When they still lived at home it was always easy to tell when one of our sons was heading out for the evening: the house becomes filled with the pungent, eye blinding aroma of Axe aftershave. Axe has been the aftershave of choice in our house for several years now, inspired, I am sure, by a series of commercials in the late 1990s that showed many frenzied teenage girls throwing themselves at oh-so-cool teenage boys who apparently reeked of, naturally, Axe. Since those early days I have bought many a bottle of Axe to put on the bathroom shelf, and am always entertained by the names that the makers of the cologne have come up with—Africa, Nevada, Java—who knew Nevada had a specific smell? As the years passed the names became a tad more mysterious—Dimension, Dark Temptation and Gravity but to my middle aged nose no matter what the name on the Axe bottle, the contents all smelled the same; a lot like Raid bug killer.
Of course, the scent isn’t really the selling point. The selling point is getting across the belief that slapping on a particular aftershave will result in an immediate wave of endless attention from love starved females. It goes without saying that the girls in those ads are never Plain Jane types with problem hair and heavy thighs. The girls in the ads are invariably gorgeous with zillionaires for parents who are just aching for a smelly son-in-law for whom they can buy a Maserati. In other words, those sexy aftershaves that cost mere pennies are going to rake in beaucoup profits for the lucky stiffs smart enough to wear them.
Such ad campaigns are hardly new. Hai Karate used to have a commercial that featured a nerdy looking guy who was a dead ringer for the 98 pound weakling in the Charles Atlas weightlifting ads at the back of magazines. As soon as Mr. Nerdy put on Hai Karate, he immediately became a chick magnet extraordinaire. As in fighting women off with both hands and running down the street a la The Beatles at the height of their fame chick magnet. The catch phrase for Hai Karate was “Be careful how you use it,” the obvious implication being that while a little Hai Karate would most likely result in an evening of romantic fun, too much might cause a trip to the local emergency room for everyone involved.
Then there was English Leather, a cologne that had ads featuring a beautiful woman semi-smirking as she told the camera, “All my men wear English Leather—or they wear nothing at all.” That ad disturbed me on several levels since I couldn’t help but picture pitch woman’s British boyfriends going horseback riding wearing nothing at all and ending up with some nasty bruises in plenty of uncomfortable places. I also wondered just how many boyfriends that little lady had and if any of them knew about each other. That, of course, raised my final question: if they did know about each other, were they all really wearing English Leather 24/7? It’s no wonder I seldom finished my history homework with such weighty problems gnawing at me whenever I watched television, which was pretty much all the time.
Of course, women’s perfumes have had some pretty outrageous names and ad campaigns over the years too such as Tabu—“the forbidden fragrance”, My Sin and Obsession. More recent perfume names include a scent ambiguously called Perhaps and another entitled Earthworm. Earthworm? Really?
A high school teacher once told our class about a friend whose job was thinking up the names for the many shades of lipsticks produced by Revlon. For that she was paid $100,000 a year. Since high school was several decades ago I can’t even begin to estimate what the lipstick namer for Revlon now earns but I’m guessing it’s not shabby. This tells me that if someone can score big bucks thinking up lipstick names, the people who hit on “Perhaps” and “Earthworm” are most likely overpaid too. But what I’d really like to know is where are these jobs located and how can I apply for them? Maybe I don’t have a degree in marketing but I’m pretty sure I could come up with a perfume name that is at least on par with “Earthworm.”
As any devotee of Mad Men knows, advertising is all about convincing the consumer that he or she will never look good enough, smell good enough or be good without the help of Product XYZ, guaranteed to turn the wartiest of toads into Prince Charming. Even with that knowledge, we all keep on buying and I suppose we always will. Who knows? Maybe a bottle of Earthworm is just what I need to nail that job with Revlon.