Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Jessica Bennett (00:04):

What is the way a man is supposed to smell? I don’t know. Patchouli, sandalwood, musk, like these-

Susie Banikarim (00:10):

Wood? He’s been chopping wood.

Jessica Bennett (00:16):

I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (00:17):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (00:18):

And this is In Retrospect where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (00:24):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (00:27):

So if you listen to our episode about Pacey and Dawson’s Creek, you’ll know that we spent a lot of time dissecting what was happening during that era. But, Susie, here’s the thing in recording that I felt like you cannot truly understand that era without really understanding the scent that emanated from the halls of every middle and high school. And that scent was AXE Body Spray.

Susie Banikarim (00:54):

Really in the 2000s. Because my era-

Jessica Bennett (00:55):

In literally 2000s. Yeah.

Susie Banikarim (00:57):

Because my era really had Drakkar Noir. That was our scent. And I think there’s similar scents actually.

Jessica Bennett (01:03):

Well, okay, so here’s the thing. I have a little surprise for you.

Susie Banikarim (01:06):

Oh, amazing.

Jessica Bennett (01:07):

I have a couple of bottles of AXE-

Susie Banikarim (01:10):

Oh, my god, I’m so excited.

Jessica Bennett (01:12):

… that I got here. And the scents are Anarchy. And let me look at this one, Dark Temptation. So why don’t you just give them a little spray and see what you think. But not on me, please.

Susie Banikarim (01:26):

No, no, not on you. Not on you. But am I just spraying it in the air or on me?

Jessica Bennett (01:28):

I think so. Oh, god.

Susie Banikarim (01:33):

Oh, that’s strong.

Jessica Bennett (01:35):

Okay. Does that smell like Anarchy? No, that’s Dark Temptation.

Susie Banikarim (01:37):

That’s Dark Temptation. That does smell like Drakkar with a little extra vanilla in it.

Jessica Bennett (01:42):


Susie Banikarim (01:43):

Let’s smell Anarchy-

Jessica Bennett (01:46):

Anarchy. The scent of anarchy.

Susie Banikarim (01:47):

… which says that it is dark pomegranate and sandalwood scented. Hold please.

Jessica Bennett (01:52):

Oh, god.

Susie Banikarim (01:55):

That also smells like your car, but with baby powder in it.

Jessica Bennett (01:58):


Susie Banikarim (01:58):

I don’t understand. It’s so confusing.

Jessica Bennett (02:00):

Oh, my god. All right. So I have a headache now. Actually, we should have done this-

Susie Banikarim (02:06):


Jessica Bennett (02:07):

… second, as this last recording because now we have to sit in this all day.

Susie Banikarim (02:11):

Oh, my god.

Jessica Bennett (02:11):

So anyhow, I wasn’t sure if you remembered what AXE smelled like.

Susie Banikarim (02:15):

I didn’t. So this is amazing. I mean, I am just a touch older than you. So we did not have AXE Body Spray when I was in middle school.

Jessica Bennett (02:22):

Oh, my god. Okay. So I mean, this episode is really dedicated to all the pre-pubescent boys of my high school, and probably yours if you’re listening and lived in the early 2000s. And let me just give you a little background on AXE Body Spray.

Susie Banikarim (02:37):

Oh, please give me more background.

Jessica Bennett (02:37):

I don’t know if people know the basics. So for what it’s worth, this AXE Body Spray that I’ve just sprayed for you was purchased at Duane Reade in South Williamsburg.

Susie Banikarim (02:46):


Jessica Bennett (02:47):

And so you can still get it today. And also shouts to a Jada who was the checkout woman who spotted my husband 65 cents to be able to buy both bottles because his credit card wasn’t working or something happened. So thank you to her. Now, AXE Body Spray was actually developed in France and it first launched in Europe, which makes it sound like much fancier than you might think. But it came to the US in 2002, and it was the first scent that could do two things, which was be a deodorant, an antiperspirant, and a cologne at once.

Susie Banikarim (03:27):

Oh, interesting.

Jessica Bennett (03:28):

And so for guys of a certain era that was really killing two birds with one stone. I

Susie Banikarim (03:33):

I see. So before you had to put on deodorant and go to the drugstore and buy Drakkar Noir, which I guess some people may not know what that is, so I should explain it. Drakkar Noir was this, I guess perfume or I guess for men, it’s cologne that was available in my high school years, middle school, high school. And it was the only scent that boys of that age used. And it was very pungent. It was very distinctive and people would drown themselves in it, but it definitely wasn’t a deodorant. And I just have to say, because I’m looking at the packaging here that there’s a couple of funny things here. One is that it’s says it’s 48 hours of high-definition scent. So that is a long time for your scent to last. I just want to say, and also the directions just say spray to neck and chest, which is like, but doesn’t your deodorant go under your arms? Oh, this is very confusing. Yeah, you’re right. That is weird.

Jessica Bennett (04:32):

But there are different versions of it. So maybe this is actually the scent version.

Susie Banikarim (04:36):

No, it says deodorant body spray.

Jessica Bennett (04:38):

I don’t know, but honestly, I can taste it in my mouth.

Susie Banikarim (04:41):

No, it’s so gross. I mean, actually, let me say something. If you’re a 13-year-old boy, you probably smell pretty bad. This is probably an improvement.

Jessica Bennett (04:48):

And that is literally what one of the ad people who came up with all of AXE’s branding said in multiple articles. It was like, sure ax smell’s disgusting, but have you ever smelled a 13-year-old boy?

Susie Banikarim (05:00):

Yeah. I mean, 13-year-old boys smell bad.

Jessica Bennett (05:02):

So I mean that’s really what we’re talking about here.

Susie Banikarim (05:05):

Not all boys.

Jessica Bennett (05:05):

This was the scent of a certain kind of pubescent boy, and I weirdly know a lot about AXE because a few years ago they were trying to rebrand, and I was going to do a story about it.

Susie Banikarim (05:18):

I remember this. They were trying to be more progressive, right? Because it was such a male thing. It was a rite of passage into a very typical heterosexual masculinity.

Jessica Bennett (05:30):

Well, and so AXE’s branding and marketing was famous, and they in the early 2000s were in fact the most sold, the most popular of this type of product. And they were making millions and millions of dollars. So it was very popular. And they got that way through this kind of packaging and marketing, which was basically like Spray AXE, and you’re going to get ass.

Clip (05:57):

AXE, the smell the ladies love.

Susie Banikarim (05:57):

You’re going to get all the ladies.

Jessica Bennett (05:57):

Actually, I wrote down somewhere… Okay, here was the official tagline, “Spray More, Get More.” And so it was basically all about sex and they had these flavors or scents or whatever that were all like, yeah, erotic sunshine.

Susie Banikarim (06:11):

I’m sorry. Hold on. Hand up. What is erotic sunshine?

Jessica Bennett (06:16):

Honestly, I think I just made that one up. But they were like that. And so it was always like, “What is the way a man is supposed to smell?” I don’t know. Patchouli, sandalwood, musk, these-

Susie Banikarim (06:29):

Wood, he’s been chopping wood.

Jessica Bennett (06:30):

Wood flavors. And so the early advertisements for AXE, which if you grew up in this area, you probably remember, but let me just remind you of a couple of them. The first real US ad was called Mannequin, and it was basically a hot woman shopping at a department store. She’s testing this AXE and she sprays it on a mannequin to smell it.

Clip (06:51):

Here’s the new deodorant, called AXE. Spray it under your arms and across-

Jessica Bennett (06:55):

And then she’s so turned on by the scent that she has the mannequin spank… She’s spanking herself with the mannequin’s arms.

Clip (07:03):

Ooh, I have been naughty.

Clip (07:07):

AXE Deodorant Body Spray.

Susie Banikarim (07:11):

She’s like, “Spank me mannequin.” That doesn’t make any sense. Okay.

Jessica Bennett (07:14):

And then there’s another one called Billions, where “billions of women” are running towards some dorky guy who’s spraying AXE Body Spray. And I think that’s a critical thing here too. It wasn’t targeted at guys who were already traditionally hot or chiseled or popular. It was targeted at the dorky guys who wanted to get girls, and they really weren’t shying away from being raunchy. So there was another one in 2010 called Clean Your Balls.

Susie Banikarim (07:45):

The AXE Body Spray was called that, or the ad?

Jessica Bennett (07:47):

The ad was called that, but it was for the new, maybe not new, but shower body wash. And there was a tennis player involved.

Clip (07:57):

So no one wants to play with dirty equipment. That’s why you have to keep your balls clean.

Susie Banikarim (08:01):

It’s not bad advice for a boy.

Jessica Bennett (08:02):

No, honestly, it’s not.

Susie Banikarim (08:03):

You should clean your balls. I can’t even say that with a straight face because it’s just so ridiculous. Wasn’t there also one I’m vaguely remembering with Ben Affleck?

Jessica Bennett (08:12):

Great memory. Yeah. This is so funny because I feel like Ben Affleck, he has now grown and whatever, but he embodies this douchey side to me.

Susie Banikarim (08:19):

Yeah. His early persona was douchey.

Jessica Bennett (08:22):

So okay. Yes. Ben Affleck starred in one of these ads. He plays himself. He’s going around LA doing errands like an average day, and he is telling the number of women who check him out. So okay, fine.

Susie Banikarim (08:35):

As one does.

Jessica Bennett (08:36):

As one does. So then he gets into an elevator with this geeky guy. And the two compare their numbers. And the joke, of course, is that the geeky guy who is wearing AXE has way more chicks checking him out.

Susie Banikarim (08:50):

I also like the idea that you can tally who’s checking you out. What kind of-

Jessica Bennett (08:55):

Clearly, in retrospect, that advertisement would not exist.

Susie Banikarim (08:59):

It would not exist. Yes.

Jessica Bennett (09:15):

So it’s also worth noting, honestly-

Susie Banikarim (09:20):

It smells so crazy in here.

Jessica Bennett (09:21):

I’m not doing this is a dramatic effect.

Clip (09:25):

Thinking about doing this story, which I never ended up doing, and I regret, but I was talking to them about how AXE has a real perfume mirror. Is that how you say that word?

Susie Banikarim (09:33):

I think that’s how you say it.

Jessica Bennett (09:34):

Behind it, there are real, very respected people developing these scents.

Susie Banikarim (09:40):

Oh, that’s fascinating.

Jessica Bennett (09:40):

And I think in Europe and in the UK, it was not marketed in the same trashy, low brow way as it was in the US. And interestingly, one of our friends, who’s British, who’s now in his early 40s and has a kid, still wears AXE Body Spray, which in the UK is called Lynx. So it just doesn’t have quite the stigma than it does here.

Susie Banikarim (10:01):

Can I say something with love about our European brethren? I mean, I picture European men’s smelling like this truly with love. I love European men, but this is the scent. It’s like they have a kind of vibe that this vibes with.

Jessica Bennett (10:18):


Susie Banikarim (10:19):

You know what else this reminds me of, from the same era, is the rise of The Pickup Artist. Did you ever watch that show on MTV about Mystery? Do you know what that show was? There was a show on MTV, of course I watched it because I love every trashy tv. It was about a pickup artist named Mystery and he would teach other dorks how to become cool like him and pick up chicks.

Clip (10:42):

Meet the world’s most successful pickup artist, a man who goes by only one name, Mystery.

Susie Banikarim (10:50):

And then there would be challenges. They’d take them to the bar and they would teach them about negging. Do you remember negging?

Jessica Bennett (10:55):

Oh, I do remember negging.

Susie Banikarim (10:56):

Which is like when you say something mean to someone-

Jessica Bennett (10:58):

And supposed they get someone to like you.

Susie Banikarim (10:59):

… and then suddenly they’re more attractive to you. Yeah. So there was this whole era of The Pickup Artist.

Jessica Bennett (11:05):

Okay. Yes. Wasn’t this also the era of that book? The Game? I think it’s by Neil Strauss. But this was very much a time, like you’re saying, even for women too, where Hollywood movies, it was like there was always that moment where you were taking the glasses off the girl and suddenly she’s supposed to be pretty.

Susie Banikarim (11:20):

Pretty. Yeah.

Clip (11:21):

Gentlemen, may I present to you the new and improved Janey Briggs?

Susie Banikarim (11:29):

And also I think the thing about the pickup era that’s interesting is that it involved this concept of peacocking. Do you remember this? Where it’s like part of what you wanted to do as a man is stand out. So the recommendation was that you wore crazy hats.

Jessica Bennett (11:42):

Oh, really?

Susie Banikarim (11:43):

You wore a funny feather. I really watched that show a lot. It was so bizarre.

Jessica Bennett (11:48):

But yes, I think you’re absolutely right.

Susie Banikarim (11:49):

But this adds to that, right? You want to stand out, you want to have something that makes someone attracted to you. And this would be in that category of peacocking, I think.

Jessica Bennett (12:02):

Okay, so I have a horrifying thing to tell you, which was that when I was, well, actually when my husband went to go purchase these AXE Body Sprays for me. I was like, “So did you wear AXE? And he was like, “No, not really. But actually I remember spraying it on my balls.”

Susie Banikarim (12:18):

I’m sorry. What?

Jessica Bennett (12:20):

Which goes to the ad campaign we spoke about. So honestly, we should just call him.

Susie Banikarim (12:25):

Yeah. I mean we should, because I want to understand how the answer is, “No, I did not. But yes, I sprayed it on my ball also.”

Jessica Bennett (12:32):

Also, I hate saying that word. It’s so disgusting.

Susie Banikarim (12:35):

It’s okay.

Jessica Bennett (12:35):

Is there some way to not do that?

Susie Banikarim (12:36):

I don’t know. But the look on your face, I really wish people could see it because it’s such true horror.

Jessica Bennett (12:40):

This might be too embarrassing to air, honestly, but we’ll call him and we’ll just see how this works.

Susie Banikarim (12:45):

Okay, great. I can’t wait.

Sam Slaughter (12:50):

Hello, babe.

Susie Banikarim (12:52):


Jessica Bennett (12:53):


Sam Slaughter (12:54):


Susie Banikarim (12:54):

Welcome to In Retrospect.

Sam Slaughter (12:56):

Oh, my god. This has been my dream.

Susie Banikarim (12:58):

Oh, my god. Sam, I have so many questions for you.

Jessica Bennett (13:00):

Susie’s going to lead this interview because I’m biased.

Susie Banikarim (13:03):

I mean, here’s what I have to tell you.

Sam Slaughter (13:05):


Susie Banikarim (13:05):

Is that the way Jessica presented your relationship to AXE Body Spray was to say, “Oh, I asked him if he ever used it,” and he said, “No, but sometimes I sprayed it on my balls,” and I guess I don’t understand how the answer can be no and yes at the same time.

Sam Slaughter (13:24):

Yeah. That’s a fair question, answer, Susie. I guess what I meant is I didn’t use it as deodorant. I sort of more used it as cologne. And I feel like at some point in my teens, someone told me or gave me the idea, or maybe it was from AXE’s marketing that you had to make sure that you had good smelling stuff on your junk when you went out.

Susie Banikarim (13:59):

You want to do privates, just smell like AXE.

Jessica Bennett (14:00):

That’s a better way of saying it, junk.

Sam Slaughter (14:03):

Just in case. You know what I mean?

Susie Banikarim (14:05):

I have some questions. I have some follow up questions, like any good journalist would. So did you have a signature scent or did you just use whatever was available to you?

Jessica Bennett (14:13):

Oh, great question.

Sam Slaughter (14:14):

No, I didn’t have a signature scent, but I did love to see what the goofy flavors that they would have would be. I guess I was very susceptible to their branding. I remember there was one called like Conviction, which I thought was pretty funny.

Jessica Bennett (14:34):

Oh, there was? Or was it convict?

Sam Slaughter (14:35):

I think it was Conviction.

Susie Banikarim (14:38):

I don’t think the brand could be convict.

Sam Slaughter (14:40):

I just remember seeing it and being like, “I don’t think that people are taking this the way that they think they’re taking it.”

Susie Banikarim (14:46):

So you liked it ironically, is what you’re trying to tell us?

Sam Slaughter (14:48):

Well, I went through different phases, I think as a teen, no, there was not a ton of irony involved. It was more like, “Oh my god, I’ll meet women if I spray my balls with this.”

Susie Banikarim (14:59):

Oh, my god. So basically, the motivation was the ladies are going to love this.

Sam Slaughter (15:04):

Yeah, obviously.

Susie Banikarim (15:06):

And did a lady ever encounter your AXE junk or have a reaction to it? Because I feel like I would be traumatized.

Sam Slaughter (15:17):

Susie, gentlemen, never tell.

Jessica Bennett (15:19):

Yeah, thanks, babe.

Susie Banikarim (15:20):

Yeah, that’s fair. That’s really fair. You’re right. It’s an inappropriate for me to ask. I just am trying to imagine myself coming upon just like a cologne-drenched, private part.

Sam Slaughter (15:33):

No comment.

Jessica Bennett (15:34):

Okay. Sam, what about, who were the guys that were wearing, how would you describe an AXE guy?

Sam Slaughter (15:41):

I mean, I would describe them as 13-years-old, maybe 14.

Susie Banikarim (15:48):

So let me ask you something. Do you ever even wear cologne as a grown man?

Sam Slaughter (15:54):


Susie Banikarim (15:55):

Yeah. I think it’s interesting. I don’t know if… Is cologne less popular now than when we were growing up? Or is it just the people we know?

Jessica Bennett (16:01):

I think it’s just that when you’re that age, you’re experimenting with scents.

Susie Banikarim (16:04):

But I just mean, I don’t know any grown men who wear… My boyfriend doesn’t wear cologne. But I wonder if in general cologne was a more popular ’80s and ’90s thing.

Sam Slaughter (16:14):

That’s a great question. I don’t know anybody that wears cologne either. But I wore cologne in my ’20s and maybe when I was in my early ’30s. I think that’s just a trend.

Susie Banikarim (16:26):

Right. Well, and also now you’ve landed your lady, so you don’t need to attract ladies.

Sam Slaughter (16:31):

It’s so true.

Jessica Bennett (16:33):

That was great, babe. Thank you.

Sam Slaughter (16:35):

Hey, no problem. There’s an AXE flavor called Leather and Cookies?

Jessica Bennett (16:39):


Susie Banikarim (16:40):

No. But one of the things I’m really enjoying about this conversation is that you keep referring to them as flavors, not scents, because you can literally taste AXE Body Spray.

Jessica Bennett (16:49):

We sprayed it in the studio and it’s awful.

Sam Slaughter (16:52):

You guys are never going to be allowed back in the studio.

Susie Banikarim (16:55):

It’s possible. That’s possible.

Sam Slaughter (16:57):

Thanks you guys. It’s been a pleasure. I hope I did a good job on your podcast.

Susie Banikarim (17:01):

You did a great job.

Jessica Bennett (17:02):


Sam Slaughter (17:02):


Jessica Bennett (17:06):

The funny thing is, he keeps talking about being a teen, but AXE did not debut in the United States until 2002. So he would’ve been out of… He graduated in 1999.

Susie Banikarim (17:16):

That’s amazing.

Jessica Bennett (17:19):

He was in college for the record.

Susie Banikarim (17:20):

So you’re fact checking and you’re saying that he was a college AXE user.

Jessica Bennett (17:24):

I was like, “Yeah.”

Susie Banikarim (17:37):

So I think the one thing you mentioned earlier that we haven’t really explored that I would like to go back to is what is the kind of new AXE branding, like this progressive AXE version?

Jessica Bennett (17:49):

Okay. So when AXE debuted, premiered, whatever you call it, emerged into the US market, they hired this ad agency and the ad agency basically came up with this idea of making it all about sex. And they came up with this branding called the AXE Effect. And AXE Effect was basically sprayed on yourself and then people are attracted to you. So fast-forward, here we are. That feels like not the right marketing for today’s teens, necessarily.

Susie Banikarim (18:18):

No. It’s like the sense of toxic masculinity.

Jessica Bennett (18:19):

Exactly. And so AXE, I think AXE marketing team rightly understood that they needed to change it up a little bit. And I mean we’re totally dragging them in this episode, but they’ve done some good things too. They did a big campaign around getting vaccinated during the pandemic. They’ve done some partnerships with various nonprofit organizations and they’ve actually done some research too about men’s attitudes towards sex and other things.

Susie Banikarim (18:45):

Well, and I want to say in fairness to them, we’re not really dragging them in that this was an extremely successful business strategy. I mean, this is a reflection of the time. This isn’t about AXE. They didn’t create toxic masculinity. They just took advantage of a thing that existed, which is this idea that you’re primary goal as a man is to attract as many ladies as possible.

Jessica Bennett (19:08):

And once that is your brand, it’s really hard to shake it, which I think is what they found. So around 2017, they basically started thinking like, “Look, we got to attract Gen Z. The brand is not doing as well as it once was. It’s not as popular. It’s become a bit of a punchline.” And so they tried to make things a little bit less heteronormative. They came up with a new tagline called, Find Your Magic, and instead of Spray More, Get More, the tagline became Attraction for All.

Susie Banikarim (19:39):

Oh, interesting.

Jessica Bennett (19:40):

And so many brands, they were trying to be inclusive. They were trying to take into account that a much higher percentage of Gen Z does not identify as heterosexual, all of these things. But it’s hard to change the perception of a brand so baked in.

Susie Banikarim (19:57):

Yeah. I mean, I can imagine that it’s so hard and there’ve been a bunch of headlines that haven’t really helped.

Jessica Bennett (20:02):

Well, so I don’t know if you remember around the January 6th riots, there were these photos that emerged of a couple of empty cans of AXE Body Spray littered-

Susie Banikarim (20:13):

I did not know that.

Jessica Bennett (20:14):

… on the ground. And so it was too perfect. It’s like put these two things together. Oh, here you have the Anarchy, the actual name of a scent of these riots. When that happened, the images went viral. It was like it spawned every joke ever. There were many lonely QAnon-

Susie Banikarim (20:36):

Yes. That makes sense.

Jessica Bennett (20:37):

… joke. And AXE, the company, actually had to put out an official response. Oh, my god. They said that they would “Rather be lonely than with the mob.”

Susie Banikarim (20:48):

Oh, interesting.

Jessica Bennett (20:49):

So it was unclear if the rioters were using the AXE Body Spray on themselves, if they were using it as an explosive device.

Susie Banikarim (20:55):

Oh, my gosh.

Jessica Bennett (20:56):

But these things were too perfect. And so I remembered that and then I started doing a little research into other headlines around AXE. And basically over the last 10 to 20 years, the only headlines about acts have been these really crazy things that have occurred with the product, such as setting a dumpster on fire using AXE, which was what a man in West Virginia did, or a man arrested in rural Pennsylvania for stealing only AXE Body Spray from the store. And it’s like, that’s not an important headline. This is a petty crime, but why are they making it an actual article? Well, because everyone thinks AXE is laughingstock. And then this one was one of my favorites A couple of years ago, a school bus had to be evacuated and 911 was called over the smell of too much AXE Body Spray. This was in Florida, obviously.

Susie Banikarim (21:48):

I love that. I mean, honestly, this should be the official scent of Ron DeSantis’ Florida. Amazing. I think we could just end on that note. We honestly ax AXE Body Spray the official scent of Ron DeSantis’ Florida.

Jessica Bennett (22:02):

Susie, I think you’ve just come up with a political tagline and ended our episode, a rebranding for AXE. AXE, the scent of Florida.

Susie Banikarim (22:23):

This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (22:37):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (22:48):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (22:57):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (23:09):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindy Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (23:27):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.