Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards
Your Shot: AXE and 72andSunny on Brilliant #isitokforguys Initiative
Advertising Agency
Amsterdam, Netherlands
AXE Global VP Rik Strubel and 72andSunny Amsterdam CDs Matt Heck and Laura Visco on de-bunking life in the ‘Man Box’

Last year AXE and 72andSunny Amsterdam tore up the male grooming advertising handbook and launched ‘Find Your Magic’, a remarkable campaign that celebrated the weird and wonderful diversity of all things man. It was, rightly, lauded across the globe. Well, the brand is back and diving even deeper into what makes men, men, in 2017. #isitokforguys is a social initiative created by 72andSunny on the back of research by Promundo that revealed the types of questions that guys are asking online, but aren’t comfortable enough to do so in real life. It’s all to do with the stigma of the ‘Man Box’, a set of socially reinforced rules that say men should be the alpha male, hide their feelings, look a certain way and refrain from speaking up or seeking help for issues. LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with Rik Strubel, Global Vice President at AXE, and 72andSunny Amsterdam Creative Directors Matt Heck and Laura Visco to find out more.

LBB> Rik, what was the brief that you first approached 72andSunny with? 

RIK STRUBEL> We challenged 72andSunny Amsterdam to help us launch AXE's first ever social initiative. The brief was to fight the limitations of traditional masculinity and the barriers that are stopping guys from being their best selves. We wanted to tackle stereotypes that are still ingrained in society and alleviate toxic masculinity. The credit for turning strong insight and message into a campaign that feels authentic goes to our team at 72. 

LBB> And Matt and Laura, what were your first thoughts when you saw the brief for this campaign? 

MATT & LAURA> When AXE came to us we were really excited by the opportunity to be involved in creating the first social initiative for AXE. This project gave us the opportunity to talk about the limitations of traditional masculinity and the barriers that are stopping guys being their truest, happiest selves. 

LBB> There is (rightly) a lot of discussion about the representation of women in society and the media, but it seems like AXE are one of the only brands speaking honestly about men right now. Why do you think that is? 

RS> Our brand prides itself on relevance for “our guy”. We’ve been there for guys through thick and thin, so we developed our marketing to reflect cultural trends. In the past, this equated with older notions of masculinity. However, as society changes, we want to celebrate a more modern and inclusive view of masculinity. The research we conducted with Promundo, the #isitokforguys campaign and the ‘Opportunities for Women’ report from Unilever all highlight the need to challenge harmful social norms and gender stereotypes in society at large to unlock the potential of both men and women.

We partnered with Promundo to gain a deeper understanding into the state of manhood with a specific focus on how societal stereotypes impact the attitudes, well-being, and behaviour of young guys. With support from AXE, Promundo and its research partners conducted research in the U.S., UK and Mexico to explore what life is like for men in the ‘Man Box’ - a set of socially reinforced rules that say men should be the alpha male, hide their feelings, look a certain way and refrain from speaking up or seeking help for issues. The research highlights that guys are in a pretty bad place. They are suffering at the hands of the ‘Man Box’ and pressure to conform and behave a certain way.

We want guys to be themselves, to be able to look and feel the way they want to. To be able to say a big fat ‘see you later’ to conformity to the ‘Man Box’. It’s our responsibility to help them and we’re up for it. As a brand that’s all about male grooming, we’re experts in the modern man. We’ve invested a lot of time researching our guys – the #isitokforguys campaign is testament to that and speaking to them about what they think and how they feel.

M&L> Nowadays the term “gender” is only being used when talking about women’s issues. Truth is gender rules and restrictions apply to both sexes. Yet we keep ignoring men issues as the other part of the gender agenda. Men are under pressure to conform to gender roles too. And nobody talks about that. Hopefully, this campaign will help change that.

LBB> The grooming industry (of which AXE is a part of) is arguably one of the worst industries for creating unrealistic goals for men. So why is it important for AXE to bunk that trend? 

RS> It’s time we shift macho perceptions and stop telling guys to ‘man up’. We want to be the brand leading the conversation about masculinity, championing men and the issues that matter to them. We know individuality makes guys more attractive, and our products can help guys emphasise that.

We’re transparent about doing well in business as well as doing good for society. At the end of the day, it’s why you can be sure that we’ll stick with this at a business-wide level.

LBB> This campaign doesn’t feel try-hard at all. You haven’t done it “just for the sake of it”, it’s honest and real. How did you ensure that came across in the overall campaign? 

RS> We know our young consumers today look to social media and influencers for authentic content; marketing is so much more than TV advertising these days. This is why we have partnered with 30 influencers in the UK and US to create authentic content. Also, as a brand that’s been there for guys for over 33 years, we know the issues facing them. We worked with partners such as Promundo and Google to find exactly what guys are worried about - and created a campaign that addresses that.

M&L> Guys are searching these queries for real, so we wanted to keep it honest. We wanted every guy to relate to the problem, that’s why we kept the film quite raw and not super polished. The idea was to get under the skin of a 16-year-old guy, how they feel and the insecurities they experience every day. We felt that the first person POV and internal monologue was the right way to bring this to life. So we first shine a light on real search queries with the film, and then are there with real answers from real guys. 

LBB> The whole campaign is based around Google searches, but which insight informed the strategy before that? 

M&L> The campaign was conceived in parallel to AXE and Promundo’s Man Box study research. The study then informed the campaign. Our initial insight was that most guys are suffering under toxic man labels, without really seeing it. It’s an invisible problem. Our challenge is to make them see the limitations of traditional masculinity, and make them feel excited to challenge them.

LBB> What were the most surprising facts that you discovered? 

M&L> The Man Box research was a real eye-opener for us. We discovered that the ‘Man Box’ (a set of ‘man up’ stereotypes and ‘act tough’ expectations) affects guys in many ways, like mental health issues, bullying and violence, and show that they are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts. It’s crazy. That’s why making this campaign, and keeping it authentic, was so important for us.

LBB> It seems like the campaign is a great example of data being used properly - to drive real human insights. Would you agree with that? 

M&L> Yes - that’s exactly what got us excited about it. The creative idea started by realising guys’ search behaviour was revealing their insecurities. And we thought if some guys were asking, thousands of others were likely also thinking it.

From there, we wanted to learn and study everything we could to find out more. We had an internal team researching data in the UK, US and Mexico, and we also partnered with Google and Promundo to help flesh everything out.

In the end we’re covering a wide range of insecurities, so now when guys search in the UK and US, they’ll find helpful answers from real guys. 

LBB> You’ve got a series of influencers involved in the campaign - why are these good embodiments of the AXE brand? 

RS> The influencers featured in this campaign all have personal experience of dealing with and overcoming limiting labels, meaning that every story they share is from the heart. Not only that, they know our guys and our guys know them, meaning that when they talk, guys listen. And that’s crucial when it comes to helping guys challenge what it means to ‘be a man’.

M&L> It was important for us that the answers came from real people served on their own channels, and that the message wasn’t only delivered by the brand. We’re using a wide range of influential people from heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, to actor Will Poulter and many more with social followings on YouTube, and Twitter like Riyadh K, Casey Barker and Kosh to name a few.

These guys embody the spirit of the brand and this social mission campaign in particular because they share AXE’s belief that it’s ok for guys to be themselves.

LBB> Who directed the launch film and why were they right for this job?

M&L> Thomas Ralph with Caviar London directed this film. Thomas is a young director with a lovely ability to paint real situations in a cinematic light and bring out really earnest performances from the street cast. On top of this he’s just a great guy, collaborative and was the perfect partner to help bring this to life. 

LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?

M&L> It’s a simple idea: real guys are asking and real guys answer. But easier said than done. The trickiest thing about this campaign was definitely its unorthodox comms structure.

For this campaign we worked with multiple media partners across the UK and US, as well as global clients and local market clients, who helped deploy over 50 assets across brand channels and non-brand social channels. Having all of this launch at the same time and making sure it’s all tagged and linked correctly, is something we’re honestly still fine tuning at this point. Everyone involved is working together to make it happen. 

LBB> Aside from the TV spot, what other activities are feeding into the campaign? 

M&L> This campaign has many moving parts and quite a complex comms plan actually. The film is running digitally to raise awareness, as are programmatic YouTube clips, social posts and many Partner Comms which are all intended to get guys searching. When they do, they’ll find real answers. We’ve reached out to around 30 different guys to help answer the top searched questions which will live on their own social channels. In addition we have a campaign hub, which provides a more in-depth look at the campaign and links to our partners like Ditch The Label, Calm and The Representation Project who are all also contributing the project. 

LBB> What sort of response are you seeing from the public?

RS> We had an overwhelmingly positive response from media and consumers for our Find Your Magic campaign, which launched a year and a half ago, and as #isitokforguys is a continuation of this, we’re hoping for an equally positive reaction here. Despite launching a day ago, we have already received a lot of interest from media and a lot of positive responses on social media.


LBB> This is kind of a follow-on from last year’s Find Your Magic campaign - can you tell us about the over-arching work that AXE is doing and aims to do in this space?

RS> We’ve already made a huge shift in our advertising with the launch of ‘Find your Magic’ over a year and half ago, which was (let’s face it) a pretty bold and big shift for us towards shedding traditional notions of masculinity, calling on guys to embrace their own, individual sense, of how to be a man. For us, it’s all about getting guys to understand that the most attractive man they can be is themselves, we want them to find what makes them unique and run like hell with it. Which is why AXE has partnered with NGOs like Promundo, The Representation Project and Ditch the Label, one of the world’s biggest anti-bullying charities, to support young guys on their journey to manhood through local and global initiatives.

LBB> Any parting thoughts? 

RS> We want guys to be their own man, to be comfortable with their unique masculinity and to be truly happy in themselves. We need to form an inclusive society and create a world with as many definitions of masculinity as guys walking this earth. If our campaign has helped guys in any way towards this goal, then we couldn’t be prouder.

M&L> This campaign is more serious in nature and it’s important to make sure people understand this is not a follow up to the ‘Find Your Magic’ film that was launched last year. This isn’t a brand campaign, this is the launch of AXE’s social mission. And, while everything AXE does is about inspiring guys to be the best version of themselves, we don’t envision the upcoming product work will share this same tone of voice.