Old Spice battles with Axe to capture market share

Jyesh Ravindranath (SUPPLIED)

The Old Spice versus Axe story proves that the core of human vanity, the strife to remain young, is no longer the only value that "feel good" products such as cosmetics and perfumes focus on.

The old-school brand seems to have been able to find its edge by embracing a big-brother persona. Jim Stengel, P&G's former global marketing officer, described it as "helping guys navigate the seas of manhood" by offering experiences.

The result shows the rise of Old Spice and fall of its nemesis, Unilever's Axe.

AdAge advertising portal quoted Stengel as saying: "Old Spice was in decline. They have now turned that around. It is growing. Axe has not only stopped growing. Axe is in decline."

Yet, this claim becomes controversial when Unilever insists Axe is continuing to grow in body spray and beyond, with the launch of Dark Temptation body spray.

Figures show Axe slowing across most of its business units, which had been until the 2007 or so one of the biggest marketing success stories of package goods, or anything, of the decade.

Information Resources Inc (IRI) data in 2008 show Axe and even Old Spice losing slight share in deodorants.

Meanwhile, Axe gained 0.65 points of share in body wash, compared with a 0.18 point decline for Old Spice.

According to AdAge, there are still some missing key pieces of the puzzle, including the entire body-spray category, which IRI will not release citing an unnamed client request, and the long-standing gaps in the public data from Wal-Mart, club and dollar stores.

Neither P&G nor Unilever would release all-channel data. But a P&G spokesman said: "No matter how you want to slice it, be it the past five weeks, past three months, past six months or past 12 months, Old Spice has been increasing share across all those time frames," he said. "Axe has a declining share and it is a similar story in body wash as well."

Store checks indicate Old Spice has gained shelf space at Sam's Club in the United States in 2008, while Axe has lost distribution at Costco.

Both brands have substantial distribution at Wal-Mart, not included in the public numbers. Clearly, the decline of the body-spray category has hurt Axe much more than Old Spice. But Axe also has shown life beyond body spray or deodorant.

It has been gaining share in its fastest-growing segment, body wash, with sales up 16.6 per cent until October 2008, according to IRI data.

That helped it pass Old Spice for leadership there.

With its upcoming move into hair care, Axe is looking to grow beyond body spray.

Jyesh Ravindranath, General Manager, AIS Brandlab, said: "All those brands thrive on the consumers' major weakness, the wish to constantly remain young and lively. While the intrinsic value is not drastically modified lest it compromises the brand identity, constant offerings are being made to enhance the product and keep the fresh feel of the product.

"The perceived value is where brands play most to gain consumers' preference. Notice that while Axe advertising targets young people between 18 years and 24 years, the consumers base is much wider. A 50-year-old would want to use the same product because it makes him feel that he actually belongs to that age category, some 20 years younger."

As a consumer, Ravindranath, said Old Spice is not making much effort to convey a similar message.

Instead, it remains perceived as the fragrance of the older generation. Adopting this outlook as a positive message and turning it round, makes Old Spice the good friend of a transition period from youth to adulthood. "This sheds an impressive light on the Old Spice brand, and draws a successful niche market, still stressing the 'feel good' factor. A brilliant strategy", he said.

Yet, taking up a niche means there is no growth outside the boundaries of a particular audience.

Besides, he added, the brand should be able to fulfil its promise to its audience.

Advertising, is part of it, and is very important for visibility and building perception, but the offering, the look and feel, the price and the packaging are also important in reflecting that image. It is all about keeping in touch with consumers and fulfiling their aspirations and expectations.

Both brands became popular among boys, who became so infamous for applying them liberally that schools across the US had to ban both the products.

 

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