Axe Cuddle Ad: Newest Axe Effect Ad Is the Stupidest Yet


Recently, a friend of mine posted this link to my Facebook wall.

Immediately, I thought, "I should really change careers."

But Axe, the well-known body fragrance and shower gel marketed at young men, and purveyor of some of the most sexist perfume ads ever, thinks otherwise.

"Cuddling..." the narrator intones, repulsed. "That strange behavior exhibited by every woman who falls under the Axe effect, and that lasts all day."

Dear God, no! Not the cuddling! Oh, my oxytocin levels!

Axe's new commercial plays on the well-known trope that men hate cuddling, and women love it. LOVE IT. So much so that they will hang off you as if drugged all day, a tumor which must be excised so that you can continue on about your day and play video games in peace. (I can't tell if the actress in this spot ever has her eyes open.)

But beyond anecdotal evidence — anecdotally, I can tell you that people are much cuddlier in the Southwest, where you greet everyone with a hug, not a handshake — how will we ever know if the (satirical) Morning After Pillow is a financially viable product for men?

Science says: We don't, really.

On the one side, we have evolutionary psychologists who argue that hormones like oxytocin are much more important for women, who need to emotionally bond with their (male) partners after sex. Hence, cuddling happens; hence, the need for an emergency exit. These researchers very infrequently provide data for men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women, arguably because they are only seen as evolutionary wingmen (and women) in such research. These are the same people who are trying to develop what you could call the anti-Axe: A "cuddle spray" for women to wish their male partners would just snuggle for like five minutes already. These are the people who often ignore any science that suggests that the role that oxytocin plays in human interactions may be more complex than it is commonly made out to be.

On the other, researchers at the Kinsey Institute suggest that for long-term couples, "tenderness," including cuddling and caressing, may be more important for men. But as William Saletan writes at Slate, "The cuddle gap was small. Men whose relationships included frequent kissing and cuddling were about 12% more likely than other men to say they were happy in the relationship (see Table 6). Slate's Dave Johns is a fine example. Among women, the increase in happiness associated with kissing and cuddling was more like 9 percent. The cuddle gap looks bigger in the published paper because the authors, in their analysis, combine cuddling with caressing."

Axe's ad trades on the idea that there is an observable, eternal, essential gender gap when it comes to cuddling and other sexual behaviors. It also trades on weird visual references to blow-up sex dolls. But the truth is that these differences, like so many other differences in human romantic/sexual relationships, are far from salient. (Remember how blow jobs weren't a thing in America until the 1920s?)

And Axe ever decides to market the Morning After Pillow for real, they might consider a gender reversal. After all, pillow girlfriends are big in Japan.