business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

In crafting a commercial for its razors, razor blades and personal care products, Procter & Gamble-owned Gillette tried to be cutting edge. In doing so, it has gotten some validation, but also some sharp rebukes.

Here’s the story…

The new ad takes direct aim at masculinity turned toxic, and the kinds of “boys will be boys” rationales that often follow bad behavior. These attitudes often fuel fighting, bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination … and the commercial, which you can see at left, reflects a reality in which old attitudes now have come face to face with new realities, especially because of the #MeToo movement.

Adapting Gillette’s longtime slogan, the commercial asks if this is the best that men can be, and challenges men to do better and be better.

There’s been a lot of coverage of this commercial over the past couple of days, largely because much of the social media reaction seems to be negative. Semi-celebrities such as Piers Morgan and James Woods have threatened to change their brand of razors. (Morgan wrote online that Gillette “now wants every man to take one of their razors & cut off his testicles.”)

Here’s the business context…

Let’s be clear. Whatever the social/cultural context for the Gillette ad, it is releasing it in a competitive environment where it has been successfully attacked and disrupted by brands such as Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. Other commercials it has produced (like one about the company’s New England factory workers) have somehow seemed a little desperate in their clinging to some level of American authenticity.

This commercial is a way to clear away the clutter from the brand, and use a compelling and resonant social issue to grab some attention and refocus consumers’ minds. And it is in the recent tradition of brands that have done so, to varying degrees of success - sometimes it seems appropriate and supportive (the “Like A Girl” campaign for Always feminine hygiene products), and sometimes it is awful (Ram trucks using a Martin Luther King Jr. speech).

GQ writes: “Many brands have commodified wokeness with great success: Nike’s revenues leapt after unveiling its campaign starring Colin Kaepernick, Patagonia posted massive sales after directly attacking President Trump, and in Gillette’s own shaving space, Harry’s has made reconsidering masculinity a central tenet of its advertising … Gillette’s new commercial isn’t pure marketing, either: the brand also pledged to donate $3 million over the next three years to nonprofits, starting with the Boys and Girls Club of America.”

Here’s what I think…

I love the ad.

The cretinous attitudes and behaviors illustrated in the commercial are not some invention of an advertising person with an over-active imagination. These are real - and they’ve been part of our culture for centuries. Now - not for the first time, but maybe, finally, in some sort of sustainable way - as a culture we’ve started paying more attention, and maybe creating some actual change in what we tolerate and accept.

I think it is a good thing that the ad shows that it is possible to break the cycle of bad behavior, and it illustrates what good behavior looks like.

Gillette isn’t suggesting that all masculinity is toxic … just that certain forms of masculine behavior (as practiced by some politicians and businessmen and actors and artists and journalists and men in every profession and from every demographic) are toxic. And unacceptable. No excuses.

I have no problem with that, and frankly, I have to wonder about the priorities of any man who finds this ad to be offensive. Are they that insecure? What exactly is it about this ad that strikes them as being emasculating and/or inaccurate? (By the way, when you start taking masculinity cues from Piers Morgan and James Woods, it is time to start re-evaluating your life.)

I’m totally cool with the suggestion that men can be better, that men can do better. How we are today is clearly not the best that we can be.

Good for Gillette - taking a position in a way that strikes me as compelling, to an audience and with an approach that strike me as relevant to the brand.

It is an Eye-Opener. As for the naysayers … well, there always will be people who have eyes, but see not; who have ears, but hear not.

KC's View: