Gillette earns kudos and criticism for tackling toxic masculinity in new ad

Personal grooming company Gillette has drawn a lot of attention for its latest ad campaign, which urges men to take a more active role in fighting toxic masculinity.

Company takes aim at gender stereotypes in play on its tagline in divisive new ad

The Gillette ad urges men to take more accountability for their actions, in part because of the impact their example can set for the next generation. (Procter & Gamble)

Personal grooming company Gillette has drawn a lot of attention for its latest ad campaign, which urges men to take a more active role in fighting toxic masculinity.

The ad, which has racked up almost four million views on YouTube within a day of its release, is a series of vignettes depicting bullying, sexual harassment, the objectification of women and other gender-based stereotypes, and illustrates how inaction allows them to continue.

The ad urges men to be more accountable and take a more active role in changing endemic societal mores in the #MeToo era. In a statement, the Boston-based company said it "believes in the best in men."

"By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behaviour, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal 'best,' we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come." 

The ad is earning plaudits online from people who think it is an innovative play on the company's iconic tagline "the best a man can get." It was the top trending topic on Twitter worldwide on Tuesday morning.

Scott Stratten, author and marketing expert with UnMarketing, said the ad is "phenomenal" in his estimation, because it does what Gillette wanted it to do: get noticed.

"When was the last time you talked about Gillette?" he said in an interview with CBC News. "Now they are the talk of the town."

Not all the talk has been positive. 

Some have pledged to boycott Gillette's parent company, Cincinnatti-based consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, whose shares were up by more than one per cent to just over $92 US a share on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday.

Actor James Woods wrote on Twitter that Procter & Gamble is "jumping on the 'men are horrible' campaign," and announced he's shunning its products.

Gillette was once a virtual monopoly in men's grooming, but in recent years, the company has been hit hard by upstart competition Dollar Shave Club, a California-based company that mails personal grooming products to customers.

Dollar Shave Club seemed to be trying to profit from anti-Gillette sentiment on Tuesday in a tweet of its own.

Former advertising exective Tony Chapman says regardless of any backlash, the campaign is already effective because it is garnering attention. "Being in the middle gets you no attention," he said in an interview. "If you want to be out there you have to pick a side."

"They don't present males in a very good light so they know they are going to take some backlash, but again, if you're going to be part of the conversation you can't play in the middle," he said.

He also says the campaign is clever in that while it ostensibly targets men, it also slyly goes over their head and targets women, who make most household purchasing decisions.

"The people using the product might be male, but more often than not the people purchasing that product are female," he said.

Scott Stratten, CEO of UnMarketing, says the campaign is likely to be a winner for Gillette. (Submitted by Scott Stratten)

"Gillette knows that they're having a conversation first with women, then males, and more importantly with society, so I applaud them for doing that."

Journalist Rachel Giese, author of the recent book Boys: What it Means to Become a Man, says regardless of its effectiveness, the campaign is significant for showing how issues about masculinity have entered the cultural consciousness.

"I think it's interesting that these are the conversations we're having now, because we weren't having them even five years ago," she said.

She says an ad like Gillette's can certainly make a person think differently, but she stressed that the point of the campaign is not to raise awareness but to sell more products. 

The backlash is reminiscent of what happened to shoe company Nike after it made NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of its latest ad campaign. Kaepernick became a controversial figure after kneeling during the singing of the U.S. national anthem before games to protest police brutality.

He has since become blacklisted in his NFL career, but his jersey sales are still among the highest, despite having not played in two seasons.

Nike also faced backlash and talk of a boycott after that campaign was launched.

While Nike saw a dip in its share price, Stratten said Nike came back stronger than ever, and he suspected something similar would happen to Gillette in this case.

He said consumers have been demanding more authenticity from brands for years, even if some have become enraged when companies they buy from take a stance they don't like. 

"Because really it's not that," Stratten said. "It's, 'I can't believe you took a stance on something I'm misinformed about.'"


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