From Midnight in Paris to White Diamonds, the fragrance industry’s brand names have always reeked of fantasy, with promises spun out of thin air. And the fantasies are usually carefully orchestrated by gender. Just compare brand names like Chantilly, L’Air du Temps, Happy, Someday, Joy, White Linen, Beautiful, Amazing Grace, and French Vanilla with, say, Hot Water, Ferrari Black, Rocky Mountain, B*Men, Sport, Chrome, Dirty English, Road Warrior and Spicebomb. It’s as though fragrance makers and their naming consultants were luring two different species.
But sexual attraction is a force that can turn anyone’s world upside down. So there’s something refreshingly different, true, and even (dare I say it?) feminist in the premise of Axe’s new Anarchy fragrance for young men and women. Not to mention its playful, absurdist broadcast and print advertising campaign (tagline: “Unleash the chaos”), which spoofs the scent’s attractant powers and mythically transgressive ability to wreak havoc on both sexes indiscriminately. (I’m less enthralled with the brand’s social media experiment, “Anarchy: the Graphic Novel.”)
This isn’t the first time a fragrance brand has toyed with transgressive fantasies. The house of Dana introduced Tabu in 1932, and the scent still lingers. (Dana also created Forbidden). Pure Poison by Dior is another brand foray into transgressive territory. But these scents were designed for women, and their brand names played to a naughty seductress mentality, rather than an unapologetic free-for-all sexuality.
Fragrance brands designed for both men and women are trickier to pull off. Unisex scent CK One and crossover scents Eternity and Obsession, all from Calvin Klein, were well-positioned for the experiment because they were launched by a clothing brand that caters to both sexes. But the strategy is riskier for Axe, who until now has successfully targeted young males (pandered to young males is more like it).
Time will tell if Axe’s attempt to broaden its customer base to the opposite sex is a smart decision or a brand-diluting disaster. But given the strategy, I’d say Axe did a good job of name creation. The name Anarchy not only provides a provocative and memorable springboard for advertising, it also fits with the edgy tonality of the master brand. It’s less than ideal, though, when coupled with the Axe name. (While I’m usually a sucker for alliteration, “Axe Anarchy” is counter-intuitive for a concept that’s about giving anarchy free rein, rather than axing it. And it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, either. )
But when used without “Axe” in front of it, the brand name works just fine. The concept of anarchy plays well to youthful free-spiritedness on both sides of the gender divide (if more to the high-testosterone crowd’s). And you don’t need a focus group to know that the fantasy of unbridled, consequences-be-damned sex is hardly confined to men.
Overall Grade: B+