Welcome to the next frontier in advertising – brands in space.
At an event in New York on Friday, Axe – Unilever's brand of body sprays and other scented grooming products for men – announced it would send 22 of its consumers on a trip to space. Famed astronaut Buzz Aldrin, taking an advertising turn, was on hand and also produced a video for the event.
The contest includes two spots set aside for Canadians.
Axe calls the promotional program its biggest in the three-decade history of the brand. The contest is open in 60 countries. It is a partnership with Netherlands-based Space Expedition Corp., which is planning to begin sending commercial flights into space within the next two years. Those flights last roughly an hour, and SXC is pre-selling tickets for $100,000 (U.S.) a pop.
Axe's announcement also signals the growing commercialization of the stratosphere. The campaign follows the success that energy drink Red Bull had last year, when it sponsored Felix Baumgartner's world record-breaking parachute jump from 39 kilometres above the earth.
Red Bull's brand was visible as millions sat rapt watching Mr. Baumgartner's flight online – the undertaking itself was dubbed the Red Bull Stratos project – and was one of the most talked-about brand stories of 2012. It was estimated that the global exposure it gave to Red Bull was worth tens of millions of dollars.
As "content marketing" – attaching a brand to something people actually want to look at, as opposed to an ad – becomes a bigger buzzword for marketers, this type of stunt is highly prized for creating consumer awareness of a product.
For its stunt, Axe has created the Axe Apollo Space Academy; people who join the club can compete for a ticket on the space plan by creating "astronaut profiles." Entrants are then asked to give reasons why they deserve to go to space. Those who make the cut will go to a space camp run by the brand in Florida where based on their performance in space-simulation exercises, the 22 winners will be chosen. Two spots at that final camp contest will be held for Canadian entrants.
It's all in service of promoting Axe's "Apollo" line of products for men.
But there is an interesting twist to the contest: While all of the advertising is focused on men, because of legal considerations Axe could not limit eligibility by gender. Press materials talk about "giving guys the ultimate out-of-this-world experience" and "recruiting guys for this once-in-a-lifetime epic journey," before noting that "guys and girls will have a chance to compete."
Axe has been known over the years for advertising that cheekily positioned the products as a method to turn young men into irresistible lady magnets, rendering women powerless to their animalistic desires.
Last year, Axe launched a line made for women. An Axe spokesperson in Canada said that for that reason, it wanted to open up the contest to all comers, and legal considerations were secondary.
But there's little doubt the current campaign is aimed at Axe's core target audience: young men. An ad released on Friday for the Apollo contest shows a man saving a woman from a burning building in spectacular fashion. Before the damsel can thank him, however, she is distracted and runs off toward a man in a space suit. The punchline is that " nothing beats an astronaut." And the ad caps off with the slogan: "Leave a man. Come back a hero."