The Lynx Gift Set: A Christmas Present British Men Love to Hate

Despite the memes, sales of the notorious men's grooming set are rising.
illustrated by Mike Hughes
Why do British men love and hate the Lynx christmas gift set

There are countless stock gifts to be bought this Christmas by well-meaning friends and relatives. But only one that British men dread appearing under the Christmas tree: the Lynx gift set.

The modest set, which features a combination of Lynx products including deodorant, shower gel and antiperspirant, retails for around £12 in shops like Boots and Superdrug. Each Christmas, memes circulate about receiving the dreaded “Lynx gift set”. One reads: “FROM EVERY MALE. EVER. WE DO NOT WANT A LYNX SHOWER SET FOR CHRISTMAS.” A similar tweet says: “Lynx Africa is trending, which means it’s time to wish everyone a Merry Christmas.”


Lynx – the Unilever-owned grooming brand known as "Axe" in the US – has a complicated brand history in the UK. Most of us remember watching the “Lynx effect” adverts on TV, which depicted hoards of naked women running towards young men who’d sprayed themselves in Lynx deodorant. The smell of Lynx’s “Africa” scent is so unmistakable that, as soon as I catch a whiff of it, I’m transported back to my PE changing room almost instantly.

The days when young men proudly doused themselves in stenches named "Collision" and "Dark', hoping to get some action, are seemingly gone. Matt, 29, received a Lynx deodorant set from his auntie last year. “I deserve the Best Actor Oscar for my ‘thank you’ performance,” he says. “Because seconds later, I was roasting it in the group chat.” So, why is men complaining about Lynx gift sets at Christmas now as much of a festive tradition as arguing over the word “f*ggot” in Fairytale of New York?

Hussein Kesvani, European Editor at MEL Magazine – a title that examines modern masculinity – tells me that the rejection of Lynx might have something to do with awkward teenage memories. “Lynx reminds many men of their teens, when Lynx was basically the most affordable brand of deodorant you could buy in the newsagent. Everyone's teens brings back awkward, weird memories of bad dates, or getting dumped, or falling for someone, only for them to date a guy who wears his dad's cologne,” he says. “I think its a reminder of a period that many guys would probably want to forget.”


Just like the men who used to wear it, Lynx is also keen to forget its cringe-inducing past. Some of the brand’s most controversial adverts were banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for being “degrading to women”. In 2015, Lynx’s marketing manager David Titman said that the brand would be softening its approach. The following year, the laddish campaign ads were further sidelined by a Unilever-wide move away from “sexist” advertising across all its products.

It’s not just Lynx who are trying to better reflect men’s lives in the year 2019. In 2015, sociology professor Erynn Masi de Casanova published Buttoned Up: Clothing, Conformity and White-Collar Masculinity, a book on modern masculinity. She agrees that the marketing of grooming products like Lynx has changed drastically in recent years. “The marketing has become more reflective of the diverse ways that men live their lives,” she says. “Products have become normalised and it’s not seen as ‘strange’ anymore, so there’s less need for over-the-top sports metaphors, super-masculine branding and the hyper-sexualisation of women to sell products.”

Casanova also identifies a move away from function towards “wellness” in grooming product branding. Grooming products are sold as “health” or “wellness” products which are good for the “mind and soul”. There’s no way that Lynx can be packaged as like this.

The brand's low price point could also be turning men off. Ben, 26, received a gift set from his new step-dad two years ago. “Afterwards, my mum turned to me and was like, ‘At least he tried’ and I was like, ‘Girl, we both know that’s a lie!’” Casanova says that people's bodies communicate status in a stronger way than they did in the past. “The labour market is more precarious, the class system is a little bit shaky and your last name might not be as important as it used to be,” she explains. “So people's bodies can stand in for their social status and that's how they justify putting a lot of effort into the upkeep of the body – something as cheap as Lynx doesn’t fit in with that at all.”


While Lynx is trying to clean up its act, Brand planner Chris McCrudden tells me that it takes a very long time for new branding strategies to filter into public consciousness. “Lynx is a brand that's working with a legacy that's at odds with its present,” he says. “If you look at what the brand stood for historically, it's totally different to its current positioning, which does some actually quite interesting and brave things with detoxifying masculinity and mental health.”

And yet, despite cries from men that they hate Lynx, the brand’s sale figures tell us the opposite. In 2017, Lynx was named as Britain’s “fastest growing brand”. Brand Finance valued Lynx at £2.1 billion, with a spokesperson saying: “It has performed an almost complete reversal of its previous identity, with a series of new campaigns designed to portray a ‘radical and progressive view on masculinity’. Despite initial cynicism from marketing pundits, the approach appears to be paying off.”

Perhaps the Lynx gift set – with its old-meets-new corporate identity and obvious memeability – is a gift that British men can reclaim and celebrate. The blokes who grew up furiously masturbating over Big Brother contestants and parroting Jay Cartwright from The Inbetweeners are now performatively woke soft bois who “forget” to fair-split Ubers with you and never have their own cigarettes, but definitely want to make the world a better place (once they’ve finished their screenplay).

Kesvani thinks that the male Christmas ritual of the Lynx gift set – the dread, the toe-curling thank-yous and the two-faced complaining online – is about as British as it gets. “Lynx represents awkwardness. And what's more British than being awkward? And overly-polite? And repressing your distaste for things? In many ways, Lynx Africa really represents the very soul of this country.”