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Adland’s views on Gillette’s polarising ad: Did the brand judge men too harshly?

After Nike, Gillette is now the next brand to face the heat and garner brand love simultaneously with its new polarising ad. Netizens and celebrities online are divided over the new ad the shaving company has created, thirty years after first introducing the tagline “The Best A Man Can Get”.

The short film titled “We Believe”, launched two days ago, begins with a compilation of actions commonly associated with “toxic masculinity”. It features news clips on the #MeToo movement and portrays sexism in boardrooms and violence between boys. A voice over also says, “Bullying, the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, is this the best a man can get?”

According to Gillette, the new marketing campaign and charitable program “is dedicated to celebrating the stories of men making a positive impact, and to inspire others in the process”. Gillette added that the campaign aims to showcase examples of how men can take actions large and small to create meaningful change for themselves, their loved ones, their peers and set the right example for the next generation of men.

The brand said that “it’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we get closer to our best” and “in a world where the actions of the few can taint the reputation of the many, we know there’s work to be done – together.”

“Gillette believes in the best in men. By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come,” said Gary Coombe, president, P&G Global Grooming.

As the world’s largest marketer to men, Coombe said P&G knew that joining the dialogue on “Modern Manhood” would mean changing how the company thinks about and portray men at every turn.

“As a starting point, and effective immediately, Gillette will review all public-facing content against a set of defined standards meant to ensure we fully reflect the ideals of respect, accountability and role modeling in the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and more. For us, the decision to publicly assert our beliefs while celebrating men who are doing things right was an easy choice that makes a difference,” Coombe said.

While some netizens criticised Gillette and calling for consumers to boycott the brand, others including celebrities, pointed out the irony of some men posting toxic comments online over an ad advising men to be less toxic.


Meanwhile, there were others who defended the ad:

Clearly, the Twitterverse has been split down the middle with some defending the ad, and others calling the brand out for going too far.

Valerie Madon, chairperson of Havas Group Singapore and chief creative officer of Havas Group told Marketing that the intention behind Gillette’s ad, she believes, is genuine and disruptive, but needs to be executed with the “right sensitivities checked”.

While Madon said she appreciated the increased awareness around treating women with respect, she said that one must not forget that men deserve the same respect too instead of typecasting them because of a few “culprits”. She said:

There are many ways to deliver the strategy that Gillette intends. However, I believe it did not need to use this approach to deliver the message.

Madon added it is easy for consumers to get emotional about certain topics, but she advised individuals to remind themselves that one’s opinion is not a true representation of the world. “There will always be few brands each year which stand up for issues and it will be great if their efforts are done with genuine intention and long term plans. She said:

The tell-tale sign of an ‘opportunistic’ brand is one who makes a film about a topic with no real actions in life to back it.

Keeping this in mind, Gillette has committed at least US$3 million over the next three years to organisations to support positive efforts for the next generation of men, starting with the Boys and Girls Club of America.

In an exclusive statement to Marketing, Procter & Gamble’s VP, global communications, Damon Jones, said Gillette is “not a brand this opportunistic” in this space, as judged by previous efforts it carried out that illustrate how men are providing positive examples. These include its “Handle With Care” spot that touches on inter-generational care and “This Father’s Day, Go Ask Dad Part 2” ad which highlighted the positive impact of great dads.

Lara Hussein, CEO, M&C Saatchi Malaysia added that from a campaign ROI standpoint, the ad has already made millions in earned media, and sparked off a lively debate. And by those metrics, it’s certainly a success given there is a move towards brands now wanting to ignite conversations.

But the more fundamental question is will unshaven men reach for a new Gillette razor in the morning, rather than his previous Brand X razor, purely on the strength of this advertising? The jury is out on that one, said Lara.

She added that the more important brand test is when an ad helps to build a relationship with its targeted consumers. “Surely, a men’s grooming product should not stereotype men by forcing them into boxes. In fact, the whole point of equality is that we should move past simplistic gender stereotyping. Let’s leave all that in the past,” she added.

Nonetheless, moving forward we will definitely see more brands taking a stand but hopefully, says Lara, “it would be intelligent stands”. She explained that the industry should embrace issues without devolving into parody.

“We used to just ‘sell’. Now it’s become almost mandatory to tag on a big social statement as well. I think we can sell breath mints without a ten-minute online film about the future of humanity. And that’s the acid test, really. We need to think of how our brand communications can deepen consumer relationships and smart brands will embrace causes smartly. They will find issues their consumers care about, and adding an authentic and insightful take on these issues.”

She added that P&G’s #LikeAGirl campaign was an example of that given the campaign was derived from a real insight where girls had been conditioned to think that doing something “like a girl” was to be weak and ineffectual. Because the ad demonstrated that with real people, as a filmed social experiment, it resonated and forced societies to rethink attitudes.

A clear thumbs up

Meanwhile, R3 founder Goh Shufen said Gillette deserves “huge credit” for taking a stand. Most renowned brands in the industry are “too scared” to challenge norms and provoke reaction, which is why majority of advertising is neither noticed nor debated about, Goh said.

“The fact that it is getting reactions from haters just goes to prove how emotional this issue is. The positive behaviour and attitudes advocated by Gillette is anathema to men who feels defined by hypermasculinity,” she added.

Agreeing with Goh, Ivan Hady Wibowo, CEO of Flock Indonesia, said it is commendable for Gillette to have the guts to stand up for an issue “rather than advertising how many blades its product has”. He added that the ad was a “good spin” of Gillette’s tagline.

When asked if more brands will take a page out of Gillette’s and Nike’s book and take a stand on issues this year, Wibowo said that Indonesian companies in particular, might not take that step as they prefer not to go against Asian cultural norms and address such issues publicly.

Also weighing in on the issue is Abhinav Sharma, Dentsu One Malaysia’s head of strategy, who said that while Gillette’s heart is in the right place, it is understandable that some might take offence to the ad as there is an understated implication that all men are bad. However, he acknowledged that the debate that ensued allowed for issues such as bullying, sexual harassment and toxic masculinity to be discussed openly instead of being brushed under the carpet.

“I think it will definitely start a debate in Asia as well because these issues aren’t limited to the West. And it may inspire more victims to come out and share their experiences,” Sharma said. He added that in Malaysia, more individuals are sharing their stories around bullying and sexual harassment, and as such, Asian consumers will be able to relate to the ad’s message.

He believes that over the immediate future, brands will move on from CSR programmes that brands paid only lip service to in the past. “People have become hyperconscious about social, political and environmental issues. Brands will need to demonstrate a real, serious commitment to them. Gone are the times when brands flirted with CSR only to garner goodwill,” he explained.

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