Goodbye, Lynx effect

by Tom Albrighton 10 March 2016 Blog, Copywriting reviews

As noted in Campaign, Lynx recently unveiled a new advertising campaign that reworks its traditional values. To put it in context, I thought I’d look back at the brand’s past campaigns, how the attitudes behind them have evolved and the radically new ideas behind the latest work.

Choose your stereotype

As a demographic group targeted by advertisers, women have had to put up with more patronising, simplistic bullshit than anyone. Even dogs get a better deal. And yet the stereotypes aimed at men, while less demeaning, are not really any more edifying.

Choose from ‘trad lad’ (pub, football, football, pub), ‘new lad’ (gamely helps with house and child, flashing a hapless grin), ‘handyman’ (does exactly what he says on the tin) and ‘smoothie’ (compels women to embrace him from behind in the bathroom by the sheer closeness of the shave reflected in the mirror). And it’s this last theme that Lynx has traditionally pursued in its ads.

Early days

Lynx (‘Axe’ in some countries) was launched in 1983, apparently as a male version of Impulse (upon which, you’ll recall, men just couldn’t help acting). In the Impulse ads, men were depicted as unthinking slaves to atavistic urges awakened by a body spray. The sell for Lynx essentially flipped that mechanic on gender lines – although with a wide variation in tone, as we’ll see.

Going back to the first Lynx ads actually reveals a surprising maturity and realism.

The couple are in their 30s and look like professionals – a bit like the Gold Blend couple, in fact. The plot is demure and chivalrous – she clearly likes him, but she doesn’t completely lose her shit at the first whiff of ‘Spice’. As befits the ‘smoothie’ mechanic, the message is: use this product, become suave, pull classy birds with feathered haircuts. (And that music – somewhere between Pink Floyd’s ‘Breathe’ and a 70s porn soundtrack.)


Perhaps Lynx realised that older men were less likely to fall for this ploy, because the blokes depicted in the ads soon shed about 10 years. Creatively, this was the cue for matters to devolve into laddish leering and guffawing, occasionally leavened with irony, as the ‘funny and naughty’ (sigh) compilation below amply demonstrates. (You don’t have to watch them all.)

By 2006, Lynx was firmly in self-parody mode, as shown by this ad, which apparently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the launch of the bikini.

New man

More recently, the ads showed signs of reaching for a more measured positioning and tone, but without relinquishing the underlying implication of power (‘This is the man who is in control’).

Then, in January this year, Lynx unveiled its new ‘Find your magic’ campaign, signalling a decisive break with its past. Beards!

Like the famous Old Spice ad, which also played with notions of masculinity, the campaign uses a dazzling sequence of visual and conceptual jump-cuts to bundle the viewer along with its momentum, and its argument.

As Rik Strubel, global vice president of the Lynx and Axe brands, explains, ‘We have been catering to teenage guys and we are now talking to his older brother, who is in university.’ I guess that makes sense as far as it goes, but I’d like to think that the change also reflects some wider changes in terms of attitudes.

Many masculinities

In place of the doughty, heterobourgeois bore of yore, we now see men who reassure us it’s OK to have a big nose, use a wheelchair, fancy other blokes or wear heels. The message is that masculinity is not just one thing. Each scene reflects another aspect of what it could mean to be a man, in terms of looks, interests and relationships. By implication, there could be many more.

By explicitly confronting male stereotypes, Lynx is undermining its own past brand positioning – differentiating its present self from its past self, in effect. That’s a brave strategy, as well as a radical one. It’s a bit like the periodic clearouts at Radio 1, when Smashey and Nicey are booted out in favour of 12-year-olds nobody’s heard of: a direct appeal to the younger generation, and a gentle ‘bore off’ to their dads.

New balance

‘Old’ Lynx man seemed to oscillate between two extremes, depending on how much self-awareness and self-deprecation was being deployed. Sometimes, he enjoyed a ludicrous level of command over women who were portrayed as subservient, instinctual and objectified – one step above animals. At other times, though, he was a gauche slob or callow youth in a stripy polo shirt, seeming dicomfited or even alarmed by the powerful feminine sexuality he’d unleashed. With his can of Lynx Black.

By being flagged as ‘humour’, all those meanings were placed under quasi-erasure, signalling that we should understand them as both ‘meant’ and ‘not meant’. But if the ads had any message at all, it was that as a man you were lacking, and that women were objects to be conquered and manipulated. For those. like me, without a sense of humour (i.e. reactionary mindset) it was depressing all round.

The new ads throw all that aside, replacing it with positivity and balance. ‘New’ Lynx man is complete in himself. He’s happy with his body, his job, his massive conk, his hipster beard, his kittens. And having learned to love himself, he’s ready to love another. (The high-concept pitch must surely have been ‘Dove’s “Real women” for men’.)

The ostensible rationale for the campaign, about redressing men’s low self-esteem, does raise concerns that we might be in the realm of ‘what about the men’ indulgence. But men are people, I suppose – people of a sort, at least.

More pertinently, they’re the people Lynx is aimed at, and that’s the predicate for this campaign, rather than pure altruism. And maybe if men feel good about themselves, they’ll do a better job of making women feel the same way.

Promises, promises

The ads seem to be getting a rapturous response from consumers – just check the YouTube comments, and the untold grillions of views. But will that translate into sales?

Back in the day, Lynx used a promise that was utterly ridiculous, but solidly direct and transactional nonetheless: ‘use this, get girls’. No-one seriously believed in the ‘benefit’ being offered, but it was still what the brand stood for, to the point where you might feel embarrassed buying the product from a female shop assistant. And the mechanics of the Lynx ads, one way or another, all spoke to this basic value proposition.

Now Lynx makes a play that’s much more subtle, indirect and realistic. It will help you ‘work on your magic’ – that is, enhance the appeal you already have, rather than compensate for that which you manifestly lack. As Tears for Fears sang, ‘It’s not that you’re not good enough. It’s just that we can make you better.’

The new brand values, while undeniably positive, don’t drive a purchase with the same logic (if we can call it that) as the old ads. They’re more about evoking good feelings in the vicinity of the brand, and hoping they rub off. But what if guys feel so good after viewing the ads that they decide they don’t need a product to help them after all? Only time will tell…

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