In case you were asleep yesterday (read: unplugged from the internet), you may not have noticed the new ad debuted by Gillette this week. The anti-toxic masculinity message was incredible resonant—but not always positively.
In fact, I'd say many men are losing their goddam minds about it.
There are a few ways to look at the ad itself:
Is it the right strategy?
Is it the right execution?
Is it the right time?
On the third, I think you could make the argument that not only is it the right time, but where the hell have you been Gillette? Toxic masculinity has been around a long time, and even if you confine these kinds of messages to the #MeToo era, we’re almost two years into the sea change, depending on where you start counting.
On the second, it’s debatable. Personally I thought the ad was OK, but I’ve seen some marketing folks call it preachy. (Honestly, given the internet backlash, I was surprised it wasn’t more aggressive once I actually watched it. If this is what you call preachy, I’ve got some Reddit threads to show you.)
Where I think the execution might fall down is in the follow up. Its call to action is to visit a site called TheBestMenCanBe.org — which redirects you to a Gillette landing page that (surprise!) hosts the ad you just saw, with some explanation of how they plan to evolve how they think about their iconic “The Best a Man Can Get” tagline, and outlining their support of nonprofits like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. It feels like this was the product of an advertising agency’s brainstorming session, and nothing more — as one of my partners likes to say, only pictures and words. Where’s the beef?
A few years ago, right after the #LikeAGirl campaign made a big splash at the Super Bowl, I sat in a room with a group of Proctor & Gamble marketing executives. I commended them on the message, but after pressing them on what was next, I got blank stares. The Always brand has since extended the campaign in small places, but in many ways, this approach has been P&G’s modus operandi — lead with some splashy advertising, and figure the rest out later. "Join us" is a pretty hollow message when there's no place to sign up for more.
Regarding whether this was the right strategy for Gillette, I believe it was high risk/high reward for them. Like many traditional consumer product brands, they're getting their lunch eaten by upstart direct-to-consumer brands like Harry's for the past few years. So they needed to do something dramatic, and coming out strongly about a social issue that will get people talking is a bold move, and part of the larger trend of brands developing a social conscience. And I think it’s made even bolder by who I assume to be Gillette’s core consumer: men who need to hear this message, but may be rubbed the wrong way by it.
Whether or not it will pay off in the long run, or Gillette will be seen as another profit-seeking brand desperate for relevancy, depends on the follow up. How will Gillette, and Proctor & Gamble more holistically, pay this bold message off with a change in long-term strategy?
As with most emotionally triggering messages, how you view the ad is a bit of a Rorschach test for how you view the state of masculinity — something I’ve thought a lot about as the father of three boys. Are men under assault, as many of the ad’s critics claim?
That’s a pretty fragile view of masculinity.
Masculinity that isn’t able to critique itself, that needs to assert power without any accountability for its actions, is not the kind of identity I want my three sons internalizing.