Smells like teen...body spray
Smells like teen ... body spray!
By Doug West
On a recent confirmation camp retreat weekend with our church’s middle-school youth, I experienced firsthand the aroma and annoyance of body sprays. Prior to this encounter I had only anecdotal evidence as to the extent of its use and the substance of its scent. However, as editor of the CPYU Youth Culture e-Update, I have catalogued considerable amounts of news about body sprays. During our weekend retreat several of the youth brought along their Axe spray, which they liberally applied, and joyfully announced how great it smelled. One youth even took the effort to outfit a zippered case full of the pungent fumigant, which he proudly displayed. The problems began when the spray was “shared” with others in our cabin, whether they wanted it or not. The situation gradually progressed into an all-out “Axe (body spray) War” between youth in our cabin and other cabins, and also involved several of the girls raiding the boys’ cabins to seize their arsenal of spray and douse the air and sleeping bags, luggage, etc. Adult intervention was required to compel a cease-fire.
While this scenario points out the joy (spontaneity) and struggle (immaturity) of ministering to adolescents, it also serves as a reminder of the futility of escaping the media’s presence and influence, even on a church retreat among so-called good “church kids.” Upon further discussion with some of the offending parties in the above incident, it became clear that they had knowledge—to varying degrees—of the sexual innuendo in the marketing of body sprays. This reality further illustrates the vulnerability of tweens (ages eight to 12 years old) and teens as they enter into and progress through puberty, and are exposed to sexually suggestive marketing that exploits their budding sexuality with the false hope of attracting and seducing members of the opposite sex simply by using their product. Lastly, this incident exposes the need for media discernment skills among teens so they can make wise decisions in an increasingly amoral cultural landscape. CPYU explores the fragrant world of body spray, hoping to clear the air regarding their current popularity and increasingly overt sexualized marketing.
Body spray products
The main competitors in the personal hygiene category of body sprays—deodorant and cologne—and body washes are Unilever’s Axe (launched Aug. 2002), Proctor & Gamble’s Tag (launched Feb. 2005) and Old Spice’s Red Zone (launched 2000). Under each of the brand names are assorted products with unique scents and names. For instance, Tag has the products “First Move,” “Midnight,” “After Hours” and “Lucky Day,” while Axe features “Touch,” “Phoenix,” “Kilo,” “Essence,” “Tsunami,” “Orion,” “Voodoo” and “Apollo.”
Sales figures for the blooming teen body spray market are difficult to come by, but according to Information Resources Inc., as reported by the Boston Globe (8/7/05), Tag sales in the first half of 2005 were $7.4 million; approximately one-third of category leader Axe. Time magazine (2/6/05) however reported that Axe had 83 percent ($150 million) of the estimated $180 million market.
Body spray marketing
The marketing of body sprays is clever, creative, insidious and unapologetically sexual. Yet for all the advertising dollars being pumped out to promote these products, schools are—innocently enough—helping to drive demand for deodorant products. At a recent “human growth and development” presentation for parents at our local elementary school, several teachers warned parents about the impending reality of boys’ B.O. (a.k.a. body odor), and strongly urged the use of some form of deodorant.
Marketers are seizing the opportunity to address the legitimate need of teen guy body odor, and subsequently drawing attention to their brand name, by supplementing their message to include sexual messages that exploit teen boy insecurities about their interaction with members of the opposite sex and holding out the alluring promise of facilitating physical attraction.
“Sex sells,” as the proverbial statement goes, and body spray manufacturers are cashing in on a captive audience of desperate teenagers. The warning labels appearing on Axe shower gel products read: “Beware of the Axe Effect. The Axe Effect may result in, but is not limited to, unrelenting female attention and/or late nights.” Tag body spray cans boast: “Uniquely designed to attract the ladies.” Whether these statements are true is of little concern given the remote possibility that they might be true. It is easy to understand why adolescent boys might be enticed to buy these products.
In addition to the brash slogans on the products themselves, body spray marketers have made considerable use of print ads in various magazines popular among teen guys (Blender, Spin, Rolling Stone and Vibe). A Christmas holiday ad for Tag that appeared in the Dec ‘05/Jan ‘06 editions of CosmoGirl, Seventeen and Teen Vogue encourages girls to buy Tag for their boyfriends, with the following warning: “The makers of Tag body spray will not be held liable should your attraction to your Tag-wearing boyfriend cause you to engage in behavior that grandma may consider ‘unladylike.’” A girl is shown groping a guy to the shock of family members in the room. Many of these print ads are available online.
Axe has several ads for its shower gel—”How Dirty Boys Get Clean”—campaign. One ad shows an empty shower with a sign that reads, “Occupancy by more than five persons is dangerous and unlawful.” Another ad shows a towel bar outside of a shower with four embroidered towels that read, “His,” “Hers,” “Her Sister’s” and “Her Roommate’s.” Several ads for Axe’s Touch body spray show camouflaged females (surfboard, elevator buttons and bowling balls) with the slogan, “She’ll want your touch.” An Axe Unlimited ad set in a diner shows a before-and-after sequence of images as to the effect of using the product. In the before shot, a sedate scene of patrons and employees is captured, but once the use of Axe Unlimited is implied the scene is retaken with much of the scenery and activity in the booths changing drastically.
Tag ads feature a prominent “warning” banner superimposed over various hyperbolized scenes of sexual attraction along with an accompanying cut-out label card. In addition to the holiday ad mentioned above there is an ad showing a girls’ volleyball team pouncing on a guy who is struggling to get away with the tag line, “The makers of new Tag body spray will not be held liable should any girl-on-girl-on-girl-on-girl-on-girl-on-girl-on-guy action occur.” Another Tag ad shows four females trying to pull down a guy from the roof of a bus stop with the tag line, “The makers of new Tag body spray cannot be held responsible for floods of over-eager ladies. Be advised to move to higher ground for clearest signal, and carry this card.” An additional ad shows several angry adults yelling and pointing out at the reader while standing around an attractive female. The tag line reads, “The makers of new Tag body spray will not be held responsible for any breach of local customs with regard to ‘Getting it on.’” The cut-out card on the ad has four different translations (French, German, Italian and Spanish) of the phrase, “No sir, I did not have foreign relations with your daughter.”
Another means body spray manufacturers use to promote their brands is the Internet. All of the sites include colorful and graphic product descriptions. Many also include access to streamed video and/or downloadable print ads, and some form of interactive gaming.
Unilever’s Axe Web site (www.unilever.com/ourbrands/personalcare/Axe.asp) provides access to an award-winning advertisement titled, “Getting Dressed.” The ad shows a guy and a girl waking up in bed and putting their clothes back on. Their trek to track down their clothes leads them across town and through busy traffic before coming to the grocery store aisle where their shopping carts met and the anonymous encounter began. The couple parts ways as apparent intimate strangers.
Axe’s site (www.theaxeeffect.com) details the various Axe products and even explains how Axe works (a guy is shown spraying Axe on his chest and underarm, which gets him a female flanked on either side). Various video and print ads can be viewed and/or downloaded, and a Vixens game, featuring “naughty supermodels,” can be downloaded and played (an advertisement featuring a CD copy of the game appeared in the May 2005 edition of Blender). The Axe Touch Web site (www.theaxeeffect.com/touch/flash.html) loads with a zipper opening intro then proceeds to reveal the main site with a rotating ring of erotically posed silhouette images of females surrounding links to a four-part challenge, downloads and the Touch game.
The Axe Unlimited site contains the self-described “fantasy game of seduction,” Mojo Master (www.mojomastergame.com), where gamers are “let loose in a fantasy world populated by 100 totally hot 3D girls.” The site has lusty computer-generated images of female characters, along with print ad and video downloads, wallpapers, and forums.
The Old Spice Red Zone site (www.whensheshot.com) allows visitors to edit their own video of a provocatively dressed and dancing female, along with various soundtrack options.
Tag’s body spray site (www.tagbodyspray.com) contains several video ads and two interactive games—“House Call” and “Hide the Hotties”—embedded as objects in the virtual medicine cabinet.
The sexualized marketing of body sprays, while at times ridiculously comical, helps fuel lustful sexual fantasies among increasingly curious adolescent boys. It also provides a gateway to further exposure to, and involvement in, pornography. While this strategy is used to stimulate sales it also serves to distort boys’ perception of girls as image bearers of the Creator, and instead, reduces them to objects of sexual gratification.
As mentioned earlier, the pervasive presence of media illuminates the difficulty of hiding out from culture in an insulated, isolated, sanitized and “safe” world. Christians attempting to live out their faith in the world, while not being of the world, should be challenged to lovingly and critically engage culture. Jesus himself prayed for his followers that they not be taken from the world, but that they would be protected from the evil one. This requires that we prepare the youth we know and love to be able to discern fact from fantasy, and encourage them to “use their heads to guard their hearts” against seductive assaults on a biblical world and life view. The next time you see a youth applying body spray, or smell its distinct aroma, perhaps you could use the occasion to facilitate a cross-cultural conversation about the influence of marketing on purchasing behavior, but also to ascertain attitudes of the heart.
Click on the thumbnails below to download larger versions of Tag and Axe print ads.
Related Article: CPYU's 3-D Review of an Axe Unlimited Print Ad
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