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Marketing the Rainbow

This article was last updated on Apr 25, 2023

Australian gay kiss 2014

Lynx (in most markets known as Axe) sort of revolutionized the macho Australian market late 2014, when they showed a gay kiss in a commercial. Having been criticized (and even banned) before in the UK for objectifying women, Lynx chose a more inclusive approach in their latest advert, where one segment of the 1 minute commercial says “kiss the hottest girl or the hottest boy” (both kisses being performed by the same man).  The moment is fleeting, but definitely there.

Quite remarkably, the throng of comments on YouTube were predominantly positive. “I love that they just showed two men kissing like it's the most normal thing in the world, just the way that it should be,” one observer wrote.

Find Your Magic & #Isitokforguys? 2016

In 2016 they launched the campaign "Find Your Magic", in which a number of unusual people - including a drag queen on stiletto heels doing a dead-drop, and two androgynous teenage boys in a tentative flirt - were looking for their... magic.

Love is Love

In a number of countries Axe has brought us the Unite - Love is Love deo and shower gel for a number of years now. In the Netherlands they are collaborating with COC's division Jong&Out, who got a "generous donation". Retailers like Kruidvat, Etos and Trekpleister used the products in special promotions - sometimes even with a web page. 

Boston Straight Pride

When the controversial Straight Pride Parade was announced to be held in Boston in 2019, pundits started suggesting "really masculine floats" - a giant Axe body spray float topped the list. However, Axe very cleverly refuted the association by responding, "We'll be at the parade that matters and this one isn't it." A whole dialogue on twitter ensued, including a tweet by Pop-Tarts who praised them.

"This is something we've been committed to for years," an Axe spokesman said in a statement to CNN Business. "We stand up for what we believe in and that includes gay rights and rights for the LGBTQ+ community — LOVE is LOVE."

The Axe Effect, the beginning

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Smell Ready 2020  - Always Proud

In 2020 the brand launched the campaign Smell Ready, which gave the traditional Axe humour a Covid twist. Agency Mullenlowe designed the social media campaign Always Proud for the LGBT crowd.

A blogger reported: "Where Axe (Lynx) has always been about giving young blokes the confidence to go out there and “get the girl”, they have never gone out to “get the guy”. But the brand supports its gay fans nonetheless. This social campaign for Pride by MullenLowe is lovely."

The campaign does away with the chiseled models typically featured in grooming product advertisements in favor of a more diverse group. In one scene, a vogue-ing black dancer strikes a few poses while strutting in a pair of stiletto heels before a panel of judges, while two men exchange a more-than-brotherly glance across a record store in another.  

Pride Amsterdam 2019

Axe had a broad campaign for the Pride festival and parade in Amsterdam in 2019. Built around the rainbow branded products Unite, there were (digital) billboards on busy spots like the Central Station, an interactive screen at the Rembrandplein, store promotions with huge POS displays, a "Love Out Loud" float in the parade plus banners on the jury stand and along the parade.

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Pride Amsterdam 2020

In collaboration with agency Vice+ Axe made a campaign about the coming-out of three young artists: Shana as queer, Skyler as gay and Gary as transgender person.

Annekee van den Berg, Brand Manager AX Netherlands: “During PRIDE we celebrate that you can be who you are and love who you want. Although PRIDE looks different this year than other years, we want to celebrate every kind of love and this message remains important.”

Leone Vriese, Account Manager VICE Benelux: “At VICE we use our different platforms to give a voice to young people from the LGBTI+ community. We are therefore proud that through this collaboration we can bring even more of these stories to the attention.

The content collaboration is part of a large campaign, which also includes a Snapchat AR Love is Love Rainbow lens. This was a novelty: it was the first paid AR-Lens in the Netherlands that responds to hand gestures. When you make a V sign with your hand, the text Peace appears. If you make a fist, you will see Equality and when you make the “I love you” gesture, Love will appear. When you turn the camera around, your surroundings take on a colorful PRIDE glow and Love is Love appears.

There also was a high impact Out of Home expressions and a social layer. In addition, the brand supported the Jong&Out platform of COC Netherlands with a donation.

UEFA 2021

UEFA made headlines by rejecting the request of Munich’s Mayor to light up the Allianz Area with the colors of the rainbow flag. During the Germany vs Hungary match, Axe offered a Snapchat lens that allowed users in the stadium to digitally transform the green playing field into the rainbow flag. Snapchatters could share their images and show support for freedom of expression. Followers, creators and influencers, which included German participant’s wives, took part in the activation - garnering over 2.5 million impressions (150% of the benchmark). Axe collaborated with the charity Action Alliance against Homophobia.

The New Axe Effect 2021

In this video we see the ever repeating effect that Axe body spray has on people. And not only women are impressed: also a few men - and a dog.

Touch 2005

A man walks into a bar. He sits down to study a map as passionate, love-making music characterizes the mood. We see both a man and a woman that are aroused by this man's presence to the point where we see their nipples harden through their shirts.

We all know the Axe Effect as it made Axe the No. 1 men's fragrance brand in the world. Mostly we see it on men attracting women, however - Axe has not been discriminatory and it has generously shown us that it does not stop there. In quite a few of their commercials we have seen man to man interest, but there is more...

The first commercial known in this genre was a French lesbian ad in 1997 that we called Go Gay, then the Lift in 1998, followed by Revenge in 1999.

Company strategy

Unilever is one of the world’s most culturally diverse companies and is committed to developing an inclusive culture which acknowledges the contribution of all employees, regardless of their gender, age, race, disability, sexual orientation or any other background. They have a Global Diversity Board providing the overarching vision, governance and target setting for inclusion and diversity across their business.

In 2019, CEO Alan Jope shared a message of Unilever’s support and belief that every member of the LGBT+ community must be treated fairly by society not just for one moment in the year but every day, every week, every month and every year.

Over the years, they have been actively participating in Marketing the Rainbow: both on corporate level as well as many individual brands. Here is a look at Axe bodycare, in some markets known as Lynx.

See also the separate articles for cosmetics, fmcg and Ice Creams

In the same year Lynx wanted to "ungender" some products and showed an androgynous model in their campaign. This was misconstrued by the press: The Telegraph wrote about the new Lynx campaign: "Laddish Lynx has gone transgender – but is Mainstream Man ready?" calling it a "spectacular branding U-turn".


At first Axe acted a bit giggly when using LGBT themes, but soon there was a very conscious focus on pride and equality. There has been a collaboration with charities for years, the campaigns are original and are widely used ATL. Axe goes all out and scores a 9.5.

Smell Like a Woman, Argentina 2008

A rather insulting ad from Argentina suggested that a man should smell like a man, not a woman – so don't use that pink soap…because then put on lipstick and a dress. You can explain this in many ways, but let's say it's been 15 years, times have changed.

The End of the World 2012

In this Mayan year (which would bring the end of the world, right?) Axe 2012 – The Final Edition came out and they wished us “Happy End of the World”. Modern-day Noah builds an ark, uses the spray bottle from the End of Days, and then they come to the boat in pairs: couples who could well pass for lesbians. There was a Dutch version, a longer French version and also an effective German parody where Noah appears to be a woman, or at least non-binary (and that was more than ten years ago!).

Ben Affleck 2006

A year later, a spot for Lynx showed Ben Affleck looking pleasantly pleased - not perturbed - that he got attention from women ánd men. The exact same clip was made with singer/actor Nick Lachey

(most famous as Jessica Simpson's ex).

Ungender 2016

Case study: Axe/Lynx

Branche: Cosmetics & fmcg