A Close Shave for Gillette and Toxic Masculinity

In case you’ve been living in the dark ages of no social media for the past few days, here’s what you missed. Gillette released a social commentary ad campaign and the issue of toxic masculinity jumped out in the comment section.

The ad encourages men to take accountability for their behaviour in society, from bullying to sexual harassment, as was launched as a part of the broader ‘We Believe’ campaign that reviews the brand’s infamous tagline ‘The Best A Man Can Get’, a call to action to consider what it actually means to be the best versions of themselves.

For all intents and purposes this seems like a really meaningful and a much needed conversation started for men, but it falls short somewhat. The ad has been critiqued for its ‘polarizing, preachy qualities, contrasting sexist and progressive attitudes and urging men to behave better’, says Forbes.

The YouTube video received over 1.2 million dislikes from both left and right wing parties from both genders and has seemed to spark an online war between men and feminists.

Becky Willan, managing director of brand purpose agency Given, has three key issues with the campaign:

“Although there is nothing wrong with Gillette taking on the issue of toxic masculinity, the ad doesn’t reflect the nuance or diversity of the issues that it is unpicking,” she says.

“The issues the ad addresses are terribly complex, nuanced and delicate. The ad conflates an array of different issues, from everyday sexism and ‘toxic masculinity’, to key codes for masculinity, parenting approaches and gender biased systems and behaviours.”

According to Willan, the second issue is that it is not clear who the big-budget, glossy, global commercial is designed to engage or motivate. “Has Gillette’s parent Procter & Gamble taken a calculated risk based on changing demographics or new growth segments, such as female personal care? Or has it been driven by other motivations?”

“Gillette is making a donation of $1M a year to various charities, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to its annual profits and more importantly it is an outsourcing of responsibility for change,” Willan says, suggesting a shortcoming of substance to the campaign. “Rather than highlighting the problem and asking men to ‘be better,’ if Gillette had been able to say what it was doing to lead by example and how it was looking at this issue across its business, from gender pay gap to paternity leave, it might feel more credible.

While we all can interpret the underlying message of the video, that bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination and aggressive male egos are unacceptable in society, it seems that coming from Gillette, a notoriously discriminative brand, it comes across as inauthentic. “This is the brand that has encouraged masculine alpha-male behaviour, perceptions and stereotypes through the years in its branding and TV adverts, from a fighter pilot travelling at the speed of sound to a woman dropping her clothes when a clean-shaven man approaches on a jet ski,” says Oliver Bridge.

So between the outrage of fragile men’s bruised egos and the anger of feminists who felt it was ingenuine and purely serving their own agenda, Gillette has responded to the controversy in an interview with Michelle King.

All in all was Gillette jumping on the #metoo bandwagon to position themselves as ‘woke’ and sell more razors? Yes. Did it make us cry? Yes. Is this the best a leading global brand can be? Hell no! But it certainly has started some important conversations.

Nic Shepherd About the author
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