From Conquest to Connection

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“The rules have changed” for brands interacting with modern masculinities. Throughout the session Rik uses research gathered from 3,500 young men to take us through how Axe has navigated through these societal changes, and why it’s important.

To Rik Strubel, vice president of Axe/ Lynx, we tend to think men ‘have it easy’ in the gender game, he doesn’t necessarily agree. “If men are so privileged, why is it that guys are 4x more likely to commit suicide than women” “why is it that 41% of guys are afraid of looking different for the fear of being judged”. These saddening stats show that AXEs demographic, young men, are in fact struggling in modern society.

Rik labels these struggles the “man box”, “a set of stereotypical attributes men are supposed to be”. To be tough, strong, emotionless even “violent when necessary” is considered the norm for a modern man. He explains that despite the constraining nature of the “man box” for young men, it isn’t talked about, even though it can breed a toxic form of masculinity. The example of Harvey Weinstein is used to highlight just how serious the repercussions of this are for society.

Not only does this man box breed toxic masculinities, it stops young guys from “getting laid”. It holds guys back and stops them from being the happiest version of themselves.

He asks, “what is the role of brands, advertisers, and the media to really help to break open this man box?”. In summary “young guys expect brands to acknowledge that the world has changed”. “They want to see a world where a man can be whatever he wants to be”.

Fueled by the extensive research AXE undertook on young men, Rik Strubel went on to deepen these insights, and how AXE responded to “support those guys in their struggles and to move and entertain them in a way that is different”.

Underpinning all of AXE communications was a move from the idea of ‘conquest’, to the idea of ‘connection’. A notion he explains to be important in the worlds of young men, as well as in how marketers engage with their audience.

Strubel explains that this shift is characterizing the modern dating game. Nowadays it’s about the mutual connection between genders, not guys ability to go out “on the hunt” for girls.

Furthermore, due to the constraints of the man box, there is a discrepancy between what 16-25 year old guys think women want (money, muscles, masculine attitude) and what they really want (humor, personality, individuality). This stops them “getting laid”, one of young guys top priority.

Perhaps in a bid to get their demographic laid, AXE presents the campaign “find your magic”, a line replacing “the AXE effect”. The ad encourages individuality and responds to the insight that young guys want to see a world “where a man can be whatever he wants”.

Furthermore, the idea of a mutual connection between the genders is carried right through to price point, through the unisex pack Lynx “unity”.

Online dating has changed the game even more. When both genders have hours at their disposal to craft the perfect message, they become online supermen and superwomen. Its explained that living up to these meticulous expectations makes meeting up in real life particularly difficult. “They expect brands to take the edge off”, and humor in advertising remains a good way to do so in the minds of young men.

In response, AXEs’ 2018 “your gold” campaign zooms “into the little moments when attitude and humor help to overcome potentially embarrassing situations”.

Rik Strubel rains home the known truth that attention spans are shrinking, and more and more young guys are using Adblock. “We need to be there, right there, right then, say what we want to say it in an entertaining way and then get out”. However, with 75% of the demographic willing to share their own data, he highlights the opportunity to use this to produce content they really care about, where they are. “Engagement beats reach”.

In partnership with Google, LYNX presents young man’s data to “understand what the key questions guys are asking when it comes to masculinity” with the campaign “is it ok for guys”. This is a more serious campaign, that goes deeper into understanding the struggles guys go through and helps make the real problem of the man box visible. Rik then explains that through a further partnership with charities calm and ditch the label, real support was able to be offered online. He proudly presented that through this 1.2 million people received help for issues related to bullying.

He then explained how he was able to use data further, collaborating with vice and Snapchat to create content guys wanted, and put it out where they are. “Contextualised, relevant and native” The campaign had record setting impressions of 12.0m in 6 days. The brand is also partnering with Boilerroom, Kyra, and an unannounced face to create AXE music in 2018, a platform that will allow AXE to connect with their audience on an emotional and experiential level.

He concludes that “conquest is dead”. Guys are now seeking a mutual “connection”, and “that is the approach us as brands have to take”. “Connection is the value, partnership is the currency” and whilst acknowledging there’s more to be done, he suggests that AXE as a brand in “on the right track”. I for one couldn’t agree more.

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