Barbara Lippert's Critique: Pick-up Artistry


There's irony aplenty in "Get in there," the latest work for Unilever's Lynx body spray, which digitally instructs 18-24-year-old guys to get their heads out of their apps.

With an entertaining Web site,, and clever cell phone applications from agency BBH, London, the brand, known as Axe in the U.S., recommends ditching Facebook for some face time with real-world women—the ones who tend to breathe oxygen (and perhaps delight in a man's Lynxy scent) in parks and bars. This online manifesto suggests guys have nothing to lose but their cyber chains.

The strategy is smart: Use a screen to kill the screen. The phone apps can be downloaded from the site or by texting a code, and guys can send links to their friends' phones. The phones then become a fun, if slightly geeky, pick-up tool: One application turns the phone into a Geiger counter, beeping until it finds a "fit" girl (translation: hot). Another provides a harmonica sound for the guy to turn into a street poet like Bob Dylan. There's also a "body-piercing sensor" and an aerosol sound effect.

So the campaign uses the newest technology around to enhance the oldest trick in the book: the pick-up. What's more, in the U.S. we've been inundated with books like The Game and its spin-off show, starring the dude with the guyliner, cocktail rings and weird hats who calls himself "Mystery." He teaches men to attract women by "negging" them—making the females feel insecure. I can't neg Mystery enough.

Maybe it has to do with a lighter British touch, but there's something much more human and charming in the way it's done on the Lynx site. It seems that everyone revels in a certain level of girl/boy awkwardness, and there's no shock for shock-value's sake.

Granted, there's the "Get in there" line, an obvious and over-the-top vulgar pun, but it's not as bad as the previous "Spray more, get more."

Among its other features, the site offers an array of shopping tips (It's no Honeyshed, but someday…), recipes ("Ladies love a man who cooks") and best of all, four instructional films. (Users can upload their own films to the site as well.)

Shot with hidden cameras, the virals feature young male comedy unknowns playing out scenarios on unsuspecting "real" women. Take Brian, who pulls off "The Phone Dump." The setting is a pub, where a table of four young women are sipping their drinks and talking. After an introductory aside, Brian, a cute twentysomething dude, enters and says he has an emergency and asks to borrow a mobile. He explains that it's a "local call."

A blonde woman accommodates him. He quite comfortably joins the girls at the table as he gets the doomed one on the line, and proceeds to break up with her because he has met someone new. "What's her name?" the ex apparently inquires. He then asks the phone lender for her name, Amy, and repeats it to the former girlfriend.

It sounds obnoxious in the retelling, but the women think he's cute and funny. Also, in this and other situations, the gals are attractive but normal—they don't have the look of future porn stars. And nine times out of 10, the women seem tickled pink to be approached. (Of course, these are the ones who agreed to have the films used.) That's another thing that is refreshing about this campaign. Unlike the women who populate reality shows, the ones who claw, strip and bitch their way to camera time in a dubious attempt at fame, these young women are nice (and painfully trusting).

Breakout technology to break the ice, that's what it comes down to. And it will, even if people gather around to call it sort of lame.

Actually, in the sex department, it's so much milder than the previous Lynx work that I thought perhaps it was a response to the whole online flap over the Dove "Onslaught" video. (It was in the works long before then, so it's not.) If you recall, that film was released as a follow-up to the mega-success of "Evolution" and attacked the beauty industry's relentless ad machine. It ended with "Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does." Previously, few consumers even realized that Dove and Lynx/Axe were made by the same company. Suddenly, bloggers started calling out parent company Unilever on its hypocrisy, for trying to reassure ordinary women through Dove ads that they are beautiful in any shape or size while peddling "sexist and degrading" images to sell Axe. (BBH, New York, handles Axe. Its recent work for the brand includes, which has a kinkier tone, turning the visitor into an "amateur investigator" on the trail of "nice girls turned naughty.")

The question remains: Can both brands exist simultaneously, each in its own silo? There's plenty of duplicity to go around. Unlike "Evolution," which revealed the tricks of the beauty trade, "Onslaught" was preachier, holier than thou, even suggesting that Dove wasn't part of the beauty industry it was attacking.

I see the Axe/Lynx problem as an outgrowth of the "Swedish Bikini Team/Miller Catfight" dilemma: There is a certain level of hypocrisy in using sexist images to try to parody or spoof sexism. At heart, the Lynx effort pokes fun at men and their ridiculous but universal fantasies of being irresistible to women. But the parody is disingenuous. They're sort of having their cake and eating it too—either way, men are still salivating.

And so the cycle of life, sex and irony continues.