The online video sector appears stumped by the question of how to advertise to viewers without alienating them. Some say ads that run prior to the start of a video are the answer. Others, such as YouTube, are experimenting with ads that briefly appear at the bottom of a video while it plays.
Unilever, the maker of Axe men's personal-care products, isn't waiting around for popular video sites to figure it out. They are taking to the Web with attempts at cutting-edge humor and storytelling to create spots that are entertaining enough to attract their own viewers. The latest example is an ad called "The Axe Vice Naughty to Nice Program."
The idea of creating a commercial that will appeal to swarms of Internet users, or go viral, isn't new. But what makes this Axe ad different is that Unilever created a mini movie. The company was obviously willing to spend money and take time to tell a funny story. Unilever, which did not respond to interview requests, also seems prepared to offend some viewers.
The commercial is a new take on the ages-old pitch about a product making a user irresistible to members of the opposite sex.
The story is about how Axe products turn women into man-hungry maniacs. The story moves from the silly to the comical by following the women from courtrooms to prison life.
The commercial even pokes fun at Unilever's public relations department. The man who plays a company spokesman, as he tries to spin the story about the hazards posed to women by Axe products, uses the opportunity to repeat the names of the body spray and deodorant.
The ads are targeted for the Maxim crowd. There isn't any nudity or revealing clothing in the commercial, but there are sexual references that aren't typically found in mainstream ads. Some of the jokes push the boundaries of good taste and certainly won't appeal to everyone.
Nonetheless, the commercial should serve as an example to corporate America that it needn't piggyback on viral videos.
Advertisers don't have to lock us into watching prerolls or intrude on our viewing experience by sliding in ads at the bottom of our computer screens. What the Axe ads prove is that if companies put some time in, do a little thinking, they can create commercials that are actually worth watching.