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Marketing the Rainbow

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.

A few years earlier, 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.

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.


Unilever owns over 400 brands and had a turnover in 2020 of 51 billion euros. The company has done some corporate and multi-brand campaigns for Marketing the Rainbow , but the individual brands also had their own campaigns. Here is a look at the personal care brands. 

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 Efect, 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.  

Amsterdam Pride 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.

axe spanish
Kruidvat 2

Amsterdam Pride 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.

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.

Case study: Axe/Lynx

Branche: Cosmetics & fmcg

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.

This article was last updated on Jul 30, 2021