Gillette, masculinity and how to avoid the pitfalls of marketing with a message

A scene from Gillette’s ad titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”

A scene from Gillette’s ad titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”

If the aim of Gillette’s ad for the #metoo era was to get the brand talked about at a time when sales are falling - down 4.5% or just over £11m last year according to Nielsen - then it has succeeded. Not since Nike’s Black Lives Matter campaign featuring NFL player Colin Kaepernick saw critics post videos of themselves burning Nike trainers has an ad provoked such powerful and contradictory responses.

The ad, titled: “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”, uses powerful imagery to challenge “toxic” male behaviours from bullying to sexual harassment, has clocked up 23m views on YouTube and another 9.5m on Facebook. Meanwhile the company has gained 25,000 new twitter followers and set a new benchmark for Google searches on razor brands.

But it has also deeply irritated many in its core market. While the ad has 642,000 likes on YouTube the number of dislikes is almost double that at 1.1m. Social media is awash with both praise for what is seen as a brave and principled stance but also complaints (and not just from males) that the ad seeks to characterise all men as violent, sexist thugs.

As several commentators have observed the message might have landed better if this wasn't the same company which charges higher prices for virtually the same product when it is pink and aimed at women. This is also the company whose ads featuring impossibly chiseled and toned male models have arguably helped feed a different kind of toxic masculinity with a generation of men obsessed with achieving the perfect body.

There is a cursory nod to this in a line on Gillette’s website where it says: “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture.” And the company is putting some money behind the new take its 30-year old tagline “The Best A Man Can Get” with a pledge to donate $3m over the next three years to organisations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. But that’s it apart from a single campaign page on its website. It feels thin and like an afterthought rather than the deep institutional soul-searching Gillette would have us believe it has been engaged in.

For purpose-driven marketing to work, it has to feel consistent and authentic - a point made at a recent Media Foresight Breakfast Briefing on the subject. But Gillette’s campaign, at least on the evidence so far, doesn’t feel either.

For those interested in hearing more about how to avoid some of the pitfalls of purpose-driven marketing, here are some of the other tips from our brilliant panel of speakers Daniel Finkelstein of The Times, Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks and Jonathan Sebire of Signify. You can also see a video of the highlights of a very insightful and stimulating debate by clicking here.

Top five tips on how to be a purposeful company

  • Trust in all institutions is falling but companies are still more trusted than government (which means there is an opportunity).

  • Companies need to be careful because it’s easy to misjudge what people think (because we all live in a social bubble).

  • Business shouldn’t stay silent on the big issues but there’s a cost to those that speak out so it’s good to speak as a group.

  • There are no “no-go” issues if it’s relevant to your brand but some have very strong opposing views (which you may not fully appreciate).

  • Millennials respond to ads with social purpose but you have to be consistent (it’s not just the age of accountability, it’s an age of authenticity).

Stephen BevanComment