A campaign to revitalize an ancient payoff
Bad PR is Still Good PR

Trying to define manhood
What if the true target was the female one?
Riding social causes is the new black.
Don’t sweep the dirt under the carpet
Does this ‘cause related’ campaign will turn into a suicide in the market?

different ways to view #toxicmasculinity

With its much-talked-about ad, Gillette is attempting to take its highly distinctive slogan “The Best a Man Can Get” and revitalize it for a new era.

A Campaign to Revitalize an Ancient Payoff

Gilette’s new campaign thoughtfully and critically examines what “The Best a Man Can Get,” the brand’s iconic tagline, means today. It’s a must watch, according to Arianna Huffington Founder and CEO at Thrive Global.

It’s similar to what Nike did for its ‘Just Do It’ tagline when it came out with the award-winning Colin Kaepernick ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign

“But the difference between Nike and Gillette is as glaring as that between night and day. Nike used the authenticity of Kaepernick, the pathos in his voice and the positivity of his message to inspire customers with an aspirational message that attracted them and then propelled them to purchase. Gillette’s ad feels like a tedious, politically correct public health video – the kind of film we were forced to watch in school about road safety before they invented the internet. Never mind making me hate Gillette, it makes me feel bad about pretty much everything.” Mark Ritson Marketing week [1].

The campaign is coupled with a donation pledge and a partnership with non-profits, starting with the Boys & Girls Club of America.

To be honest, while watching the video, you feel a little bit uneasy. You don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it, as the Blink author Malcom Gladwell describes in his book.

If the brand purpose was sincere, it could build a support association, helping men who suffered from bullying and sexual harassment or creating a public school program to raise awareness on such problems (what they are probably doing). So, why did Gillette and its agency Grey opt to engage Kim Gehrig, one of a new generation of directors showcased by the Free the Bid campaign (which attempts to hire more female directors into advertising), who directed some of the most awarded campaigns in the last 3-4 years (John Lewis ‘Man on the Moon’, Sport’s England’s ‘This girl can’ just to name a few)?

“Instead of wasting millions producing this BS spot, Gillette should have just donated the money to the #MeToo movement.” Barbara Dickey, Owner & Chief Creative Officer, Cre8tivision LLC

Bad PR is Still Good PR

Yes, the video generated a lot of buzz and conversations.

Since the ad was posted on 14 January on Gillette’s YouTube channel, it has received more than two million views. But it’s also gained an over 80% downvote ratio with 500,000 dislikes. We can assume the concept of this campaign is to highlight the advent of a new “masculinity” banning any kind of toxicity (bullying, sexual assault, etc.).

This ad, instead of communicating the functionality of the product or highlighting its benefits over another product, is focused on evoking feelings about the brand, a brand that is a commodity in an increasingly boring industry (that’s oversaturated with too many competitors).

“In a commoditized industry, what becomes your competitive advantage may just be as simple as a making a social statement like this. To say they made a poor ad is really missing the point. On a more personal note, as a man with kids, I really liked the ad. And I liked the message. “The Best A Man Can Get.” Christopher Cope VP Sales & Marketing/Creative at Raleigh Enterprises

I looked at the polarized comments with interest. Well, if sparking the conversation was the goal, they’ve certainly already [2] achieved it! But while the video is going viral, the dialogue seems to be lost in translation on all sides.

There are articles (on Forbes and MarketingWeek, for example) that have underlined how the imagery and tone of the message (along with use of the phrase toxic masculinity) miss the mark. In truth, even if the intention was there, the execution fell short for many.

Some people found it sexist, condescending, and preachy to men. Others in general dislike politics and how others throw it around in seemingly extremist ways.

Yet some others think it represents the new “brand” of men.

Trying to define manhood

What does it mean to be a man nowadays? The ad suggests it is to stand boldly for what is right and protect others who are facing injustice, no matter what gender, color, or age. But isn’t this a golden rule for any human being, no matter their gender?

And shouldn’t responsible parents have already instilled most of these ideals in their sons?

“The implication from this ad is that, without self-awareness, men are automatically going to engage in “toxic masculinity” rather than assuming the majority of men are well adjusted, and that masculinity itself is not toxic. In contrast to the marketing campaign P&G used for women, which takes the opposite tack: you ARE even better than you think! You ARE good enough! Literally the opposite of what this ad is implying.” Roger Wemyss Cybersecurity Product Manager

“This was P&G’s attempt to replicate the (deserved) success of its Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, which also sought to affect social norms. The crucial difference is that campaign made the user feel better about herself. This does the opposite. Big mistake. “ Lisa Rothstein, Brand Storyteller, Communicate Better With Everyone | Brand Storyteller | New Yorker Cartoonist | Speaker | Copywriter | Visual Facilitator

“The strategy originally was probably on point; something around what an aspirational man looks like in 2019 as opposed to 1989. He doesn’t win at sports and fly planes, he is just a decent man and role model. Sadly, tactically this execution is dreadful. Conflates innocent male behavior with the very worst kind of almost criminal behavior. Focuses almost entirely on the negative, not the positive and leaves the viewer depressed.” Ian MacDonald Partner, VP Strategy & Media at CO-OP | Tech Investor

In 2019 you still find plenty of “men as idiots” ads that actually do tell men how to behave or make fun of abusive behaviors. Apparently nobody makes an uproar about those. And Gillette used to create a super-man ideal––“Its male image is masculine, confident and well groomed[3]––in the last 30 years through influential sportsmen in the same “macho” context they now blame. After decades of Gillette feeding the same toxic masculinity they now condemn (Gillette promoted the new razor with a campaign in Italy starring Antoine Griezmann and Neymar Jr. no later than 6 months ago claiming: “No matter what the challenge, to do your best, you should constantly strive to improve yourself.”), the campaign puts a mirror in front of men and fuels the debate in the ‘human’ direction. What if, before awaking their consumers’ souls, they acknowledge the role they played in the past with a mea culpa?

Sadly this is a company that embraced the toxins of mainstream masculinity to its fullest when it suited their advertising needs, and not only do I see no razors, I see almost no visual tip of the hat to the fact that their ads helped fuel this behavior in the past. If Larry keeps kicking me in the shins, I don’t want Larry to tell me, “We all need to take a good look at ourselves, and think about the damage we have done to people’s shins in the past!” I want Larry to admit he was a jerk and promise me he won’t kick me in the shins again.” Lyon Reese First Assistant Director.

They could take many different ways to get to the point: on Jul 11, 2018, Dollar Shave Club published on YouTube their inclusive campaignWhoever you are, however you Get Ready … Welcome to the Club.”[4] A different way to welcome every kind of masculinity

On top of that, through the ad’s generalization, Gillette fell back on stereotypes. Although they are different from the generalizations against diversity, the ad is still contemptible because the principle itself still bundles all forms of masculinity together, be they toxic or not.

“The ad is amateurishly stereotypical and mostly offers a caricature of masculinity”. [5] Avi Dan, Forbes

The epic men (from Ulysses to trovadores ) used to be represented as full of dignity, honor, and respect, especially for women. Where has that gone? Men in pop culture (from advertising to video games) are rarely honorable anymore, rarely dignified, and everyone cries that “chivalry is dead.” Watch television today––what kind of masculinity is pictured? This holds true for the movie industry as well. During 1970s, Madison Avenue and Hollywood decided that sex sells––and women obliged. Now after more than 50 years, the industry is trying to turn that around.

“Enough is enough! We men are mad as hell, fed up to here, and are not going to take it anymore! I say we should boycott all personal grooming products (that includes you, Gillette), let our hair and beards grow long and shaggy, stop bathing and brushing our teeth, and start wearing furs and skins. We need to go back to being real men, the way our stone age male ancestors were before the invention of flint grooming tools turned us all into a bunch of soft sissified wimps ashamed of our toxic behavior (and odor). ” –Michael Coulas, Senior Software/System Engineer


Certainly the search for a new type of manhood is underway. Men have lost their reference points and struggle, even today, to find an ideal.

What If the True Target Was the Female One?

The campaign has the feminine touch of the director, who almost seems to use the film to free herself of a weight, a conscience too full of experiences (direct or indirect) that push her to shout, “Some are not enough!” (“Men need to hold other men accountable. To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are. But some is not enough[3].)

“It’s rather sad that, as I watched the commercial, I found myself thinking, ‘This commercial and overall campaign must be the product of a woman’s mind. Men tend not to be so thoughtful and caring.’” John C. Leighton. former R&D executive in synthetic and natural polymers.

In so doing, Gehrig gathers, using her call of hope, the women who have already awakened their conscience (the quote from the initial #MeToo campaign is emblematic). That’s with results like this:

“Tomorrow morning I am going to start buying Gillette products for my husband and my son. I AM certainly your target demographic customer and a vocal brand advocate now. WELL done.” Jill Elliott, SPHR , SVP, People + Culture + Charitable Foundation R&R Partners

Riding Social Causes Is the New Black

Dentsu Aegis counted that in 2017, nearly 50% of the Cannes Lions awards were handed to purposeful campaigns (as opposed to 29% of the Grand Prix or Gold Lions in the previous four years). This trend was reinforced in 2018: Almost 60% (15 out of 27) of Cannes Grand Prix winners were assigned to purposeful campaigns. Trend-watching CEO David Mattin says consumers don’t want to make the world a better place, they want brands to do that for them. I know it’s not 100% true (some of them are ready to make a change), but it’s a big deal for corporations. And also a big challenge. That’s probably why purposeful campaigns have recently become an advertising trend.

“This is a moment here. The largest CPG company in the world just jumped into the camp of American Progressives with both feet. Bravo.” Pete Louison Creative Director at Oracle Data Cloud

“Amazing and brave leadership from Proctor and Gamble. Rather than demonizing men, I believe the ad highlights the enormous impact good men can have. Living in a country (Australia) where hundreds of women die every year at the hands of male partners / family members, where sexual assault and sexism is still a major problem, where young gay men go through absolute hell – anything that can encourage us all, and particularly men, to rethink behaviour has got to be a positive step. As a strong believer in business’ power to do good in this world, I’m wholly supportive of this campaign. ” Beth Worrall, National Skills Program Lead at Microsoft

And what if it were another brand that jumped on the purpose bandwagon?  Is this something Gillette really believes in? Why is this brand thrusting itself into a movement? Is this a sincere message or an exploitative play? Does Gillette have the right to drive this conversation?

Don’t Sweep the Dirt Under the Carpet

There’s potential backlash for brands that don’t walk the talk. If brands create their own identity through purposeful campaigns, they actually expose themselves to the risk of being strongly criticized if there is a perceived values gap. As we all know brands are ultimately trying to sell more products. If they also monetize human values, it is a big ethical issue.

You wanna talk about toxicity? Let’s do it, Gary! 1. Proctor & Gamble tests on animals, and has for decades. 2. Aluminum in your deodorants, + fluoride in your toothpastes and mouthwashes cross the BBB (blood brain barrier), causing the reduction of dendritic spines in the brain. This phenomenon is DIRECTLY linked to Alzheimers and other neurocognitive impairments plus a myriad of other neurological and physical ailments caused by heavy metal toxicity. You were saying?” Wes Dickinson, President at Lighthouse Group LLC

“You can’t be a purpose brand by accident – it has to pervade who you are, what you say and what you do.” Rob McPherson Former President – Bacardi Canada.

The brand was involved in another social campaign last year, Handle with care, which brought the public’s attention to the “grey generation” and started a new chapter of brand advertising, intended to redefine masculinity.

That campaign probably wasn’t strong enough, even though Grey decided to push on the accelerator and had possibly bitten off more than it could chew. I think brands that take purposeful communication seriously should start from their “why.” Once they find the real reason why they exist, they should “creact”: engage a critical process of reflection on the problems that afflict contemporaneity with an active approach to improve conditions on a daily basis through creativity.

Will This Cause-related Campaign Turn Into a Market Suicide?

Marketing success or failure is ultimately judged on whether the campaign moves the sales needle. Will P&G’s stock go up or down? Hard to answer: Nike’s stock went up after its campaign on social issues while Starbucks’ stock went down after claiming its mission is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit.”

“There is a special place in marketing hell for companies that not only waste their marketing budgets but actually invest that money into things that ultimately make their situation much worse. That’s going to be the cost of this foray into brand purpose for Gillette” (MarketingWeek).

Working in the advertising/media industry for the last 20 years has helped me to understand how companies could play a better role in society. For instance, they can use their efforts (investments, know-how, human capital, etc.) to do good. But as I am a marketing (and business) professional, I know that it would only work if they balance their good deeds with their financial performance.

At this stage we can certainly say Gillette did two things: 1. got people talking or texting about Gillette with intent and 2. started an important discussion about what makes a man masculine.

[1] https://www.marketingweek.com/2019/01/15/mark-ritson-gillette-ad-toxic-masculinity/

[2] Hard to understand all the turmoil around it? wonderful talk on masculinity at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last summer with Getty Images and Contagious. Sophia Epstein, this topic will continue to be relevant in 2019, I think Darien LaBeach • he.him.his would be a great moderator for a discussion like this, for the male point of view.

[3] Superbrands, 2004 “In essence, the Gillette Company celebrates world class products, world class brands and world class people. “

[4] https://youtu.be/QEU-MAZRhJs

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/avidan/2019/01/16/for-men-gillette-is-no-longer-the-best-a-brand-can-get/#6dabe9875ea5

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Author: elena grinta

I have been dealing with communication for 20 years, I have worked in marketing for large international and Italian companies and I know the mechanisms of advertising persuasion. I decided to invest my know-how and my skills to use the available resources of companies (budgets but also human capital) in positive transformation. Because to students from all over the world I teach at Purpose Brands in Catholic University I wish to give more and more examples of virtuous companies that have invested for the future, of everyone (and there are already many!). Because if we watch, without acting, without taking responsibility, we have no excuse.

Purposeful Communication / Trends