The Holy Grail of marketing is a strong brand. And what do the owners of a strong brand usually do? They extend it. Coca-Cola clothing. Bic pantyhose. Bayer bug killer. And now … Maxim magazine hair dye. Am I serious? Yes, I’m serious. The snarky yet red-blooded men’s magazine now offers hair coloring to you, the snarky yet red-blooded man. You can watch the commercial here, via Ads.com.
The ad: The spot is set up as a sort of parody of an educational film. A canned-sounding voice-over says in a bright but clipped tone, “Fellas, sharp-looking hair is a sure-fire way to get noticed. … Wherever you go, young ladies will pay unusual attention to your hair.” We see a young man with (presumably) Maxim-dyed hair and a young woman who finds the hair so impressive that she licks it. We get mug shots of various guys with different “snazzy” shades of Maxim coloring, then the scene shifts to a professional setting. “At the office, well-groomed hair is successful hair. If you have the look of a winner, you just may find yourself in an exciting new position.” Here a woman in a business suit spreads herself across a young male office worker’s lap. The fake “announcer,” in grainy black and white, is shown flashing a campy yeah-baby snarl. The real announcer tells us that new Maxim hair color is from Just for Men.
To dye for? The whole ad comes off as a big goof or low-rent Letterman—just like Maxim. So tone-wise, the commercial makes perfect sense, and the brand sensibility survives intact. But why hair coloring? Isn’t that sort of girly? A little bit ‘N Sync? Or perhaps the province of, you know, old dudes? There’s a school of thought that Maxim is basically a sophisticated parody of itself, which is a plausible mission for a young men’s magazine—but I don’t know if that sensibility is particularly useful for selling an actual product. And that’s particularly true when the product is not just suggestive of phoniness, but has phoniness at its essence. It’s not easy to laugh at the world’s BS artists when you’ve just given yourself the Billy Idol.
That’s not entirely the commercial’s fault. Any ad for Maxim hair dye is bound to be a little strange, because the very notion of Maxim hair dye is strange. While this one isn’t exactly roll-on-the floor hilarious, it achieves a certain competence in its efforts to amuse. And considering how thinly Maxim the magazine stretches the fig leaf of witty irony as cover for its parade of hokey cheesecake images, the ad is almost shockingly restrained: These hair-addled women are almost fully clothed.
Maybe there’s a legion of young guns out there who laugh at life but are unhappy with their natural color, and this ad will unite them with the product that will launch Maxim into the transbrand stratosphere. But one of the things marketers learn over and over about brand extensions is that the sales job often matters a lot less than the actual item on offer. Bic started out as a maker of ball point pens, then found success selling disposable razors and lighters. Then there was the pantyhose thing. That didn’t work out so well. And this is something to remember as Maxim hair coloring battles for market share: A bad campaign can sink a good extension idea, but even the best ads can’t save a silly one. It’s up to those snarky and red-blooded potential customers to decide if they can see Maxim’s roots in a line of hair dye. But these ads seem like an odd start.