Business·Analysis

The best a man can get? Why some men are brushing off Gillette's ad campaign

Some men are outraged by a new Gillette ad about toxic masculinity because they're not used to males or masculinity being criticized in advertising.

Unlike women, men aren't used to seeing an ad urging them to change bad habits

The new Gillette ad asks, 'Bullying. Harassment. Is this the best a man can get?' (Procter & Gamble/YouTube)

Gillette's provocative new ad encouraging men to fight toxic masculinity has sparked a backlash.

For those who applaud the commercial, it may appear strange that its seemingly positive message about stamping out bullying and sexual harassment has sparked anger and hurt feelings.

But this is somewhat new terrain in the advertising world: telling men something's broken and they need to work together to fix it. As a result, some are finding the message hard to take. 

For generations, women have been bombarded with self-improvement ads, mainly focused on their appearance.

But advertising targeting men often portrays them as lovable, clueless dads or the alpha male who gets the girl. Just check out previous Gillette razor ads where women can't keep their hands off freshly shaven men.

A scene from a Gillette razor ad from the 1990s, where a clean-shaven man attracts female attention. (YoRetroShow/YouTube)

"It was always about a clean-shaven face got you either kissed or stroked by a beautiful woman," said marketing consultant Tony Chapman.

Now, suddenly, men are sent a moral message about their masculinity instead of the promise of sex, and some aren't thrilled about it. 

"For men, this is brand new territory. No wonder they're so angry," writes Rebecca Reid with the Daily Telegraph in a commentary on the Gillette ad.

'We're toxic'

The controversial commercial features a series of vignettes depicting societal problems such as bullying, sexual harassment and the objectification of women, and asks, "Is this the best a man can get?"

It urges men to be more accountable and to take an active role in effecting change. 

As soon as the Gillette ad went public, social media lit up with messages of both praise and condemnation. The critics felt it sent the wrong message to mankind.

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

On the TV show, Good Morning Britain, host Piers Morgan longed for the days of the Gillette ad where the masculine man was shown winning races, killing it on Wall Street and hugging women.

"He liked to win things, to strive, to be successful," lamented Morgan. He then bashed Gillette's latest commercial, which instead asks men to take a stand against masculine stereotypes deemed harmful to society.

"The implication from that commercial now is that basically, most men are pretty awful people, we're toxic," said Morgan. 

Good Morning Britain's Piers Morgan, here with co-host Susanna Reid, slammed Gillette's new ad as portraying all men as 'toxic.' (Bottled at Source/YouTube)

He also claimed that no one would ever tolerate a commercial condemning women.

"Women aren't perfect," he announced.

However, women's imperfections have continually been the subject of advertising as a way to sell them self-improvement products. 

"Men feel targeted, and it is because they're not used to being targeted," said Sarah Boesveld, senior writer for Chatelaine magazine.

"But guess what, women have been targeted and taken it for years and years."

Watch a Gillette commercial:

Rather than offer ways they can help improve mankind — as in the Gillette ad — advertising for women has often focused on their physical flaws.

There are ads for creams to fix wrinkles, concealer for under-eye bags and body shapers to hide the fat.

"Your appearance is not good enough, here's some product, here's some things you need to do so you can present yourself in a different light," said Scott Stratten, author and marketing expert with UnMarketing.

A scene from an ad for an anti-wrinkle serum for women that promises to get rid of 'embarassing signs of aging.' (Divine Lift/YouTube)

Dove's Real Beauty campaign, launched in 2004, won kudos for celebrating real women's bodies. But even that campaign focused on a female flaw: women's tendency to dislike their physique.

"There's never been a Dove love-your-body ad campaign for men," said Stratten.

To be fair, men are sometimes presented as the buffoon in ads, such as the bumbling dad who doesn't know how to change the toilet paper roll. But these characters are often presented in a lovable, humorous way.

And Statten says when men aren't the buffoons, they're often what Gillette used to present them as — masculine superstars.

"It's the macho man. It's a man's man. When you're a man's man, you get the ladies, that's what you're being told."

A new message

But now, men are being sent a new message about masculinity and its pitfalls. It has caught some off guard and left them feeling offended. 

Boesveld says their sentiment is misguided because the Gillette ad isn't trying to paint all men with the same brush.

"It kind of distracts from the actual message of the ad, which is, 'Hey, let's just do better on the whole. We're not saying you are a monster. We're just saying as a culture, we can do a bit better.'"

Stratten agrees and says, as a man, he doesn't understand the outrage. 

"[The ad is] saying, 'This is how the problem was caused, and we need to step up and do better.'

"If anybody has a problem with that, you need to get your head checked."

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca

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