‘Gone were derogatory comments about old ads’ – TMW on reinventing Lynx for the new era of masculinity

Boys Don't Cry by TMW Unilimited

The stripped back feel of Lynx’s ‘Men in Progress’, the chairman's award winner at The Drum’s Marketing Can Change The World Awards 2017, established the deodorant as a brand that understands men – without pitching them against the sexy women of campaigns past.

When TMW Unlimited was invited to pitch for Lynx’s new campaign as a rostered agency, the brand was at a crossroads. Since 2014 it had slowly been phasing out of its creative the thing it was best known for – the unapologetic objectification of women who cannot resist the sweet smell of a man wearing Lynx – in response to building accusations of degradation and sexism.

At the same time, the brand realised that ingrained notions of masculinity had begun to change, thus making Lynx’s ‘gaggle of girls = happiness’ equation more and more irrelevant.

It was in 2016 that parent brand Unilever began rolling out a more overt, public-facing shift in tactics with ‘Find Your Magic’, the global platform and creative campaign created by agency 72andSunny Amsterdam that launched globally via Lynx and Axe (the name given to Lynx in other markets). The work, which took a more human focus than its previous campaigns, was lauded for leading the way for modern male brands. However it didn’t resonate in the UK as well as it did in other markets.

“The brief was to develop a campaign that would communicate the essence of Find Your Magic to the UK audience and make British guys feel that Lynx was relevant to them,” said Ben Good, account director at TMW Unlimited. “We quickly realised that we needed real guys to be the conduit to defining modern masculinity rather than having a big brand statement. As a result, this idea was always at the fore.”

The TMW team played around with various ideas of how to convey modern masculinity, and even shot some content examining the notion in the context of football. “However, when we got into the edit we actually found that we had more material in other subject areas that better explored what it means to be a man,” said Good. The resulting films comprised a series of edited interviews with men (including boxer Anthony Joshua) discussing topics such as body image, fathers, motivation, nicknames and crying.

The latter, entitled ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is one of the most poignant of the series. In one scene an interviewee – Bobby – is asked if he ever saw his father cry, and immediately breaks down in tears himself.

“When he started to cry you could feel the emotion on set,” Good recalled. “Some of the crew were crying – it was raw and unexpected. Bobby’s demonstration of opening up about his feelings and not being afraid to cry on camera perfectly summed up what we were hoping to achieve with the films, showing guys subverting traditional ideas of what masculinity should be and positioning Lynx as the brand that heroed them.”

Bobby was the last of the 100 guys interviewed over 100 days. TMW worked with a casting team to seek out subjects that would give the most interesting answers, but were careful not to ask them the final list of questions at the casting stages lest “the most authentic answer lost in a casting reel”. A variety of influencers were also enlisted to share their experiences of masculinity; W Communications and Crush were tasked at finding the best talent for this purpose. David Stoddart was chosen to direct due to his work with real people.

“He impressed us with his stylistic vision and his knowledge about how to get the best out of non-actors,” said Good.

Aesthetically, the shots are stripped back and filmed at a ratio of 4:3 in black and white in order to focus the viewer’s attention of the individuals and their facial expressions. High contrast levels were selected to “stand out against the washed out Instagram aesthetic prevalent at the time”: a visual rebuttal to the pressure applied to men through social media.

Locations were also chosen as contrasts to the subject matter. The team filmed in snooker halls, warehouses, a Sunday league pitch and greasy spoons frequented by builders – all spaces that felt “stereotypically manly”.

Getting Lynx to sign off on this stark, poignant and ultimately serious work wasn’t easy, predominately because stakeholders had to agree to a large film shoot with no storyboard, no script and not even a certain idea of how many films would be produced.

“There was a collective holding of breath before we released each film, we were dealing with very sensitive issues and showing people exposing their vulnerabilities,” Good recalled. “However, it became clear fairly early on that he had hit upon a nerve and the reaction to the content was immensely positive.”

It’s been a year since the campaign went live and the world is now a different place. Masculinity in its rawest sense is no longer an aspiration thanks to takedowns of the hyper-masculine Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby and the resulting #MeToo movement. High male suicide rates have been brought into media focus via the recent deaths of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison; the result has been movements such as the Campaign Against Living Miserably that aim to get men talking about their emotions, rather than taking them to the grave.

Masculinity as a concept is now rightly on the witness stand – does Good think he contributed to its comeuppance?

“I feel proud that we put these statements out there and while I don’t think we can claim responsibility for huge societal shifts, if Lynx was able to nudge the dial in the right direction in anyway then the work did what it was supposed to,” he said. “We saw a very positive shift in the way that Lynx was discussed on-line post the launch of the campaign: gone were a lot of the derogatory comments about old ads to be replaced with positive comments about the progressive output of the brand.”

The ‘Men in Progress’ campaign has now wrapped, but Lynx is continuing its legacy with work such as ‘Forget About Labels’. “[Its] push for a widely accepted new definition of masculinity is not complete,” said Good. “The brand has always cared about guys and it will continue to do so.”

This year's The Drum's Social Purpose Awards are now open for entry.

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