Axe Body Spray: What Is the Real ‘Axe Effect’ on Our Sons?

Axe Body Spray is in the news again, this time for sending eight sixth-graders to the hospital, which is probably not the “Axe Effect” that parent company Unilever had in mind. I think it’s time to start teaching boys to use their sprays a little more responsibly–and to question why boys as young as 10 or 11 are using “sexy” products in the first place.

As TIME points out, it’s “hardly news that pre-pubescent boys have no idea how to properly administer Axe body spray.” But maybe we could teach them? I mean, when my daughters started messing around with make-up, I taught them the idea of “less is more.” The same concept works for cologne/perfume/scented stuff, whether it’s for girls or guys.

Look, there are always things that we have to teach our kids that you’d think they’d just somehow know: standing on furniture is dangerous, antifreeze is not for drinking, inhaling clouds of deodorant spray is bad for your lungs. I guess we need to either limit our sons to stick deodorant, or explain that you can’t just spray a ton of the stuff into the air. Despite what the commercials might tell us, girls can’t throw themselves at you if they’re busy being being transported to the hospital by EMS workers.

And, yes, it’s up to us parents to do the explaining. I did find a teeny, tiny button on Axe’s website that says “Responsible Use,” but it was about huffing. There was nothing about avoiding what Slate writer Dahlia Lithwick calls “the Wall of Axe (a naturally occurring phenomenon in which eight or more teen boys reapply Axe after phys ed, then stand in the stairwell together).”

Honestly, I’m not sure why 11-year-old boys need a product that has a “smooth, sexy scent.”  My babysitter, an 18-year-old guy, tells me that Axe is “middle school stuff” and that by the end of high school, most boys have moved away from it. I assume it has something to do with either the development of properly functioning olfactory signals, or the discovery that applying gallons of the stuff doesn’t, in fact, make you “the rugged and mysterious guy she’d do almost anything to touch,” as the ads would have you believe.

While Axe’s brand development manager Mike Dwyer says that Axe’s target market is young men 18-24, I suspect that just as with Victoria’s Secret’s PINK line, they know that it’s really being used by a much younger demographic. Otherwise, why would Axe commercials like this one so heavily feature backpacks, dropping books, and chemistry classes?

As a parent and as a member of the media, I spend a lot of time examining the way things are marketed to my daughters. But I think I need to start paying better attention to how things are marketed to my son. Here’s a  look at some of the recent headlines and controversies raised by Axe, as well as the way the products are positioned in the market.


  • Axe Effect: A look at recent headlines, controversies, and marketing of Axe. 1 of 9

    Axe defines "The Axe Effect" as "the internationally recognized name for the increased attention Axe-wearing males receive from eager, and attractive female pursuers."


    Unfortunately, Axe can also have the effect of tripping fire alarms, triggering allergies, sending one's classmates to the hospital, and perpetuating time-worn stereotypes. Click the arrows to scroll through some of Axe's recent headlines, controversies, and marketing methods.

  • ‘Noxious odor’ that shut down middle school turns out to be Axe body spray. 2 of 9

    Last week, eight sixth graders were taken to the hospital and a school was temporarily shut down thanks to a "noxious odor" that turned out to be Axe Body Spray. Two other students at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn, New York, were also taken to their family doctors. New York City's Department of Education says discipline is pending.


    My take: If you can't refrain from spraying this stuff in the classroom, you are too young for "sexy" spray. Return to stick deodorant.


    (Photo Credit: Axe)

  • Pennsylvania High School asks students to stop using Axe in deference to student’s life-threatening allergy. 3 of 9

    After one of its students had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction from being exposed to Axe body spray earlier this year, Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, asked its students to stop using the product. Even a small whiff of the stuff means that Brandon Silk's throat will close up, says his mom, Rosa Silk. Ms. Silk said Brandon's doctors aren't sure exactly which ingredient in Axe is triggering Brandon's allergy, and that Unilever has given them "the runaround" when trying to get an ingredient list for the product.


    My take: Anaphylactic allergy to scent is rare, but still, it's sensible to teach our kids that the products we use may affect others. Plenty of people without allergies like this are still sensitive to heavy scents.


    (Photo Credit: Bethlehem Area School District)

  • Cloud of Axe Body Spray trips fire alarm at Connecticut high school. 4 of 9

    School officials blamed a "cloud" of Axe body spray in the boys' locker room of Middletown High School for tripping a fire alarm in May 2012, reported the Middletown Press. Firefighters who responded said that an "overabundance" of the spray was used.


    My take: I'm not sure what quantity an "overabundance" is, exactly, but if you trigger fire alarms with your cloud of body spray, you are using too much product.


    (Photo Credit: Middletown Public Schools)


  • Axe blames girls for guys’ actions. 5 of 9

    "Girls are getting hotter and hotter," warns this recent ad for Axe Black Chill. "This is causing guys to lose their cool."


    The commercial then shows guys dropping books, crashing bikes, and accidentally setting a chemistry class on fire after an attractive young woman walked by. In other words, girls are to blame for guys' actions. As much as I don't want to read too much into an ad that is obviously designed to be over-the-top, the message is clear: boys/guys/men can't control themselves. 


    "With all the victim-blaming out there, this is a terrible thing to continue insinuating," writes Samantha Escobar on The Gloss. "By this logic, men are no longer capable of being respectful friends, students, colleagues or strangers -- that they need an actual product to manage their own behavioral problems -- and that is simply not true."


    My take: Let's all agree to teach our sons that self-control doesn't come from a can.


    (Screen cap: YouTube/Axe)

  • ‘Its [sic] a special moment that happens between you and hottie [sic].’ 6 of 9

    Fine, this one is purely gratuitous on my part. But considering that Unilever took in nearly $70 billion in revenue in 2012, you wouldn't think they'd have to skimp on apostrophes and indefinite articles.


    My take:  People still use the word "hottie"?


    (Screen cap: Axe)

  • Cross-Promotion: So. Much. Testosterone. 7 of 9

    In a new product tie-in, Axe has positioned itself in commercials for the first-person shooter video game Battlefield 4, which is rated M. As the world blows up around them in a not-so-subtle display of testosterone and phallic imagery, two tank drivers stop on a bridge because the smell of Axe is so powerful it literally stops tanks.


    Pete Haas from Cinema Blend notes that multiplayer Battlefield 4 doesn't actually have playable female soldiers, a fact that makes this ad's machismo seem even more ridiculous. Haas sums up the marketing ploy perfectly: "Yay, sex! Yay, Axe! Yay, Battlefield 4! Buy those last two things and get the first thing!"


    My take: If you are using so much Axe that you have stopped a tank, you are definitely using too much. Maybe next time don't use the shampoo, body wash, hair gel, stick deodorant, and body spray. Just pick one.


    (Screen caps: YouTube/Axe)

  • Stereotyping is alive and well: ‘Girls get bored easily.’ 8 of 9

    There's a lot of focus in the media telling parents of girls to examine the message that product advertising is sending to our daughters. (See my rant on Daddy'$ Money sneakers for a particularly hellacious example.) But parents of boys need to consider the messages the media sends to them, as well. Axe tells our sons that "girls get bored easily." Ugh, seriously? Does it count if I'm just bored with reading misogynistic crap?


    My take: Not loving the message this sends to boys or girls. Also, I'm unconvinced that wearing the personal equivalent of a Febreze Noticeables plug-in air freshener is actually going to make you more interesting.


    (Screen cap: Axe)

  • More stereotyping. Plus bonus pet catfoxpig thing. 9 of 9

    Axe helpfully places all girls into one of five categories: Sporty, Party, High Maintenance, Brainy, or Flirty. In any case, "the hottest girls are the most demanding." And apparently they demand Axe shower gel. And since at least one of those girls is wielding a catfoxpig, I would go ahead and just give into the demands.


    My take: Sorry, I can't even focus on their advertising message because I'm distracted by that silhouetted animal. Is that some kind of cat? A chihuahua? A small, cuddly chupacabra? Are we finally finding out what the fox says? Pretty much the take-home message I'm getting here is that if you want to date a girl with a pet chupacabra (and who doesn't?), Axe shower gel is your ticket.


    (Screen cap: Axe)


Read more from Joslyn on Babble and at her blog, stark. raving. mad. mommy. You can also follow Joslyn on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

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