Selling Pheromones: An Inconclusive Phenomenon

by Ororo776 on February 27, 2017 - 4:03pm

Unsurprisingly, cologne and perfume advertisements often relate the smell of their products to sex. Axe’s ad, promoting a new shower gel, displays a mirrored image with prominent distinctions between them. The image on the left shows a man using the product, and the mirrored image displays an intimate scene where a naked woman holds a whip over her shoulder, similar to the man holding the shower scrub. As said by the slogan, the more he cleans himself with Axe, the more sexually active he will be. With their backs turned from the viewer, exposed by only dim lighting, one can only help but to depersonalize the two. The pheromone effect this gel has on the woman is anything but the opposite in real life, where instead violence and objectification is promoted to the viewer.

The lack of identity displayed in the ad allows the user of this product (as portrayed, a heterosexual male) to imagine themselves as the pursuer and the female being whoever they desire. By envisioning one’s self in this particular scene, the ad sends the viewer “cultural messages that teach[es them] how to behave” (Cortese 79). As one grows, learning basic behavioral traits, one is exposed to advertisements. Viewing ads similar to Axe repeatedly over one’s life, which “glamorizes a form of violent masculinity” (79) teaches men to behave violently and women to submit to this violence. The exposed viewers are then taught how to behave without realizing it. As the woman holds the whip, she is participating, therefore allowing male viewers to assume women will want that violence as she does. This assumption is far from reality. The simplification of sexual desires causes men and women to behave towards this generality, where violence has become a norm and affection and care are now rarely seen. This “pattern of media violence… creates a cumulative effect that often numbs… human suffering and brutality” (79) to such an extent that violence “has become foreplay” (85). There is no wonder why women feel so much more occupied in personal safety than men, where one lives in a world which applauds violence.

Objectification within this advertisement is also evident. Ads, simply, are made to “persuade you that you need something” (75) and then “provide the solution” (75). Therefore, according to this ad, the man’s need is a woman, and the solution: Axe shower gel. The implication that women will be easily pursuable with the help of shower gel is simply unrealistic. As this objectifies women to be no more than a sexual adventure, this teaches men to see women no more than that as well. With her face being left unseen, the advertisement also implicates the interchangeability of the woman. By having her be anyone in which the male desires, this suggests that any and all women enjoy sexual violence and are no more than a “hollow shell representing a female figure” (59). Thus, women in society are subjected to this norm of objectification, where they themselves learn early on the behaviors to self-objectify. Objectification within media and advertising has caused many teens to become insecure, where girls now worry more about their worth than their success.

In short, advertisers work to draw the eye of the viewer. Recently, it has been viewed that nothing catches any viewer more than intimacy and being sexually alluring. Although, this method of drawing the eye through intimacy has been so heavily practiced that society has disregarded the psychological consequences of these ads towards society. To reverse these effects, advertisers need to stop altogether this practice of objectification and violence, and use advertising tactics that are not as harmful. For example, while the thought of a cologne ad with visuals that represent the smell seem bland, by using a simple high quality camera, close ups of the visuals and high contrast, individuals are naturally drawn more to brighter colors than that of the black backdrop and dim lighting presented by this ad.

It will be no surprise to see that cologne and perfume advertisements will simply be less lenient than that of other ads to be less sexual. Outside of societal issues this brings about, many often speak of pheromones and the sexual attraction because of it. Although, according to the Scientific American, “after decades of research, the story in humans is not quite so clear” (Hadhazy). As a result, advertisements do not have any excuse as to relate the smell of their product to sex. By steering away from the over practiced method of selling sex, and replacing it with travel or success, I believe Axe will find more diversity when advertising without having to be just one of the many sex-selling influences in society.

Works Cited:

Cortese, Anthony. “Constructed Bodies, Deconstructing Ads: Sexism in Advertising.” 345-102-MQ: Gendered World Views, edited by Sarah Waurechen, Eastman, 2017, pp. 9-25. 

“Whip.” Ads of the World, Dec. 2012, 

Hadhazy, Adam. “Do Pheromones Play a Role in Our Sex Lives?” Scientific American, 13 Feb. 2012,