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Axe - Lynx Brand Profile (UK)

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Axe is the name for Unilever's hugely successful male toiletries brand, now marketed in more than 60 countries worldwide. It has established itself as one of the company's most high-profile brands, initially with eye-catching and prolific marketing which offered an often absurdly exaggerated view of the product's effect on women. It has also steadily expanded its range from the original deodorant spray into body wash and most recently haircare products. In just three markets - the UK, Ireland and Australia - Axe is still known under the alternative name Lynx. It is the world's best-selling male grooming product, and the #2 deodorant worldwide behind Unilever's lead brand in that sector, Rexona/Degree/Sure.


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Axe/Lynx now has a global retail value of around €1.4bn. The core product is a body spray designed to act as both a deodorant and a cologne. There are also deodorant sticks and roll-ons, aftershaves, body lotions, shower gels and even an exfoliating body scrub. A range of haircare products offering "girl-approved hair" launched in the US at the end of 2008 and gradually rolled out in other markets in 2009. Skincare and shaving kits joined the range in 2013, including promotional tie-ups with Philips Norelco shavers and Schick razors. The most unusual line extension was the introduction of the first Axe women's fragrance in 2012 under the name Axe Anarchy. The brand has continued to dabble with unisex variants.

Key to the ongoing success of Axe has been the strategy of launching new fragrance variants every year or so. The 2013 edition was Apollo, tied in to a promotion to send 23 lucky users into sub-orbital space. It was followed by 2014 variant Axe Peace. There were no fewer than three new lines in 2016: Axe Adrenaline, Axe Urban and Axe Signature. Other variants have included Instinct (2009), chocolate-scented Dark Temptation (2008), Vice (2007) and Click (2006). Selected past fragrances continue to be marketed alongside the current line-up although availability varies from country to country. Big-sellers include Afrika (originally launched in 1995), Marine (from 1989), Pulse (2003), Touch (2004) and Feather (2005).

Just as important, perhaps, has been the brand's eye-catching, often slightly risque marketing, which portrays Axe as the ultimate "babe magnet", capable of luring gorgeous girls to even the most uninteresting looking men. This strategy, however, resulted in a certain amount of controversy at the end of 2007. Unilever came under fire in some quarters of the global media because of the apparent hypocrisy evident in its marketing for sister range Dove - which criticised media portrayals of women as sex objects. Some commentators pointed out that such an approach has long provided the bedrock for the marketing of Axe/Lynx. After that, for a while (a very short while) the commercials for Axe adopted a noticeably less sex-obsessed approach. Another attempt to "grow up" was launched in 2014, with a shift away from girl-attraction to more worldly matters. In 2016, the "Find your Magic" Axe campaign appeared to feature its first gay and cross-dressing users alongside its traditional audience of straight men.

Axe has been enormously successful in virtually all its markets. Its biggest by value is the US, where it launched in 2002. By 2006, according to a published report from Unilever, sales there were almost $260m, equivalent to just under 14% of the local deodorant market. By 2008, they were said to have topped $500m for the first time, and Axe claimed to have displaced Procter & Gamble's Old Spice as the most popular male grooming product. (That longer established brand made a strong comeback after 2008 with an even edgier marketing campaign). According to Unilever's 2006 figures, the next biggest territory was the UK, where Lynx earned the equivalent of around $138m. (For year to Sept 2013, IRI estimated UK sales of £167m, equivalent to around 40% share of the male grooming sector). Some way behind in 2006 were Brazil (sales of $66m), Germany ($50m), Mexico ($46m), France ($41m), Spain and Argentina (both $35m). In most global markets, share is at least in double figures, and reaches as high as 28% in India, 24% in Chile and 20% in Argentina. In 2007, Axe launched for the first time in Japan, and quickly established itself as the market leader in its sector.


Unilever's first venture into the men's toiletries market came in the mid-1960s when its South African subsidiary launched one of the first ever deodorants for men as an extension to soap brand Shield. In 1970, Bristol Myers-Squibb introduced the first perfumed deodorant spray in Scandinavia as an extension to its Mum brand. This piqued the interest of Unilever's development team in South Africa, who quickly developed their own version and launched it locally as Impulse, a perfumed deodorant body spray for women. Although the concept was quite unfamiliar to consumers, it caught on fast and was gradually rolled out with great success in other markets.

Meanwhile, Unilever had also begun experimenting in the men's market, launching a mass-market fragrance brand in the UK under the name Denim ("For the man who doesn't have to try too hard," claimed the marketing) to counter the success of Brut by Faberge (subsequently acquired by Unilever). In France, Unilever even launched a cheap disposable razor under the Denim name. Later, Unilever's French subsidiary began adapting the Impulse body spray concept for the men's market and eventually launched it in 1983 under the name Axe.

The product was launched in the UK and Germany in 1985. The Axe name was considered too aggressive for English-speaking markets (and in fact had been trademarked by another company). Instead the company selected the name Lynx for the UK and later Australia, while South Africa launched the product as Ego. In other European markets it was launched as Axe. Modestly successful to begin with, the brand's growth had tailed off by the mid-1990s, despite a series of extensions into aftershave (1989) and roll-on deodorant (1991). In 1996 a new marketing campaign re-established the product, especially in the UK, as an icon for the revitalised young men's market. The brand was extended still further in 2000 with a range of body sprays, shower gels, shaving gels and razors. Unilever experimented even more ambitiously with a small chain of Lynx barber shops, but this idea was later abandoned. In 2002, the group rebranded its South African deodorant Ego as Axe, leaving the UK and Australia as the only territories not to conform to the global brand umbrella.

In 2007, Unilever launched an elaborate hoax to promote the Axe brand in India, with the help of the local arm of MTV. For several weeks in Autumn 2007, MTV India featured the music video for what was purportedly a new Bollywood singer, Silky Kumar, and his record Scent of Desire. MTV named Kumar as its artist of the month, despite the fact that the singer was obviously seriously lacking in both talent and looks. Nevertheless, his video showed him surrounded by flocks of beautiful girls while he performed an excruciatingly inept dance routine. Indian viewers and media commentators were mystified by the hype surrounding the previously unknown Kumar, until the airing of a fake documentary which claimed to reveal his secret - which was that he had supposedly stolen the secret formula for the new Axe fragrance and was using it to transform himself from a regular nerd into a Bollywood star.

Last full revision 17th June 2016

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