Teen Boys Picking Up on a Scent: Body Spray

In a painting of things that are meaningful in his life, Silver Spring middle-schooler James Armstrong included a depiction of Axe body spray.
In a painting of things that are meaningful in his life, Silver Spring middle-schooler James Armstrong included a depiction of Axe body spray. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 3, 2006

James Armstrong's got style, and he likes to smell good. Real good. And to smell good, he's got to have his Axe.

"Axe is one of my favorite things in life," he said. "You don't want to be smelling bad in class."

He's 13. He wears outfits, not clothes. And he has one scent for every day.

And one for, well, you know, special occasions.

"Sometimes when you wear it," said Milai Henriet, his classmate at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in Silver Spring, "the ladies will turn their heads at you."

Milai is 12.

Seems that Axe body spray has become the thing for today's discriminating middle school boy. Preteen boys barely registered in the billion-dollar personal grooming market just a few years ago. But analysts say younger and younger boys are snapping up body sprays -- lighter and often less expensive versions of cologne -- in greater numbers than ever before.

Karen Grant, senior beauty industry analyst with the NPD Group, a market research company, said that when workers at her firm began analyzing the market in 2002, they were looking at trends among females, but to their surprise, they discovered teenage boys were also into fragrance.

Moms report being dragged to drugstores to pick up cans of the spray -- in all of its "nine unique fragrances." Principals groan and roll their eyes when asked about the "Axe effect." And physical education teachers? Well, they joke that clouds of body spray have become so ubiquitous that they need gas masks just to make it through the boys' locker room.

"Let me just tell you," said John Burley, principal at Forest Oak Middle School in Gaithersburg, "there are days when I walk down the eighth-grade hallway . . . and I am nearly asphyxiated."

And it is Axe -- launched in France in 1983 and introduced in the United States in 2002 -- that is the brand du jour. Although manufacturer Unilever maintains that its target market is men between 18 and 24, boys as young as 11 are dousing themselves in the spray that "leaves guys smelling great so they can concentrate on more important things -- like how to get the girl."

The suggestion -- that Axe will help with the ladies -- is woven throughout its marketing and advertising and may be why company officials declined to comment on the body spray's appeal to younger teens. Click on Axe's Web site, and it offers this handy factoid: "28% of all males at Spring Break are arrested pantless."


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