In one of Barthes’ essays, “Soap-powders and Detergents”, he discusses the mythology behind the advertisements that are presented to the public for such products.  These advertisements are overwhelmingly prevalent in today’s society, marketing a variety of body washes, sprays, and perfumes in every color, texture, and smell imaginable to both men and women.
One of the most common and most outrageous brands on the market today is that of Axe shower gel.  This company, in particular, uses advertisements such as the beach commercial that we watched in class (also found at to sell their products to men.  In this commercial, the average-looking man is required to shower off after his enjoyable day at the beach, and begins scrubbing down with some Axe shower gel.  This body wash then gets incredibly foamy, which commonly “signifies luxury” (p. 37).  Although the foam indicates luxury, it “appears to lack any usefulness; then, it’s abundant, easy, almost infinite proliferation allows one to suppose there is in the substance from which it issues a vigorous germ, a healthy and powerful essence, a great wealth of active elements in a small original volume” (p. 37).
By showing the gel foam, which implies luxury, as well as coupling this foam to a sense of deep-cleaning that comes with it’s use, the observer of the ad is enticed to believe that this is a satisfactory product.  However, this ad is able to become over-the-top enticing when it displays how a variety of scantily clad women are attracted to the man using the shower gel.  The women are so drawn to the man who is using the Axe product that they ultimately end up immediately stopping what they are doing to imitate him because the product is so incredibly enjoyable.  These women then seem to flock to the user of the shower gel, conveying the idea of luxury in this body wash even more.  The women are so drawn to the man who is using the Axe product that they ultimately end up imitating him because the product is so incredibly enjoyable.
The activity, the images, and the connotations that those images convey all work together to make this commercial successful.  The deep-clean that the foam is representative of makes this product seem to be satisfactory, but the luxury insinuated with the use of the foam, and represented in this commercial, makes this product appear to be a must-have for all men.


One response »

  1. Michael K. Johnson says:

    You do a good job of using quotations from the Barthes essay here, but this may be one of those cases where the essay doesn’t quite fit the example. When applying Barthes, we may have to sometimes be flexible in the application. This ad is doing what Barthes suggests in the abstract–attaching a particular concept to a particular object (soap powder/body wash), but the concept here seems to belong more to the realm of sexual fantasy than luxury. Your description of the women function in the ad works well, but this is a case where you may need to step back from the exact argument that Barthes makes and discuss his observation in more general terms.

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