday seasons, Unilever marketed Axe promotional packs. In fact, Axe shower gel quietly entered the market in October 2003 as an in-and-out pack with a body spray and an antiperspirant stick; it retailed for $9.99.

As is clearly reflected in the brand’s advertising campaign, Axe attempts to maintain “insights into the mating game [and] dating game,” said George. He noted that representatives of the brand “spend hours upon hours” with the brand’s target audience by visiting college campuses and communicating online. Just last week, a team of Axe reps headed to Panama City, Fla., to consult with male spring breakers.

“We’re highly in touch with how this target [demographic] is approaching the mating game,” said George. “The essence of Axe is we give guys an edge.”

Print and television advertisements for Axe are full of double entendres — as well as not-so-subtle references such as washroom scenes depicting “his” and “hers” towels hanging next to “her sister’s” and “her roommate’s” towels.

“At the end of the day,” said George, “these guys want to be surprised and entertained.”

The current shower gel ad campaign, an estimated $30 million effort, uses the tag line: “How dirty boys get clean.”