Lynx/Axe "Ideal Woman" by Bartle Bogle Hegarty (2000)
'The Lynx Effect' campaign – or 'The Axe Effect' as it became in most international markets - was born when Keith Weed, then head of Unilever's Elida Faberge deodorant and fragrance division, realised that the company's well-established men's body spray had ended up being "about as cool as Roger Moore in a safari suit". Clearly a new approach was required, and in 1995 he moved the account to Bartle Bogle Hegarty, arguably London's coolest agency who, among other triumphs, had a decade earlier transformed Levi's jeans into one of the UK's trendiest clothing brands.
The first ads, overseen by BBH creative director Dennis Lewis, adopted the position that a burst of Lynx body spray could transform even the nerdiest of guys into a sex god. An early campaign featuring Jennifer Aniston – then just reaching the peak of her Friends' fame – as one such guy's stay-at-home girlfriend really put the brand on the map in cultural terms. Shortly afterwards, Lewis left, and creative responsibility for the account was bestowed on Rosie Arnold, who was to oversee the business for the next 15 years or so, elevating the brand to stratospheric levels of global success. 'Ideal Woman' was one of the first ads under her management, co-created by her with copywriter Shawn Preston and directed by Paul Goldman.
Rosie Arnold: "One of the nice things about taking over an account aimed at young boys was that I managed to temper the approach, I think; bring more of a female perspective to it. In fact, we were really aiming at the mums just as much as the boys, because in many cases it was the mums who were buying aftershave for their sons. Everyone says 'Oh my God, Lynx smells so awful'. But actually as a mother of two sons myself, my answer would be, 'Have you smelled teenage boys? Because let me tell you, Lynx smells a lot better than most teenage boys'.
"Also I didn't want to do anything that was too sexist. It's a very fine line you tread; especially in today's climate, but even back then. Some of the Lynx campaigns haven't perhaps aged quite as well as others, but the ads I worked on, like this one, are still acceptable today I think because they're affectionate and tongue-in-cheek. Women still laugh at 'Ideal Woman' because we recognise the truth of it. We do say we like certain things that in fact we don't particularly, just because we like a guy.
"We shot the whole thing in Argentina. All the locations were in Buenos Aires, but dressed to look like different countries; even that Tube station scene at the beginning. It was a really complicated shoot, much more so than previous Lynx ads, lots of set-ups, lots of takes, and also lots of languages. It was the first time the client had asked us to do an international ad that could run all over the world. So we shot lots of different versions: in English, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, French...
"Finding the cast was incredibly tough. We had to cast girls that were not only beautiful and could act but could also speak three or four languages. We would do the English version and then say 'Ok, now do it in German… Right, now do it in French', or whatever. Then we did different edits for each of the different markets. We worked out that it was fine to have three or four of the girls subtitled in each version. My idea was that it was like some young guy backpacking around the world in his gap year or whatever, and these were all the different girls he met on his travels.
"Unilever were great, great clients, and we had a really good relationship with them. When you have a really good client, it's wonderful, but also nerve-wracking as a creative because you've got nowhere to hide. You can't make an excuse afterwards, 'Oh the client made us do that'. I think that's what clients don't understand. The more they trust you, the harder you want to work to live up to that trust. All our Lynx clients over the years were great, and as a result I think they got the work they deserved."
Many of the ads that followed over the next decade or so from BBH have also become classics in their own right: 'Getting Dressed' in which a couple wake up in bed and then have to retrieve their various items of clothing all over town, tracing a path back to where they met entirely by chance in supermarket. 'Billions' in which a horde of Amazonian warrior women converge on a beach in the middle of nowhere, summoned by the scent of an ordinary bloke spraying Lynx on himself; and 'Angels', perhaps the last truly great film to-date from BBH, in which beautiful winged angels fall to earth in pursuit of a single guy wearing Lynx.
"Later on, there was certainly a shift in the strategy," says Arnold. "By 2009, 2010, the approach we had been taking started to attract criticism for being a little bit sexist, and perhaps slightly outmoded. Unilever took some flak for it because at the same time the ads for Dove, another of their big brands, were saying something completely different. On one hand, with Dove, you're saying to women, you don't have to be beautiful; and then on the other you're telling boys all these gorgeous women are attainable just by spraying something on yourselves. For a marketeer, you begin to look a little schizophrenic."
'Ideal Woman' made Arnold one of the UK industry's most celebrated creative directors, and earned her a first D&AD Gold Pencil, as well as multiple awards. That same year, Donald Gunn, author of the widely respected Gunn Report creativity survey, compiled a showreel of the 100 Best Ads of the 20th Century as nominated by a roster of the industry's most illustrious names. 'Ideal Woman' is the youngest ad on that list, sitting alongside the likes of Coca-Cola's 'Mountain Top' and 'Mean Joe Greene', Apple's 'Misfits', Levi's 'Launderette' and Guinness 'Surfer'. A classic indeed.