Unilever's Axe enlists Lil Baby for anime-style video series in Gen Z appeal

Campaign from new PR shop M&C Saatchi draws on Lil Baby's love of 'The Boondocks' and anime appeal to win Gen Z.

Unilever's Axe enlists Lil Baby for anime-style video series in Gen Z appeal

Axe has enlisted rapper Lil Baby for a three-episode series of anime-style digital vignettes that simultaneously pitch the Unilever brand’s scents and detail moments from the artist’s life.

The campaign was developed by M&C Saatchi with help from United Entertainment Group. M&C Saatchi took over as PR shop for the brand from Edelman earlier this year.

The series, which will run on Axe’s YouTube channel with shorts posted on the brand’s other social platforms, stems from Lil Baby’s love of “The Boondocks” animated series and the Unilever brand's experience that both the rapper and anime resonate with Gen Z consumers, said Caroline Gregory, global brand director for Axe. The series is currently not getting paid ad support but an Axe representative said it was under consideration.  

“We were looking for ways to tell this fragrance story authentically,” Gregory said. Lil Baby is very into fragrances and uses Axe products while on tour, she said, “and he’s a massive fan of ‘The Boondocks.’” Also, Axe has found it gets “massive engagement on our social channels anytime we do anything in the space of anime.”

Plus, linking a series about memories from Lil Baby’s life to Axe scents makes sense, she said, since smell is the sense most closely linked to memory.

“I’ve always been a big fan of anime,” Lil Baby said in a statement. “So having Axe turn some of my intimate memories and thoughts into an animated mini-series is kind of surreal, and I hope fans enjoy it as much as I did.”

Other brands have tapped into the rising popularity of anime. Honda-owned Acura earlier this year created an anime series-based campaign focusing on the story of Japanese-American learning how to race cars. Last year, Last summer, Taco Bell released an anime-inspired ad for its nacho fries.

Axe already collaborated with Lil Baby on the July launch of “Whaxe Packs,” limited edition packs of deodorant sticks, body wash and toothbrushes, and the appeal to Gen Z consumers was clear, Gregory said.

The Lil Baby animated series will run alongside “New Axe Effect” work from Interpublic’s The Martin Agency that has run in recent years and draws liberally on animation, Gregory said. And it’s part of an effort by a brand – now 20 years old in the U.S. – to attract a new generation of male users, she said.

“We’re a recruiter brand,” Gregory said, so appeal to Gen Z is crucial. And that effort appears to be working, according to data from Numerator, which found Axe’s share in its core antiperspirant and deodorant category rose 0.4 percentage points to 14.8% for the 52 weeks ended July 24. Axe did lose some share in two of its lesser categories – body wash and hair care – according to Numerator, but picked up share in styling aids.

“Since we relaunched the brand, Axe is growing well,” Gregory said. “Brand talkability,” a measure of online conversation about the brand that’s particularly important in reaching a hard-to-reach Gen Z audience, is up over 113% since the re-brand last year, she said.