A not so smooth response to the grooming company’s new campaign
“THE BEST men can be”, reads the new Gillette tagline. “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette,” they promise.
But what does it mean to be a man?
There is no question about Gillette’s new promotional video being hugely controversial – comment sections everywhere on the web are bursting at the seams, the company’s social media accounts flooded with praise and condemnation, everyone is fired up and no-one is afraid to speak up.
But is the advert a new height of hypocrisy from the grooming company or a bold move in a good, new direction? If you take a step back from the chaos of it all, you can see that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
First of all, the campaign is a smart marketing move. In the age of scrolling, swiping and fast-forwarding, it takes a real show stopper to catch the short-attention-span-generation’s eye – and what better way to stop people in their tracks than with brand social activism?
With Procter & Gamble’s grooming brands taking a hit in sales last year, and with cheaper alternatives increasing their market share, Gillette, now under pressure, had to make some bold decisions to mark its territory.
Moving away from their old-fashioned brand image, constructed to appeal to an alpha-male type customer, the company is clearly trying to reposition itself to attract a younger, more socially-aware and socially-active customers.
It goes without saying that thousands of pounds will have been spent to fund the market research for Gillette’s new campaign and the video at the forefront of it. So, this controversy exists by design and we’ve fallen right into the narrative.
The campaign forces you to have an opinion. It has everyone engaged in the conversation. It is powerful whether you want to admit it or not.
But which way do the scales tip when it comes to the message itself?
Thank you, #Gillette, for taking a chance on attaching your tagline to something meaningful, important and real. This conversation needs to happen. Why are there is so many complaints when it’s showing the good and bad side of #masculinity? https://t.co/gd4rsp5SP0
— happyasbarry (@happyasbarry) January 15, 2019
Referencing issues which have been taking the spotlight in the media over the past year, following high-profile cases like the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the short film highlights day-to-day inequality; it makes reference to issues of bullying, mansplaining, objectification and dismissing harmful behaviours with “boys will be boys”-style excuses.
Gillette’s advert urges men to hold each other accountable, set positive examples and be proactive in dismantling these behaviours.
All good so far, no? Well not quite.
One of the biggest issues people have with the advert is the term “toxic masculinity”. But are they not just missing the point?
The aim is not to criticise manhood. The term is used to describe the narrow, repressive and socially-constructed attitudes that see men as the violent, unemotional gender – traits that are harmful to both men and the people around them. “Toxic masculinity” has a different meaning to “masculinity is toxic”.
The advert works to encourage men to be more empathetic, more aware of their actions and to set an example as role models to the younger generations.
In the simplest way possible, Gillette’s message is to treat each other (both women and men) with respect. Not a bad thing to endorse, is it?
THE NOT SO GOOD
I’m offended by this ad BECAUSE I’ve never done any of the things depicted in it and yet I’m still lumped in with this portrayal of men and masculinity simply because I’m male.
— Mike Teller (@tellerdesign) January 16, 2019
But the message rings hollow when coming from a global company that actively participates in the Pink Tax. A quick search on Amazon and you’ll easily find that Gillette’s razors “for women” are more expensive than their alternatives “for men”.
It is of no wonder that the company’s intentions are being questioned when from the sidelines it looks like they’re just piggybacking on feminism as if it was a trend without ACTUALLY participating. These sorts of issues need to be addressed prior to any campaign to make it trustworthy.
It also doesn’t help that the majority of their male audience feels like they’re being lumped together with criminals and sexual offenders.
The paradox of Gillette’s advert is that it tries to fight stereotypes but by doing so, it has managed to make their target audience feel stereotyped, nevertheless. It clearly wasn’t the intention, but the push back from men who feel that they’ve been used to increase profit margins is understandable.
THE COMPLEX REALITY
Gillette must’ve fired their old marketing team. pic.twitter.com/jJiBBO7qw4
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) January 17, 2019
So where does the line blur between trying to make a difference and cashing in on a social issue?
Today’s consumer is cleverer than ever, which is why any significant change to a brand’s image and corporate message is likely to be taken with a pinch of salt. Campaigns are built to bring benefits to a business and people know it.
Many think that Gillette should just “shut up and sell razors” but the reality is that global companies can’t stay silent anymore. Using their platform to voice positive messages and initiate conversations is becoming a responsibility.
There are no right or wrong answers in Gillette’s case but one thing is clear: brand social activism is here to stay whether you like it or not. But before you decide to leverage social issues in your marketing, really consider what your company wants to and CAN stand for.
It’s not enough to start with a promise anymore – the groundwork needs to be in place and changing your tagline isn’t going to be enough.
Once the temperature drops and people move on to dissecting the next big marketing stunt there is only one important question that remains: will Gillette prove it wasn’t just a cold strategy and deliver on their promise of working towards a real social shift?
Only time will tell. But they could certainly start by taking that extra £2 off my trip to the chemist.
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