The Messy Truth of the Axe Effect

Before the early 2000’s, the mention of the word “axe” conjured up visions of heavily […]

Joe Nooft / 7.3.14

Before the early 2000’s, the mention of the word “axe” conjured up visions of heavily bearded, weapon wielding men; men who were cloaked in bright red, pre-hipsterdom flannel, the kind of flannel that a man could wear while walking through a forest of ten foot tall thorn bushes and come out unscathed. Maybe hearing the word would even force out an occasional banshee like “TIMBER!” scream. But now, the word axe, attacks a different sense. It brings back the toxic smells of an overly fumigated high school boy’s locker room. Or, if you are a girl, the scent of that one really bad first date. The one you split the check with. A “from men to boys” inverse if you will.

Axe, a French company established in the early 80’s, became a global men’s grooming juggernaut in the early new millennium largely because of its whimsical advertising methods. Axe knows well the hackneyed appeals of the male brain: sex and humor. Pair a few ridiculous visuals with an over exaggerated script/sing-along melody for just over a minute, sell millions of cans of cheap male perfume, soaps, etc. While it may be a bit concerning that Axe simultaneously and successfully pitches the same product to a 15 year old as it does to a 30 year old, there is no denying the hilarity in their commercials.

Recently, Axe debuted a marketing campaign for their new male hair products in which whatever benefits the product boasts of are mimicked in the commercial’s storyline (i.e. the relaxed hair pomade features a relaxed man lounging in a pool). In their newest commercial for their “Messy Paste” hair product, a few chuckles go rogue, trickling down a deep, dark abyss before splashing into the melancholy puddle that is reality.


We’ve all been there; at sea in a white squall, being bashed around like a piñata at a fat kid’s birthday party. At which point, you may find yourself asking, ‘How do I keep my hair looking great?’

Seventeen seconds into the one minute and twelve second commercial and Axe rears back its strong right hand of humor and smacks their audience right across the cheek with a hilarious yet paralyzing query. Yes, we have all been there: being viciously thrown to and fro by the tumultuous whitecaps of life, which, at any given moment, could swallow us whole, ending our tragic struggle right then and there. And yes, at that moment our first thought is, “How do I keep my hair looking great?” Okay… maybe not that exact thought, but something similar right? Life as I know it is about to end! How do I look (physically, emotionally spiritually)?

Alright, resume play.

First, plunge a weather-beaten finger into a tub of Axe Messy Look Paste. Now while your hands aren’t busy holding on for dear life, take a moment to mix them together like so.

Pause again.

How devastatingly accurate, Axe! How spot on! Our main character has taken his beaten, weakened appendage, and dipped it into a tub of manufactured salvation. Then, he trusts wholly in it, enough to loosen his grip on life and rub it all over himself.

Okay, continue.

Next rake your fingers back through your hair, and be thorough. At times like these, focusing on the little details will distract your from the fact that you’re about to die.

After mixing, our guy has now fully achieved the illustrative messy look. His appearance now mirrors his footing, only perhaps now everything looks purposeful. Axe is kind enough to throw in a few add-ons: a beautiful woman, a shoddy life jacket, even an annoying whistle, but he’s still in a boat headed towards the damning mysteries of the deep blue sea. He just looks a helluva lot better now.


As a writer, this is my impasse. I’ve presented you, the reader, with an abstract situation. I’ve, not so coyly, alluded to how the sailor’s situational quick fix compares to real life ones such as: while gazing over your creative solutions budget at work, you realized that you miscalculated an unexpected expense that puts your division 20k in the hole, but your immediate reaction is to, with the company credit card, buy a $5 Frappuccino. Or, the day after getting dumped by your fiancée, you buy a “pregame” handle of Jack before entering into the bar-hopping Olympics. Gold medal to whoever blacks out last. These are both situations I thought of, therefore both likely plans I would execute if I were to find myself within those scenarios (aka, no judgment if you are there or have been there).

The first piece of advice that I want to offer the sailor essentially boils down to “turn or burn.” Hear me out.

Keep CalmThe sailor IS on a turn or burn path. Well maybe turn or drown. If he doesn’t right the ship (pun intended) he is going to die. What’s worse is that he’s completely aware of it. In just over a minute the sailor, with a bit of help from the narrator, has already realized his impending death a couple of times. He has also already turned a couple times (better hair, a new beautiful woman, a life jacket).

Fixing himself, so to speak, will provide him pleasure, and let’s not withhold anything from how wonderful that pleasure will feel whilst in the moment. He is going to feel GREAT, even with the knowledge that he is still on a presumably sinking ship. The problem with the turn or burn path isn’t in it’s clichéd-ness, it’s that it doesn’t work. It does no fixing.

We live in a culture obsessed with the fight. If a person survives cancer, that person kicked an incurable diseases’ ass, but if cancer kills that person, he or she fought hard… just not hard enough.  To turn is to fill balloons with enough helium to carry us far away with the hopes that the gas will never weaken or leak (Jer. 2:13). To turn is, fundamentally, to disallow weakness. It’s to disallow reality. It’s to reject a portion of Grace. To turn, at least in the same sense that our sailor turns, is the natural human reaction. We are always turning, always moving onto the next thing. And make no mistake, most of us, like the sailor, know that the next thing will fail us along with the next thing, and the next thing. At no point during this silly commercial does the sailor lose complete vision of the menacing storm that encircles him. He may redirect his vision from time to time, but he knows it’s always there.

I think Blake Ian Collier summarized this best within his article for the first edition of The Mockingbird duly entitled A Vision For the Storms:

What is it to not remember something that you have always remembered? What is it to lose grasp of things that once flooded your mind with out effort? What does it feel like to be the eluded outlier of some secret, just beyond your hearing which everyone else knows? What is the catalyst of grace in the midst of this, when the truth comes plowing through without breaks or time for escape?

We never experience a full loss of control. It happens continually, bit by bit. We bounce from one irredeemable solution to another. But the slow suffering and rapid thrills collect and fade en masse as a new realization dawns. As Jaws’ Chief Brody famously stated after first seeing the Megalodon sized shark, “You’re {we’re} going to need a bigger boat.”