In our current advertising climate, advertisements for personal hygiene products are very common. Whether they advertise shampoo, or hair dye, or whitening toothpaste, they are constantly selling new trends in personal care and beauty, which suggests the high value that our society places on physical appearance. While traditionally brands and products of this nature have been targeted at women, we are now seeing more that seek to reach the male consumer. AXE advertisements for body washes and sprays are one example that target young adult men. AXE or LYNX, its partner company in the United Kingdom and Australia, produced the three advertisements that I have chosen to critique. Some of the features shared by all of them are the sexualized and objectified women, the mildly dorky or uncool man, and the absolute necessity of using AXE products, conveyed either through epic background music or the tone of the speaker’s voice.
Barthes can be helpful in critiquing these AXE advertisements by analyzing their semiotics. At the most basic level, the AXE Apollo advertisement contains signifiers such as a woman wearing a bikini, a man wearing shorts while sitting in a tall chair and looking through binoculars, a shark, the ocean, sand, and a man in a space suit. From these signifiers, it can be interpreted that an attractive woman going for a swim, a lifeguard, a shark attack at the beach, and an astronaut are the signified. Barthes argues that there are chains of signification, which means that the signified become signifiers for a deeper meaning, or signified. Here the astronaut signifies the ultimate occupation for a man to hold, which can be attained by using AXE body spray. The other two advertisements also have the signifiers of women wearing bikinis, which results in a deeper signification about the ideologies of our culture and our standards of beauty for women.
Messner and Montz de Oca can also be helpful in critiquing these AXE advertisements by explaining the different possible representations of men and women in them. In the AXE Apollo and AXE Black Chill advertisements, men are represented as “losers,” where humiliation is a constant risk, especially by or in front of women. In the AXE Apollo and the LYNX Billions advertisements, women fulfill the “hotties” trope, where they are seen as attractive and a prize to men to be obtained by using the product. In the AXE Black Chill advertisement, women fulfill the “bitches” trope, where they are seen as a distraction and even a threat to men to be eliminated by using the product.
Finally, Goldman and Papson can be helpful in critiquing these AXE advertisements by explaining how they carry certain ideologies through culture. First, the advertisements socially and culturally construct a world in which the primary motivation of a man is to attract women, who is little more than an object, or even an animal as portrayed in the AXE Billions advertisement. Second, they disguise and suppress inequalities by portraying only white men and light skinned women. Third, they promote a normative vision of our world and our relationships by portraying only the white, presumably middle-class, heterosexual man as the pursuer of a light skinned, heterosexual woman, which is in line with traditional gender roles. Finally, they reflect the logic of capital because they establish a narrative in which a man can buy both his own coolness and female attention and/or attraction by purchasing AXE products.
Of the three AXE advertisements, the one I find slightly more troubling than the others is the LYNX Billions commercial. In creating a spoof video of the advertisement, I would keep the concept very similar to the original, because I find that the most effective satire or parodies are the ones in which viewers can immediately call to mind the original. With the same epic music blaring in the background, I would flip the gender roles, in order to expose the gender binary system of masculinity and femininity at work. My video would feature an average looking woman standing on the beach, spraying herself with perfume while scantily clad, light-skinned, attractive, according to the dominant standards of masculine physique, men ran toward her. However, to make it clear that it was a spoof, I would have the men seem to be even more like animals, crouched over while moving and with wild hair.
Culture jamming is the appropriation of brand identities or images in order to challenge the prevailing ethic of advertising, namely consumerism. According to Lasn, culture jamming is about reclaiming power by “pursuing the authentic gesture, living close to the edge—call it what you will—when it’s genuine, it is the force that makes life worth living. It is also what consumer capitalism takes away from you every time it sells you brand name ‘cool’ or this month’s rebel attitude” (419). Furthermore, it is important to turn the spectacle of advertising back on itself by using the attention that people give to advertisements to see an alternative political message. In my opinion, these AXE advertisements belittle the progress that our society has made in regard to equality for women, by relying on stereotypical depictions of women as sexualized objects. To make matters even worse, the brand profits by capitalizing on such depictions, which is why it is important to think critically about them and conceive of ways to take a stand against them.