Monday, February 1, 2016

death of the singular brand space

Is embracing diversity brand suicide?

Axe has been in the news for their new campaign, “Find Your Magic”. I don’t know if this will change the overall brand direction, or whether it is just a one-time blip to appease/attract alternative user segments.

Axe is known for its unapologetic depiction of masculinity (and chauvinism), tapping in to lust and the desire. The “Axe Effect” inspired young men across the globe with the lure of becoming savvier ladies men. This extensive reivew of Axe’s historical print work reminds us of the brand’s single-minded focus on being able to score under a range of circumstances. The brand often shows an aspirational image or situation and only once in awhile does its advertising actually acknowledge that its communication persona is different from its end-users, absolutely average guys.

There has always been a gap between how Axe presents itself with its ladykiller brand persona, and its end-users. With “Find Your Magic” Axe is now embracing and depicting their actual consumers – big nose, big hair, overzealous, geeky, disabled, and even cross-dresser or gay. The latter two were especially surprising for a brand that has been so single-minded in the past.

The brand now even acknowledges that guys can be particular and finicky with their hair. A guy spending time "doing his hair” is just not part of the traditional idea of alpha masculinity. In Axe's accompanying “Instagroom” video series guys are shown blowdyring, meticulously combing, and styling with a range of products. Not even one all-purpose man hair gunk, but an actual range of men's grooming products for all sorts of different styles. I'm not disputing that men have been metro for awhile now, but that a brand like Axe would suddenly claim this behavior and actively portray it is so far off from their usual route.

A common advertising discussion is whether your target consumers want to see themselves in communication efforts, or someone more aspirational. Axe has always played squarely on the latter approach, a clear focus on portraying hyper masculinity. This move is an interesting one to embrace their audience as both consumer and communication focus.

As a non-target and general consumer I appreciate Axe’s new point of view. I will find it distasteful only if Axe goes back to the tired ladykiller when it launches its next body spray campaign (this one is for hair grooming). It would seem that consumers, or at least Axe’s audience, have matured (in mindset if not in age) and can more consciously call the BS on their former position. But as films and television have evolved to accommodate more complicated characters, and diversity debates are now bringing minorities to the forefront it seems only right and also fantastic that brands are willing to evolve.

As a planner, however, I wonder what it means when big brands that have worked so hard to craft single-minded spaces expand their position to account for complexity and diversity. Classic strategies laud Apple for becoming synonymous with design, Coca-cola with happiness, Volvo with safety, Axe for ladykilling.

Advertising strategies are made of focused audience portraits, singlular insights and single-minded propositions. What room is there within that framework for diversity?

This leaves me with more questions than opinions: How can brands truly embrace diversity while maintaining brand identity? Is diversity something that only established brands can truly claim? What happens to the single-minded focus when brands want and need to be congizant of a wider definition of people? Will this type of thinking lead to to a more in-depth psycographic study in order to find characteristics that appeal to a wider audience? Will ‘having a diversity POV’ become an integral part of the masterbrand narrative? Will depicting the consumer in the ad become more important to audiences? Is there really room for diversity in the brand persona? Will this change the strategic planning discipline?

So much to consider and what a gloriously mad time to be in advertising.


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