The deodorant wars have begun to stink. Earlier this week, 15-year-old wet-dream ad factory, Axe, parodied Old Spice’s “The Man You Can Smell Like” campaign. A billboard in Canada reads, “For men who’d rather be with a woman than on a horse: Axe.”
What is Axe’s intention? Is it suggesting that Old Spice markets to men interested in bestiality? Is it implying that riding horses and courting women are mutually exclusive? Or maybe it expects drivers to pass the billboard and think, “By God, come to think of it, my interest in females does exceed my equestrian passions. Better buy a can of Axe Dark Temptation body spray.”
Regardless of the company’s motive, this isn’t even Axe’s least noble advertising endeavor yet. Its “Spray More, Get More” commercial suggests that your sex appeal is directly proportionate to the gallon count of chemicals you squirt into your armpits.
But the intrigue isn’t in the billboard, it’s in the stories surrounding the billboard. In the days after it was erected, dozens of publications and blogs have reported and ranted, including Time, the Consumerist, and Ology. Since when did people care so much about deodorant?
In one sense, the deodorant wars are a product of the Internet, a forum that allows millions to make a fuss over inanity.
But there’s a less inane idea behind all this: in a world where the concept of manhood is changing, two deodorants are offering two distinct and popular ideals of masculinity. When magazines and newspapers and bloggers report on the deodorant war, they aren’t just analyzing advertisements, they’re trying to better define manliness in our day.
Axe asserts that a man is someone who can lure countless women to bed, almost unconsciously. He has a wild spirit and a beguiling charm. In contrast, an Old Spice man has a dignified reserve. He laughs at feats of “manliness”—but he can perform them deftly when required. He is post-macho.
Maybe a good man can ride a horse—with a woman. We all like to think we’re “above” advertising, but I have a hunch that many men don’t even know what kind of deodorant they wear. So which brand offers the more desirable form of manhood? And of course, does that trump the old test of which smells better?