Shaving Off Toxic Masculinity — The Best an Ad Can Get?

Screen shot from Gillette’s New Ad Campaign — Credit Proctor & Gamble/Gillette

Screen shot from Gillette’s New Ad Campaign — Credit Proctor & Gamble/Gillette

Toxicity, harassment and bullying have no place in our world, by anyone, anywhere, at any time. Our world continues to change, evolve and grow. How we behave matters; “because that’s the way it has always been” doesn’t work anymore. How we all show up every day – and how companies show up - is important, and something that we as consumers consider when we buy. I deeply contemplate this as a marketer and a human being.

This week Gillette released a new ad campaign — We Believe: The Best Men Can Be, taking on toxic masculinity, to much hubbub among the Twitterati and news outlets.

Toxic masculinity”  has entered the vernacular and is used to mean socially-constructed and perpetuated attitudes that portray the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.  Of course, not all masculinity is toxic - masculinity is a word that stands by itself, just like femininity.www.geekfeminism.wikia.com

When Was The Last Time You Thought About Gillette?

Law 15 — The Law of Candor

“When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.”

Al Ries & Jack Trout, The Immutable Laws of Marketing

“We have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.”

The point of the spot per Gillette, “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture,” Gillette said in a statement. “And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.”

An additional part of The Best Men Can Be campaign, Gillette is committing to donate $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations executing programs in the United States designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal “best” and become role models for the next generation.

When a company admits a negative, changes a swim lane, or shifts to a new paradigm, will the public reward their efforts? Time will tell.

Are companies devaluing the #MeToo movement by using the slogan that has allowed stories of assault, harassment, rape and exploitation to be told (by so many who kept those stories private for fear of backlash, embarrassment, and shame)? MeToo is now and forever part of our narrative, and there are many opinions on this.

Are companies truly looking at their past and deciding to put a new stake in the ground? Is it time to shake up and challenge to stigmas, old ways of thinking, and bad behavior? I believe so. I hope so.

Looking at scenes in the ad, many would agree that the behaviors in the ad are a given: someone (a “real man”) steps in or rises to the occasion. But some have said the ad doesn’t go far enough and is milquetoast and corporate.

So, when was the last time you even thought about Gillette?

Market Share and Making Waves

Law 4 — The Law of Perception

“Marketing is not a battle of products, it’s a battle of perception.”

Al Ries & Jack Trout, The Immutable Laws of Marketing

This ad and others like it show that conversations about image/brand and toxic behavior, harassment and bullying are happening in the boardroom. Gillette’s ad isn’t a “victory” for gender equality; we have a long way to go on that, but it does show a continuing cultural shift and a moving of the needle. For brands who jump on the “diversity” and “gender equality” or “MeToo” bandwagon, is it striking while the proverbial iron is hot, or are they truly looking to change a historical image (and do they also live these values inside their company)? Proctor and Gamble (who owns Gillette) at the end of the day are like any corporation - in business to make money - but they are also willing to jump into the cultural discussion and coming revolution? It is a risk, but great risk can deliver great rewards. And for Gillette, the debate means free press.

Many people have been asking for an end to pink razors. I don’t care about razors myself (I have been waxing for years), but I do take issue where products for women are traditionally diminutive, cost more, and often manipulate what is attractive or what someone will find attractive in order to sell more product. Gillette’s Venus razor (marketed to women) is a higher price point to its counterpart razors. I’m looking forward to seeing how they address this along with this new campaign - if and when they do.

FACT: Gillette has lost market share to Dollar Shave Club and other online monthly programs. Their 70% of the global market is now 54%. Are they getting back in the game by embracing the zeitgeist as a bold marketing maneuver, or are they simply coattailing on gender equality issues to sell more razors? Reality in advertising isn’t the norm. Ever seen an ad showing women really shaving their legs, with actual hair and shaving cream on them? Not as sexy as the fake shave over smooth thin (usually white) legs. Ever watched a Brazilian wax being done? I don’t know anyone who wants to see the waxing itself or the gymnastics needed when on the waxing slab. 

In the past, the smooth-shaven assertive man was the hero of this story. The onslaught of beards and twisty mustaches being in fashion in the past decade or so has also changed the face of razor advertising.

When you need to make waves, go for the maverick.

Oh the Backlash

Law 20 — The Law of Hype

“The situation is often the opposite of the way it appears in the press.”

Al Ries & Jack Trout, The Immutable Laws of Marketing

Is the strong backlash from people like Piers Morgan fear and unwillingness to take a new look at constructs and the grid we all play on? Twitter was ripe today with the hashtag #boycottgillette, with many angry tweets saying that a money making entity shouldn’t tell their consumers how to act, feel or think. Do they have a point? In discussing marketing campaigns at various companies I have worked for, we always talked about “poking the bear” and that if you do you’d best be ready for when it takes a swipe at your face . Like anything, else consumers take their dollars where they prefer; that’s their choice. At last look on Twitter, there are many pictures of snapped razors in the trash (if you haven’t opened them donate them to a shelter please).

The ad was created by Kim Gehrig, an Australian-born and London-based ad director who is known for her smart, hip and award-winning ad work for Gap, Honda, IKEA, Uber, UK’s John Lewis, and the Viva La Vulva commercial that challenged the shame that women feel about their vulvas and monthly periods (for feminine hygiene brand Libresse). She is under contract with the Los Angeles based agency, Somesuch & Co, founded by Sally Campbell. The VLV commercial took home the Glass Grand Prix at Cannes Lionnes. Unfortunately, there are reports of Gehrig receiving death threats and loads of trolls attacking her on social media, giving credence to the ad’s message.

Back in 2017, Burger King released an ad taking a stand against bullying, which has more than seven million views and raised the question “what do burgers have to do will bullying?” But when you watch the video — 95% of the people who had their burger “bullied” complained, where 12% stepped in to help the child actor being bullied. These results ask an alarming question: Do we care more about our fast food than about another human being?

Nike’s headline-grabbing “Believe in Something” Colin Kaepernick ad from late last year stoked similar controversy, as well as #boycottnike on Twitter and lots of talk in the media. The day the ad was launched Nike stock was $79.60. Today at the close of the stock market it is $78.00. Brands that share their values seem to be able to keep their market share.

Many say these ads are a “misfire” and I think there will always be sides to when ads show a company’s vision, mission, beliefs or political views in their marketing. Feminism is about toppling power structures and the patriarchal grid. Some feminist groups and writers have also spoken out about the ad.

Many sides have aired their grievance against brands that use feminism or politicized slogans to sell products. Who is being alienated or embraced by the ad? That is subjective depending on what you read, who you are, and how you define your politics. The biggest point for Gillette is that you are reading this post, you probably just watched the Gillette ad (if you hadn’t already), and now you are or will be talking about it with someone else. That folks, is marketing and brand awareness. They got you - hook, line and sinker.

How do we let boys be boys and men be men, while still stamping out toxic behavior? Gillette’s message has struck a nerve — corporate, fierce, milquetoast or no, and has fierce oppositions and much praise on all sides. Regardless of outcome, the ad is a 100% success. Any ad that creates such a strong reaction means the director and agency hit the nail on the head.

If companies want to take a stand about values and how they want their brands to be seen in the world, and those efforts continue conversations about how harassment, bullying, and toxic behavior do not belong in our society, I’m all for it, especially if more conversations happen about how we can be better. Of course, reading the immediate responses with such deep hate and vitriol on social media over a television advertisement is disheartening, but that is our world now.

My question as a marketer is this — when we look back at this in six months, will people call this a brand blunder or a smart, forward-thinking brand builder? Or will anyone even remember the ad at all?

From Marketwatch.com P&G shares were up slightly early Tuesday. The stock is down about 0.8% so far in January, but up over 1% for the past year.

Empathy makes us human; action makes us warriors.

But are companies allowed in on the warrior action?

The 22 Laws of Immutable Marketing written by Al Ries and Jack Trout is still one of the best books on marketing I’ve ever read. Quotes above from their timeless book.


Written by Head Maven & CEO, Heather Newman, Creative Maven.

Heather is a marketer, writer, playwright, Microsoft MVP and lover of culture and “the why”. She has worked for over 20 years in technology and the arts. Heather lives in Los Angeles, California and enjoys traveling the world speaking about Office 365, SharePoint and Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. She is a published playwright, was born and raised in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, is a graduate of the University of Washington School of Drama, Seattle WA and did a semester abroad at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Heather is always looking for an excuse to go to New York, New Orleans, London, Brooklyn and the list of cities she made in her Dad’s Time/Life map when she was 11.

Follow her travels and writing on Twitter Instagram. Catch Heather on Medium where she is a top writer in Inspiration.

Check out her IG Story for #TheCurlerReport, tales of woman on the go who happens to love her hot rollers.

Listen to her podcast: Mavens Do It Better on iTunes, Stitcher or website. Interviews with extraordinary mavens who light a spark in our world.

Full disclosure on LinkedIn.

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