I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall in that meeting room where the Gillette brand marketing team were brainstorming ideas for their latest advert. “We can’t keep getting away with adding more blades to our razors, so where do we go from here?” Despite Gillette brand director Pankaj Bhalla’s assertion that the intention of their advert was not to cause controversy just for the sake of controversy, the Gillette brand marketing team, unless they were completely naive, would have known full well the complete and utter meltdown that their advert would inevitably cause throughout social media given its unapologetic references to key social and political issues, and if you believe in the old adage of “any press is good press”, this was almost certainly by design. Rather than go through a laborious frame-by-frame analysis of the Gillette advert and bore you to death, I invite you to watch it below and draw your own conclusions.
One of the most common criticisms of this advert is that it puts men in a negative light by tarring all men with the immoral behaviours perpetrated by a minority of men. The immoral behaviours depicted in the advert, which Gillette lumps under the umbrella of toxic masculinity, are sexual harassment, bullying, objectification, mansplaining, and dismissing bad behaviour under the guise of “boys will be boys”. But those who dislike the advert w0uld argued that, aside from the fact that the majority of men are decent and respectful towards women and are in no need of moral instruction from a razor company, these immoral behaviours are not solely perpetrated by men against women. There are plenty of instances of women who sexually harass, bully, objectify, womansplain, and yet there seems to be a strong implication in the Gillette advert that these immoral behaviours are exclusively male problems which are to be solved by men alone.
Further on this point, some have pointed out what they suggest are glaring double standards in the reaction to the Gillette advert, which they demonstrate using a gender reversal thought experiment. Suppose there was an advert for a women’s product, let’s say a perfume, and instead of trying to actually sell the perfume, the advert tells women to behave better towards men by not being gold diggers, liars, cheaters, and not sexually manipulating men. Could you imagine the uproar over an advert with a message like this? It would attract universal outrage and condemnation, and the company would ultimately succumb to the mounting negative pressure and pull it. But the Gillette advert, despite the controversy it has caused, doesn’t seem to evoke the same level of moral outrage because it is targeting its message solely towards men at the exclusion of women.
But there is also a lot of people who are wondering what the fuss is all about? They have taken away a more positive message from the Gillette advert, one which they believe addresses the issues of toxic masculinity, bullying, sexual harassment, and the objectification of women head on, and which advocates for men to be the best they can be by challenging these behaviours whenever and wherever they arise. It shows men sticking up for women and other men, and it celebrates those who have brought about change through the #metoo movement. They stare in bewilderment at the angry comments that have littered their social media feeds, the videos of men throwing their Gillette products in the bin (and the toilet) under the hashtag #boycottgillette, and the sheer number of dislikes that the advert has racked up on YouTube, which has now surpassed one million. But they see this outpouring of outrage as a justification for the advert’s existence, that if it is causing men like Piers Morgan to be offended and to evaluate their own behaviour and masculinity, then the advert is doing its job effectively.
Looking at this advert through a marketing and business lens, it is all too apparent what Gillette was trying to accomplish. This was an attempt to increase their relatively small share in the millennial market by directly addressing the current social and political issues of toxic masculinity and the #metoo movement in their advert, which they knew would be an effective means of engaging the socially conscious millennial audience with their brand, even if Gillette had to sacrifice some of their traditional brand identity to achieve this. In doing so, however, Gillette has paid a price, one which their brand marketing department ultimately thought was worth paying to achieve this end. They have upset and angered a large proportion of their traditional and loyal consumer base, who would have unquestionably continued to purchase Gillette products for years to come and without a moment’s hesitation, but who are now motivated enough by what they perceive to be an attack on masculinity, and by extension an attack on men, to take their custom to competitors such as Wilkinson Sword and Dollar Shave Club. Competitors who don’t feel the need to virtue signal on the hot sociopolitical issues of the day in the name of profit making, not yet anyway. Some people have gone a step further and extended their boycott of Gillette products to all other products under Procter and Gamble’s extensive brand portfolio. We shall have to wait and see what effect this has on Procter and Gamble’s share price!