Why we don’t like *that* Gillette ad – and brands that are tackling masculinity better
Move over, vegan sausage rolls – there’s a new controversy in town… The Gillette #BestMenCanBe advert is dividing the internet, and as a socially aware bunch of Piers Morgan-hating parents, we should love it – but we’re really not convinced. Storycatcher Dee explains why – and gives examples of brands we feel are tackling the same issue, better.
Hot takes are the internet’s order of the day, and yesterday, mine was thus: Gillette’s ad alienates the section of society whose behaviour it wishes to change. By shining a spotlight on the perpetrators of toxicity at the start of the ad – the handsy sex pests, the patronising male colleagues, the ultra-macho Dads, the bullying teens – it’s confrontational, and shames and judges at a time when many men are feeling under attack and are therefore hyper-sensitive.
And while the behaviour of some men is shameful and should be judged and confronted, people who feel under attack and hyper-sensitive tend to dig their heels in and either dismiss the argument or defend their behaviour, rather than address it.
From my perspective, the ad comes at an extremely delicate, divisive issue like a bull in a china shop by preaching only to the choir, and is unlikely to reach the hearts and minds of the people it needs to: behaviour isn’t changed by alienating the audience you seek to influence.
And the internet’s reaction backed me up. Lots of people, including a significant number of leftie women and liberal men, love the ad. LOVE it. And I understand why. As a leftie woman and mother of a sensitive, complicated boy, I wholeheartedly buy into the narrative.
However. Many people are not so keen – including the handsy, patronising, ultra-macho, bullying sub-section of men portrayed at the beginning of the ad, who viscerally and very vocally loathe the spot.
Nice work Gillette! Nothing changes!
But perhaps that was my mistake. I assumed – in retrospect, ridiculously naively, especially for an adwoman – that their objective was to change things.
This morning a planner I very much admire – Amelia Torode – retweeted this Twitter thread by the equally sharp Tom Morton. If you don’t have time to click through, here’s the gist – all insight is Tom’s, and all the sources for the stats are in his thread…
42% of British men now have facial hair – so the men’s shaving market has shrunk – and Gillette’s share of that market is shrinking too. It’s fallen from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2017. 48% of the upcoming Gen Z, razor-buying cohort are minorities, while 34% identify as less than straight. Traditional displays of masculinity are not going to win these audiences over – and Gillette needs new audiences.
Amelia contributed to the conversation by pointing out that she suspects shopper data would confirm that more women actually buy Gillette products – on behalf of their partners – than men.
So then it all makes sense. My hot take cools a little. It’s an ad designed for women and liberal men, who – as we’ve already established – love it.
Nice work Gillette! You hit the spot!
Yet I’m left feeling empty. Not many brands have the legitimacy, budget and bravery to take on such significant issues, and legitimate, carefully executed and effective cause-related marketing campaigns show off the persuasive prowess of our industry’s finest practitioners. I like it when we use our powers for good. I want to believe we can change things.
Gillette has legitimacy here – and given that the typically extremely narrow depiction of masculinity in their advertising has contributed to the toxic problem, maybe they don’t just have legitimacy. You could argue that they have a responsibility too, to try and put things right.
And yes, you could argue that speaking to, legitimising and empowering an inclusive array of male personas is one way to put things right – but oh, other brands are doing this so much better! Lots of brands. Really very much better – and crucially, without provoking such a visceral, defensive reaction from the very men that need to broaden their perspective on what it means to be a man.
Look at this. It’s utterly joyful. I watch the Axe ‘Find your magic’ film and *I* want to be the very best man I can be – AND I AM A WOMAN. Sales growth tripled after this ad launched:
Here’s Axe again, offering a more thoughtful and direct contribution to the conversation around toxic masculinity:
Then there are the brands empowering fathers. This Dove ad is absolutely lovely (yes, I cried – though I cry at everything), although the voiceover/end sequence seriously lets it down…
Pantene takes archetypal macho sportsmen and shows them doing their daughters’ hair:
Topman gives us the bottled salty man tears of Love Island star Chris Hughes in a tongue-in-cheek campaign based on the insight that 84% of British men bottle up their emotions. Gillette’s competitor Harry (who along with Dollar Shave Club has taken 12% of the razor market from a standing start), doesn’t tell men what to think – it uses co-creation to allow customers to decide for themselves what makes a man and celebrates the diversity of the male form in their Makings of a Man campaign.
I could go on – but I have a tendency to go on, and brevity is apparently the soul of wit. The point is, Gillette isn’t the first brand to tackle the issue of toxic masculinity, it’s just the latest and loudest, and in our opinion it’s not the best example of advertising of its kind. Yes, we’re all talking about it – but the only people that like it are the people that have already got the message.
The talk from the men that really need to rethink their attitudes and behaviour is NOT good.
I’d rather they saw an ad, did less talking/frothy mouthed shouting (very hard Paddington stare at you, Piers Morgan…), and more thinking. Toxic masculinity is deeply engrained in our culture and behaviours won’t change overnight, but seeds can be sown. Opinions influenced and slowly changed. But it requires a delicate touch – and that’s something we believe the bullish Gillette spot lacks.