Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » November 2004 » Thought for the Day:

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11/10/2004: Thought for the Day:

Not long ago—though it seems like a different era—I was unfamiliar with the concept of "body sprays." Then Axe hit the market. Axe had those ads where a hot chick and a dorky guy are riding in an elevator and, because the guy smells like Axe, they have anonymous coitus. This was termed "The Axe Effect."

I associate Axe with that dark chapter in American history (I think it was last summer) when the only thing we could talk about was "metrosexuals." (I hate to dredge this up, but bear with me.) Metrosexuality, as best I could tell, was about straight guys deciding it was cool to use poncey beauty products--because it would help them nail hot chicks. Axe Bodyspray was perhaps the most metrosexual product ever invented. While a few more recent Axe ads have departed from the young-guy-in-dark-suit aesthetic of our metrosexual summer (in one, a cheerleader stops a football game to aggressively mount a running back), Axe has never abandoned its central message. That message being: An ornate grooming regimen will get you laid.

It seems, on its surface, like an appealing pitch. But look at this new ad for Old Spice Red Zone body spray (a new product launched to compete with Axe). What intrigues me about this Old Spice ad is the comparative humility of its message. The Axe ads suggest that if you use Axe Bodyspray you will get crazy, spontaneous monkeysex. This Old Spice ad suggests that if you use Red Zone body spray your girlfriend will be fond of the way you smell and thus will harbor positive feelings toward you—even when you're acting like a knucklehead.


Fast forward to 2004. Old Spice is currently No. 1 (just ahead of Right Guard) in the men's antiperspirant-deodorant category. It's had 10 straight years of growth. And, perhaps most amazingly, Old Spice is the No. 1 antiperspirant-deodorant among teenage boys. The brand somehow transformed itself from fuddy-duddy to whippersnapper.

The secret, in part, is not promising too much. "We always want to depict our guy in a real-life, realistic situation," says Old Spice brand manager Carl Stealey. "Guys are not always aspirational. They're not thinking, 'What if?' They want a product that works, and they want a consistent and trusting relationship with it. A lot of other products overpromise."

I'm pretty sure he's talking about Axe here. And he's got a point. When you promise spontaneous monkeysex, you run into a couple of problems. 1) You won't deliver on that promise. This leaves the customer disappointed and sours him on the brand. 2) Your image gets linked with the guy who is desperate to get laid and who needs some sort of magic potion to help him. Which is not a great image.
--Seth Stevenson [slate.msn.com, "Ad Report Card"]

Len on 11.10.04 @ 05:41 AM CST

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November 2004

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