Axe Body Products Puts Its Brand on the Hamptons Club Scene
The New York Times
May 21, 2009
Axe is a brand meant for the pick-up artist. That much was made clear in a recent online-only commercial for an Axe exfoliating body wash. It flashed scenes from a young man’s unromantic sleepover with a young woman, and exhorted viewers to “scrub away” the memory.
Beginning this weekend, Axe is trying to appeal to New York area pick-up artists with a new venture: it is sponsoring a Hamptons nightclub for the entire summer.
“Axe is all about the mating game, and the best place for a mating game is at a nightclub,” said Michael Heller, the founder and chief executive of Talent Resources, which is advising Axe on the project.
While other brands have sponsored party spaces, like the Polaroid Beach House in Malibu or the Esquire Apartment or the Playboy Mansion, this is one of the first brand-sponsored nightclubs going for a full season.
For its branded mating experience, Axe selected a big club on Southampton’s main party strip, North Sea Road. The club has been known as Dune for the last couple of years, but this summer it will turn into the Axe Lounge.
“It’s a marquee title sponsorship, almost like you would see at a stadium like Citi Field,” Mr. Heller said.
There will be Axe branding on the D.J. booth, menu and valet tickets; an Axe-themed drink; and Axe products in the men’s and women’s bathrooms (though whether women will yearn for Axe aftershave after washing their hands remains to be seen).
The décor is patterned after a similar project Axe sponsored for a few nights during the Sundance Film Festival this year; it was successful enough that it extended the experiment to the full summer and the Hamptons club.
But, Mr. Heller said, the branding will be relatively subtle.
“It’s not like you’re going to walk in and it’s going to be overwhelming with branding,” he said. Because the club would be there all summer rather than for a single night, he said, the marketing did not need to be especially overwhelming.
“If consumers can come back over and over again, the messaging becomes better,” he said. Mr. Heller’s company also arranges celebrity appearances at events, and he is paying people, including Nick Cannon, D J Cassidy and the musical duo LMFAO to show up at the club. Coverage of the partying celebrities by magazines and gossip columns should then raise the club’s profile, he said. “It helps the club because the club becomes — well, it already is — a hot place in the Hamptons,” he said.
For noncelebrity patrons, the bouncer would not be given “a specific message of who’s in and who’s out” in terms of looks or clothing, said Mike Dwyer, the marketing director for Axe. And for now, the club would not have a cover charge.
Axe, owned by Unilever, is paying the owners of the Dune space for the promotion; it will not share in revenues or profits from the club this summer, which will go to the club owners and managers.
Axe has been on a commercial blitz lately, and has sold $72 million of shaving cream alone in the last year, according to Information Resources Inc., whose figures exclude Wal-Mart, warehouse club stores and convenience stores.
Mr. Dwyer said with the club, Axe was trying to “drive relevancy and image credentials, and really get the brand right, squarely in front of where the guys are.”
But Axe’s male-focused marketing has drawn objections. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has complained about what it sees as sexism in its commercials. “Axe is owned by Unilever, which also owns Dove,” said Susan Linn, the director of the consumer advocacy group, in an e-mail message.
Ms. Linn added: “Our campaign was launched when Dove released a video that was supposed to promote healthy body image for girls, even as they were degrading and objectifying women in their Axe marketing. There is an inherent hypocrisy in a company promoting girls’ well-being with one product’s advertising and sexualizing them in another.”
“I don’t know if the Axe nightclub is a continuation of its history of promoting a product by sexualizing and objectifying women,” she continued in the message. “What I can say, in general, is that an Axe nightclub is emblematic of the troubling phenomenon of the current 360-degree marketing strategy to immerse us in brands and branding every waking moment and to blur the lines between marketing and every other aspect of our lives.”
Axe may come under scrutiny for the club’s goings-on, too. A brand willing to slap its name on a Hamptons club must be willing to deal with mishaps that could include drunken driving or under-age patrons.
But Mr. Dwyer said that “it would be difficult for us to live the lifestyle that our guys are looking for” without taking a few risks.
A challenge the club might face is attracting patrons. Axe’s target market is 21-year-old men, many of whom are having a difficult time finding jobs, much less financing summer houses in the Hamptons.
But Mr. Heller said he hoped that New Yorkers would still crowd the Hamptons, since it was cheaper, or at least closer, than an overseas vacation.
“Girls and guys need a place to hang out and socialize,” he said.
But Arvin Pasricha, a 32-year-old business strategy consultant who regularly goes to Hamptons clubs, said that Axe’s target audience and the people who actually went to the Hamptons were different sorts.
“When you think about these clubs in the Hamptons, it’s not really 21-year-old guys coming in and buying bottles,” he said. “I’m not sure the Hamptons is the forum” for Axe, he said. “It sounds a little cheesy.”