Whatever you make of the Gillette ad there’s no denying that it has grabbed attention and provoked debate. Personally, and as a mother of two young boys, I like it. I believe it sends out a positive message about caring and looking out for others. It’s a positive message about masculinity in a world full of confused messaging and role models for both men and women.
Some people are suggesting that it paints all men in a bad light. While I didn’t interpret it in that way, perhaps Gillette could have played down some of the messaging around sexual harassment at the start of the video. However, it’s important to view the advert in context. This is an advert intended for US audiences. The person with the most powerful job in the US is someone who was caught saying “grab them by the p***y”. In the past couple of years the US has also witnessed one of the most powerful people in one of its most influential industries being accused of being a rapist and sexual predator. Alarmingly, it appears that many men and women knew this and turned a blind eye. Credit to Gillette for addressing these issues head on and painting a more positive image of masculinity for men to aspire to.
The Gillette advert is one of a new breed of campaigns that aim to achieve cut through by associating a brand with a higher social purpose. Examples include the recent banned Iceland advert about palm oil and the Always #Likeagirl campaign. While the Iceland advert and Always’ #Likeagirl received widespread praise, Gillette’s ad has not.
The challenge with this new breed of campaign is that for a commercial brand, there is a fine line between aligning your brand to positive values to being seen as preachy and opportunistic. Ultimately Gillette’s purpose is to sell razors not to tell men how to behave. For many people, Gillette overstepped the line and many of its customers felt that the advert was patronising and anti-man. The impact on sales is yet to be seen but it could be that Gillette has lost customers for life - although judging by the P&G share price today investors don't seem overly concerned by #boycottGillette.
For communicators the advert serves as a stark reminder of the importance of thorough research when carrying out a campaign of this nature. There’s no point in adopting and communicating a social or environmental stance (however positive a message you believe it sends) if it is not going to resonate with the people who buy your products. Did Gillette do due diligence to understand how terms like “toxic masculinity” and the “MeToo” campaign are perceived amongst the people who buy its products? The reaction it has had from its loyal customer base would suggest perhaps not thoroughly enough…
The Gillette controversy doesn’t mean brands should shy away from this new type of campaign. It can be a tremendous force for good when well executed. However, brands must tread carefully and, as always, listen to all voices before taking a stance. They need to consider how different people might perceive their message, and, importantly, be prepared to handle all the responses – however divisive they might be.