Not so strange: Why a Stranger Things star helped teens prepare for prom

The case study for Axe's #AXEpressYourself campaign.

Company: Axe
Agency partners: Edelman, United Entertainment Group
Campaign: #AXEpressYourself
Duration: May - July 2019

In honor of prom season, Axe wanted to celebrate self-acceptance and confidence, which can be slippery concepts for high schoolers. Axe, known for its men’s grooming products, brought in Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo to help.

In addition to being known for "his amazing hair," Matarazzo relates "to some of these confidence-related challenges that young guys can face," said Mark Lodwick, Axe’s brand director.

This is the second year that Axe launched the #AXEpressYourself Challenge. This time around, "we wanted to make it bigger and more impactful," Lodwick said.

Planning for the campaign began in late 2018. From the start, Axe’s brand team worked closely with Edelman, its PR agency. Because Axe was targeting Gen Z males, centering the campaign on prom made sense.

"There are a lot of aspects to prom that can cause stress or anxiety -- all the pictures, the date, awkward slow dances and the attention of your peers on how you look," Lodwick said.

The campaign was designed to help teens feel confident about themselves and their style choices, "whether natural or with streaks of blue paint in it," Lodwick said.

Axe also wanted to support an organization that supports young people who have negatively been affected by bullying. It ended up selecting Ditch the Label, an anti-bullying nonprofit.

On May 16, Matarazzo, who had gone to his own prom a few weeks earlier, announced his partnership with Axe in support of Ditch the Label on Instagram.

That same day, he surprised students when he arrived at Pittsburgh’s West Mifflin High School in a barber shop on wheels and gave them haircuts and styling tips in preparation for their prom.

Matarazzo also took a photo of a student who exemplified the #AXEpressYourself challenge, and posted it on his Instagram account. 

For every hairstyle shared on social media with the hashtag #AXEpressYourself from May until July 31, Axe pledged to give $1 to Ditch the Label, with a minimum donation of $50,000.

To amplify the campaign’s reach, Axe supported Matarazzo’s Instagram posts with paid dollars.

Before Matarazzo’s styling session, the campaign was pitched to the media and select outlets were offered the opportunity to interview the Stranger Things star.

Matarazzo’s posts about the campaign on Instagram received more than 918,019 likes, 3,095 comments, 10,642 shares, 6,601 saves and 357,263 story views.

The campaign was also covered extensively by the media, receiving a total of 143 earned placements, including write-ups in millennial and Gen Z-focused outlets like Bustle, HuffPost and Elite Daily. Much of the coverage centered on the campaign’s message of confidence and self-acceptance, such an extensive Q&A with Matarazzo in Forbes.

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