APG Creative Strategy Awards - Axe 'wake-up service' by BBH Singapore

LONDON - How communications helped make Axe part of Japanese guys' morning routine.

APG Creative Strategy Awards - Axe 'wake-up service' by BBH Singapore
APG Creative Strategy Awards - Axe 'wake-up service' by BBH Singapore


In 2007, Axe successfully launched in Japan. But whilst Axe had recruited lots of users, post-launch research showed that guys in Japan sprayed Axe only few times a week - about half as often as users in some other parts of the world.

This was a huge growth opportunity – we could almost double our sales if we could get existing Axe users to spray everyday.

Achieving this meant making Axe a part of young guys’ morning routine – the natural time for Axe usage. This required us to do more than simply tell guys to spray everyday; we needed to understand the male morning routine and find a way to break into it. 

In studying the Japanese target, we learned that most Japanese guys use their mobile phone as alarm clock.  So we created the Axe Wake Up Service, a sexy mobile alarm application that gave guys a daily wake-up call reminding them to spray Axe, and a multi-channel campaign to drive consumers towards it.

By turning the usual planning conundrum on its head, thinking ‘Channel First, Message Second’. instead of ‘Message First, Channel Second’, we created a campaign that generated massive buzz and helped increase Axe’s purchase repeat rate dramatically.


Axe (aka Lynx in the UK) is the biggest selling male body spray in the world, hugely popular with young guys for its advertising. It is sold in over 80 countries as a fragrance body spray that helps guys get the girls - communicated with the tagline ‘The Axe Effect’.

In early 2007, Axe launched with great success in Japan, winning several awards and being featured in Nikkei Newspaper’s ‘Trendy Hit Product Ranking 2007’ outranking Krispy Kreme and iPod.  

Just two months into the campaign brand awareness had risen dramatically, and by September we had overtaken male grooming category veteran and market leader Gatsby. Most importantly, within only a few weeks of launch, Axe had become the number one selling male deodorant in the market. 

We realised however that repeat purchasing was happening less frequently in Japan than in other markets. Further dramatic growth on this rapidly built base would not be possible unless we could convince Japanese guys to replace their cans more often.


Young Japanese guys are advanced groomers - very conscious of their appearance and frequent users of male grooming products from hair wax to facial cleansers. However body odour is not a major issue in Japan and as a result, deodorant is not a well-established category. Whilst in western markets deodorant or fragrance body spray is considered an essential part of daily hygiene, our Japanese consumers used Axe more like a fine fragrance.

In other markets around the world, Axe is used daily and sometimes even more than once a day which meant that Japanese Axe users weren’t using their cans up as quickly as Axe users in the rest of the world. This presented us with a huge potential for further growth – we could almost double our sales just by getting those existing Axe users to spray everyday.

The challenge for communications therefore was to break into guys’ morning routine and to make spraying Axe part of their very entrenched morning behaviour.


The usual approach would have been to develop a campaign that tells guys to spray Axe every day or every morning. The brief could only have focused on finding reasons why they should. Reasons that are relevant to Axe’s brand promise.

So the brief could have only talked about the fact that encounters with the opposite sex don’t only happen at weekends or in the evenings in bars. We could have sourced stimulus about meeting the object of your desire on the bus or train on the way to work.

And it would probably have led to a decent TV commercial that brings this to life.

As one can see, finding the right message was the easy bit.

But getting young guys to use Axe everyday required us to do more than simply tell our guys to spray everyday. We needed to change or break into a routine. And we needed to find the right channel to do this effectively.


We really needed to better understand the male morning routine – the natural time for Axe to be used - and to find a way for Axe to break into it.  

In looking at our target, we saw that they had a remarkably consistent and well-established morning routine: 

The challenge was to find a way to reach guys at this time of day with a message to spray Axe. We could have opted for early morning television or radio but at this time of day these channels are simply background to the morning routine. This would not help us achieve a behavioural change. We needed to literally interrupt the routine in order to create a place for Axe within it.

So we delved deeper into these first minutes of the day in the lives of young Japanese guys and discovered a behaviour that led us to the perfect channel, the very first channel they interacted with in the morning: Most Japanese guys use their mobile phone as an alarm clock.

This insight presented a huge opportunity. Japan is a technologically advanced market with an incredibly sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure. Mobile phone penetration amongst our target is almost 100%  and handsets provide fast and user-friendly access to internet and email. In fact, more people in Japan access the internet via their mobile than via a PC  making the mobile phone an even more important device to our consumer. The mobile offered an opportunity for a deep and immersive engagement first thing in the morning. Just on waking we could remind guys to spray Axe, the ideal moment to introduce a new habit into their list of morning activities.

Thus we developed a task based brief: create an engaging and entertaining alarm clock that guys will prefer to their standard alarm, and develop a campaign that drives guys to use it.


We created the Axe Wake-Up Service: a morning wake-up call from a sexy Axe Angel.

The centrepiece of this campaign was a leading edge mobile alarm application which gave guys a 3-week branded alarm experience. All communications in this campaign intended to establish the concept of a sexy wake-up service from Axe and drive guys to sign up and experience it on their mobile phone. 


To establish the concept of the Axe Wake-Up Service, and to drive guys to download it, we created a series of TVCs. These films were created in the style of crazy Japanese game shows and each featured an extreme way for our Axe Angels to wake-up their unsuspecting client, from attaching his bed to a reverse bungee, blowing him out of bed with a water hose to bursting a massive balloon under his blanket.  These funny and sexy TVCs ended with a memorable jingle that invited guys to call a toll-free number to sign up for the service.


Guys who called the number were surprised to find a real voice on the other end of the line. To increase the sense of a personalised experience, we manned the phones with real women instead of opting for a cheaper yet impersonal interactive voice response system. These women helped our guys to download the Axe Wake-Up Service application to their phones.


Upon receiving the application, each of our guys was asked to choose the Axe Angel he would most like to wake him up. Once chosen, he simply set the time for his alarm, and every morning for the next three weeks he received a fun and sexy video wake-up call from his Axe Angel who of course, reminded him to spray Axe. This application was developed like a Tamagotchi pet which meant the experience was different every day. The more you used the service, the friendlier your Axe Angel became. If you ignored her, she became sulky and upset until you reinstated your wake-up calls. 


To further support the mobile service, Axe’s digital agency was briefed to create an Axe Wake-Up Service website. Here guys could download the mobile application or, for those with less fancy phones, set up a single-use mobile alarm service for the next day. Additionally guys could download wallpapers, ringtones and other mobile content.


Print media tie-ups with magazines with high reach against our audience including Kansai Walker, Tokyo Sport magazine and several part-time work classified papers explained the service in detail and included the call centre number for guys to download the application.


In store materials featured the Axe Angels and other elements of the TV campaign plus the call-to-action and the call centre phone number to download the application.


The local events agency created a tie in with a ski resort, where we had actual Axe Angels offering a real-life Axe Wake-Up Service to young male visitors.

How did we expect all this to work? Well, we hoped for lots of people to sign up for the Axe Wake-Up Service to get daily reminders to spray Axe. However, the message that Axe is an everyday fragrance body spray did not end with those who initiated a wake-up call. The buzz created by the sexy and fun wake-up experience spread the message to a much wider audience.


The Axe Wake-Up Service struck a chord with young Japanese guys.
We attained an unprecedented level of blog mentions and social networking chatter about the campaign.

The website received 3.5 million page views and over 27,000 guys called to download the mobile application. Thus began 21 days of free branded engagement with our target market at the specific time of day we needed to reach them with the message to Spray Axe. Additionally 20,000 single-use mobile alarm services were set up via the website.

Millward Brown brand tracking showed that the campaign managed to cut-through the clutter of Japanese advertising and we also achieved Axe’s highest ever score for being seen as Cool/Trendy/Stylish, a key measure for an iconic youth brand like Axe.

And most importantly, we helped to achieve the behavioural change we set out to tackle. The Purchase Repeat Rate had increased by 27%-points compared to before the campaign.  


Creating a campaign with the power to change behaviour required more consideration than just the messaging.

In this instance, finding the right message was easy and not very exciting. Just telling guys Spray Axe every morning could have been the lazy, simple creative brief that looked through the ‘brand lens’ of Axe, would have led to expected creative work about ‘boy meets girl in the morning, on the way to work or university’ etc. 

However we knew this would not be enough to create the behavioural change we needed.

So instead of following this route, we looked closely at the time of day we wanted guys to spray Axe: first thing in the morning. We agreed that if we were to break into this routine, we needed to reach guys at the same time it was being undertaken. We needed to find a way to engage guys with our product message first thing in the morning.

It was the discovery of the channel insight that most guys used their phones as alarm clocks that drove the brief. This approach got us to a different message that asked guys to sign up to the Wake Up Service and resulted in an engaging campaign that effectively created the behavioural change we needed.

In short, we turned the usual planning conundrum on its head. Instead of thinking ‘Message First, Channel Second’, we thought ‘Channel First, Message Second’.

Frank Reitgassl, BBH Singapore
Suzie Hoban, BBH Singapore