In a matter of just a few years, Unilever’s Axe has gone from unabashedly (and often crassly) celebrating male stereotypes to forcefully opposing them. And its new campaign, from 72andSunny Amsterdam, represents its boldest step yet in combating what it’s now calling “toxic masculinity” and its debilitating effects on young men.
The new work is themed “Is It Ok For Guys?” and is part of Axe’s “Find Your Magic” positioning, which memorably launched in early 2016. A new film kicks things off by showing how guys privately struggle with masculinity—but highlighting actual Google searches that reveal just how anxious they feel about adhering to, and straying from, societal norms.
Check out the spot here:
Axe addressed some of this in the original “Find Your Magic” spot, which showed, among other things, one man in high heels and another in a wheelchair. But the new work—particularly the line “Is is ok for guys to experiment with other guys?”—goes even further in questioning what “real manhood” is.
The campaign is informed by research showing the extent of the problem. Some 59 percent of men believe they should act strong even if they feel scared, and nearly half think they shouldn’t ask for help with their problems, according to Axe.
“This internal struggle can contribute to bullying, violence and even suicide,” the brand said in a release. “As a champion of self-expression, Axe believes there’s no one way to be a man and is launching ‘The Find Your Magic Initiative’ to address this important issue.”
Real Google searches are often used in advertising as a way to lend mass credibility to a claim or point of view—in all sorts of memorable campaigns, from UN Women to McDonald’s. Here, they’re used cleverly as evidence that men really are confused and seeking help with issues of masculinity.
The brand says it hopes the new work helps “to break the cycle of toxic masculinity by providing guys with resources to live more freely.”
Those resources include new partnerships with three nonprofits—Promundo, The Representation Project and Ditch the Label. Axe is working with research firm Promundo to better understand the challenges men face as the result of masculine stereotypes. It is helping The Representation Project screen its film The Mask You Live In by sponsoring its “Unmasked” campus tour. And it’s partnering with Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying organization, to create a “new digital network” that supports guys struggling with toxic masculinity.
“Last year Axe asked guys to ‘find their magic’ and express what truly makes them an individual,” Rik Strubel, global vice president at Axe, said in a statement. “But we can’t just tell guys to be themselves without addressing the underlying cultural issues and restrictive definitions of manhood holding them back in the first place. It not only hurts guys, it hurts everyone.”
Finally, Axe is collaborating with influencers, who will tell their own #isitokforguys stories.
Agency: 72andSunny Amsterdam