Lynx brand manager on new positioning, hairstyles and that gay kiss

For years, Unilever’s male grooming brand, Lynx, was known for being edgy, controversial, and to many women, frankly, offensive. A typical Lynx campaign conveyed the message of the product transforming any male who used it into a superstar ‘chick magnet’. But recently the brand has changed its positioning to focus less on ‘getting girls’, and more about ‘style and substance’ for guys ‘young at heart’.

Mid-last year, Lynx introduced its new grown-up positioning to Australian audiences (see our article: Lynx brand grows up: ‘It’s not just about getting the girls anymore’). The ‘Monday’ and ‘Wednesday’ TVCs featured men focused on career success rather than simply drooling over girls.

In October, the brand brought its Lynx Hair products to Australia, along with the ‘Less Effort, More Style’ campaign that focuses, again, not so much on girls, but on style success. Putting life into perspective, the TVC urges: “One day you’ll look back at yourself and wish you have the hair you have now. So make the most of it, because now can be amazing”.

Marketing chatted with Lynx brand manager, Jon McCarthy, Unilever Australia and New Zealand marketing director, deodorants, about the new hair products campaign, changes in male grooming, the brand’s new positioning, and the strategy behind the much-discussed ‘gay kiss’ that features in the new TVC.


Marketing: You’ve recently launched Lynx Hair in Australia and are currently running that campaign. Being a global brand, where does the strategy come from for products and campaigns like this?

Jon McCarthy: This is a global brand, so we run it as a global brand, and ultimately the brand ambition is to be a brand for guys that covers all their grooming needs. So a sort of more holistic male grooming brand. Our historical strength has been in the deodorants and deodorant fragrance space; those are the products that people would be most familiar with. But we have extended the brand in other markets around the world and we launched the hair styling and shampoo extension in October in Australia last year. It launched originally in the US and it’s in the UK and some other European markets as well. So its something that we’ve been rolling out, and it was a case of finding the right time to launch in Australia.


M: So what makes now the right time?

JM: The journey of the brand. It’s an important brand for Unilever; its a brand with a lot of history in Australia – it’s been here since the early 90s. We have a lot of equity amongst guys young and older. The enduring success of Lynx Africa shows that its a brand with quite a wide footprint in terms of the people who use it. And I think there’s a greater appreciation of grooming and style and look and that kind of thing in Australia. So we relaunched our core range – the deodorants and antiperspirants – in August last year with new packaging. We were already in shower gel, and the complement to that was to extend into hair, shampoo and styling.


M: When you’re introducing these new products to particular markets, how important is it that you take a staged approach to the rollout?

JM: It’s like any brand extension – it’s the right time in the brand’s evolution, and as consumers – in this case, guys – are ready for it in terms of the need and the products. I mean, styling products have been around for a long time obviously. But my observation is there is a real evolution of the fashion and look in this market. Guys are more aware of their style and curating the look that they want. It’s about expressing your look through different hairstyles and different types of hairstyles. If you look at even on a global perspective, the celebrity icons, for example at the football World Cup last year, there was as much talk about the people’s haircuts as there was about the actual players themselves – Ronaldo, Neymar and guys like that.


M: The other thing we wanted to discuss with you was the evolution of Lynx’s positioning. You’ve made some changes in the last little while – you had a bit of a reputation in the past for being edgy, and some of the new campaigns are less focused in, ‘it’s all about getting girls’. With the recent Monday and Wednesday ads, and even the new ad for the Lynx hair, there’s a different focus isn’t there? Where does that come from?

JM: The success of the Lynx brand since it was first launched in the early 80s in Europe is that it evolves and reinvents itself and keeps up with the times. I think any successful brand over time has to continually keep up to date and reinvent itself. Particularly when we’re talking about guys and fashion and things like that, attitudes change, cultural norms change, and the brand reflects that. What was culturally relevant and interesting 10 years ago is less so these days. So for the brand to stay relevant, stay current, and also to be credible in terms of a grooming brand, then it’s important that we evolve and reflect that. I think that these days guys are looking for more substance; looking for more authenticity, which potentially in the past, some of the more hyperbolic campaigns from Lynx wouldn’t have so much. It goes back to style and authenticity and individual expression, which is very much about projecting how you look and the confidence you have in your own look. I think it’s important and the brand reflects that as well.


M: Do you think that’s a global trend, the change in attitude towards people becoming more interested in credibility and substance?

JM: Yeah, even in what people are reading or consuming media-wise these days – this is my own opinion, but mags like Zoo and FHM; lad culture, I would say is less prevalent that it was five or ten years ago. That’s just an observational insight. But I think the rise of fashion blogs, style forums, Instagram to visualise trends, has created more of an awareness and an interest in those things. And just the globalisation of culture – I refer back to the World Cup again – I mean, a billion people around the world watching something (sorry, I’m English so I talk about football)… It’s the same with the premier league in the UK: it’s as much known for style and fashion as it is for the game itself.


M: That’s funny, I don’t think there’s as much talk about AFL and rugby players’ hairdos as there is in football [soccer] is there?

JM: No, potentially not. But movie stars – a Ryan Gosling or a Brad Pitt – they all have individual styles. So I think Lynx as a brand is about giving guys confidence in the way they look and feel and present themselves to the world. The campaigns therefore are reflective of that insight.


M: In terms of this change in attitude, I’m just wondering whether it’s the younger generation who are more interested in this notion of substance, or whether men of all ages have changed in the last five years. Is it still accurate to say that you’re basically trying to target 16-to-34-year-old males?

JM: We have a broad spectrum of target; we have a lot of guys who use the brand in their 30s and 40s and we have a lot of guys who use the brand in their teens. I’d say we’re a brand for guys who are ‘young at heart’, rather than a pigeon hole of an age type.

If i could speak for myself, I’m in my 30s and I’m probably as interested, I hope, in fashion and style as someone in their early 20s. When I say the brand’s young at heart, I think of the likes of a Pharrell Williams or a Justin Timberlake – they’re guys who are beyond what we’d pigeonhole an age target for Lynx is, and I’m not saying that they’re the Lynx target, but they’re guys who are young at heart. And they’re respected for being artists and entrepreneurs and they’re multi-faceted, and very individual in their own style and expression.


M: So it makes sense to think about it in a psychographic sense as opposed to just demographic. I know you’ve also branched into doing some products for women as well. Is that part of the driver to doing less campaigns that offend women?

JM: (laughs) So we launched a fragrance, in 2011 I think it was, which had a ‘his and her’ component on it. It was not overtly a strategy to target women. It was a story or a narrative that was more reflective of equal roles in the dating gender game, which was just the story we told that year around that particular fragrance. Lynx is a brand for guys, and certainly we’d never set out to offend women, using your words. It’s a masculine brand, it’s very masculine in the way it presents itself, the brand logic is masculine. That was more of a one-off fragrance story that we had at the time.


M: Then I suppose there’s the other side to it as well – a lot of guys will have their girlfriends or wives buy their products for them, so the woman has to approve of the brand, right? How much does that play into the strategy?

JM: Yes, of course. Umm, not overtly, I would say.


M: So the other thing we wanted to bring up is the fact that the ‘less effort, more style’ campaign with the hair products includes two men kissing. That must be a deliberate move. Is there much to say on how the brand wants to position itself in regards to that controversial topic?

JM: Is it controversial?


M: Well, yeah, I think it is still. So you don’t want it to be? Is it that you want to try to normalise something that is not normalised in a lot of mainstream media?

JM: I can honestly say there wasn’t any premeditated desire to be controversial. I have to say, we’ve been surprised at the positive response. Not that we anticipated a negative response at all, we were just surprised that it has created that kind of response. Therefore it is a positive social debate which needs to happen, and its great that it is happening. It wasn’t a premeditated intention. it was the creative of the execution at the time. But I think if it has created a positive debate, then that’s a byproduct that we’re pleased about. But Lynx is a brand that targets the modern generation of guys and it’s about celebrating individual style, it doesn’t matter who you are.


M: It’s interesting because I think a lot of brands are trying to associate themselves with getting behind gender equality as a social cause. But that’s not necessarily where you’re coming from?

JM: We didn’t set out to be a social cause, as an overt thing. And I think the nonchalance is reflective of the normality with which it was used. It’s a half a second thing in a minute-long ad. I don’t understand why it should be controversial or not.


M: Yeah, it’s very awesome if people don’t make a big deal about it, but there are still a lot of people in society who do make a big deal out of that kind of thing. Maybe less and less among your target market?

JM: Potentially, yeah. But it’s generated a good conversation and good discussion, so I think that’s a healthy thing for society in general.


M: Great. The other thing I wanted to talk about is the way you’ve changed how you communicate your message. I noticed the ads you’ve got on YouTube are quite long-form; how-to videos on hair product and things like that. What are the goals with the campaign? Are you hoping that people will be sharing those videos, as opposed to relying on buying TV ads, or something along those lines?

Keep watching to view the full playlist: ‘The Messy Look’, ‘The Clean Cut Look’, ‘The Natural Look’ and ‘The Spiked Up Look’.



JM: Clearly media is fragmented, that’s certainly not a new concept. A significant amount of content is consumed via mobile phones, desktops, YouTube… and also particularly in fashion and grooming there are a lot of search queries – how to do things, how to get certain looks, how to get hair like David Beckham, or whatever it is. So having content that can provide help and educate is good. That said, TV media still has a fundamental role to play in any communication strategy if you’re looking for broad-base reach. So I see it as an and/and rather than an either/or. All of our campaigns over recent times have always featured a good mix of both. But there is a benefit to not being constrained to 30- or 60-second spots if you’ve got a longer story to tell or a longer message to give, depending on the idea or what you’re trying to communicate.


M: In the press release I received it talked about an ‘exciting male grooming product being launched in February’. Is there much you can tell us about that?

JM: Um, not quite yet. We have a lot of activities across the course of the year, so there’ll be some cool stuff going on.


M: Anything you can tell us about what’s in the pipeline for 2015?

JM: We’ll be doing more of what you’ve seen from the brand over the past 18 months. We’ll be teaming up with top Aussie guys in grooming, fashion, and through to music. Last year you might’ve seen we worked with Vice and D’Marge to launch a ‘style station’ – basically a social space for guys, to do all things around style and music and grooming and fashion. We’ll be doing more of those kind of things.


M: Great. Thanks so much for your time, Jon.

JM: Good to chat.



Michelle Herbison
BY Michelle Herbison ON 5 February 2015
Assistant editor, Marketing Magazine.