"Lifeguard," the second "nothing beats an astronaut" commercial for Axe which premieres during the Super Bowl this Sunday, isn’t just another typical boy-meets-and-shags-unrealistically-attractive-woman Axe tale. It’s a call for anyone who wants to go into space to apply to join the brand’s recently announced, headline-grabbing Axe Apollo Space Academy. Further, it’s the next step in a global social content strategy carefully choreographed to build across 15 months to drive consumer interest, engagement, and sales.
They call it "connected selling"—an approach that BBH London, the agency that helped dream up Axe Apollo, explains has been honed over a number of recent Axe campaigns.
"The way we work with Axe globally is to start each time by coming up with a product concept to sell more Axe globally," the agency’s Chief Strategy Officer Jonathan Bottomley explains.
"The starting point creatively is always how guys and girls interact and how guys can become more successful in that interaction. In this case, the idea is all about how guys like to tell stories to impress, and what story is greater than being able to say: 'Hey, I’ve been in space’?"
From this came the idea for the name of Axe’s latest range: Apollo. Then, eager to create a "credible experience with integrity and close connection to the brand," the idea arose to enable a lucky few young members of the public to actually go into space.
So the Unilever-owned brand teamed up with space tourism company SpaceXC (not to be confused with SpaceX) which allocated it 22 seats on a flight scheduled to take place sometime early next year.
Phase one of the launch strategy has been to introduce both the Apollo range—in CG commercial "Earth," produced by Framestore London, an Axe pack flies through space like a rocket—and the Axe Apollo Space Academy concept (strap line: "Leave a man. Come back a hero"), for which three ads have so far been made.
In the first of these, "Buzz," produced by London production company Caviar, the initiative is unveiled by Buzz Aldrin. In "Fireman," directed by Tim Godsall through Biscuit Filmworks, a young lady rescued from a blaze by a handsome fireman is wowed by an everyman astronaut.
The Super Bowl spot, "Lifeguard," (again directed by Godsall) follows the same formula—a striking lifeguard who has rescued a woman by beating a shark with his bare hands loses out to a schlubby astronaut.
Phase two will involve driving engagement and social interaction online supported by advertising—both product specific and Academy-focused—later in the year, Bottomley explains.
Those wanting to win one of the 22 tickets into space must first win enough online votes to be considered. Voting is being conducted via a dedicated website and also Facebook where visitors can find, enjoy, and share a variety of Axe Space Academy content.
Next, between 100 and 200 people with the most votes in each of the 94 local markets where the campaign is running will be invited to attend a national space camp at which they must undertake a series of physical and mental challenges.
Around 100 of those who’ve performed best from around the world will then attend a global space camp in Florida where, under the eye of space industry experts, they’ll get the chance to experience zero gravity and drive space buggies. And it will be from this group that the final 22 who actually go into space are chosen.
At each stage of the process, participants will be encouraged to post updates and share content. Participation at the space camps will also be filmed and the best content used in national campaigns with the best of this used globally. The complexities of local and international media planning and buying for the campaign is being managed by Mindshare globally.
Post-Super Bowl, immediate follow-up activity will comprise digital communication around the space academy and product-specific communication to bring to life the Apollo range. Over the months that follow, pacing will be key to keep things fresh. Which is why a further burst of high-profile, mass market activity featuring new creative TV content will launch later this year.
"It’s a highly phased campaign with lots of participation so the challenge is to maintain momentum throughout," Bottomley adds. "What we have learned on past campaigns, though, is the value of building spikes of activity into longer-term strategy. That way you can keep building involvement and developing sales across throughout the entire consumer journey."
Though early days, consumers already seem to be engaging enthusiastically with the campaign. In the U.K. alone, almost 400,000 votes for prospective astronauts were cast within the first three weeks and even more people have engaged with related Axe Apollo content online.