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January 17, 2019

Gillette ad generates controversy

Written by Thomas Stern
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Articulating what your business stands for – your brand values – isn’t always easy. Just ask Procter & Gamble’s Gillette.

The 115-year-old maker of razors and personal care products focused mostly on men recently launched a campaign, “We Believe,” that is like no ad Gillette has ever released. Instead of promoting razor blades, “We Believe” challenges men to hold each other accountable for toxic male behavior. The core asset of “We Believe” is a video that depicts men engaged in toxic behavior. A narrator asks, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses.” Then the video depicts males holding each other accountable – stopping sexist behavior and bullying.

“We Believe” is much more than a standalone video. It’s part of an updating of Gillette’s brand values. In a press release launching “We Believe,” Gillette said it has redefined its “The Best a Man Can Get” ethos as “The Best That Men Can Be. Now Gillette wants to examine what it means for men to be their best, not just look the best. As Gary Coombe, president, P&G Global Grooming, said in the press release, “Gillette believes in the best in men. By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behavior, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.”

The press release also said that Gillette wants to inspire, embrace values of respect, accountability, and role modeling. As Gillette stated:

As a starting point, and effective immediately, Gillette will review all public-facing content against a set of defined standards meant to ensure we fully reflect the ideals of Respect, Accountability and Role Modeling in the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and more. For us, the decision to publicly assert our beliefs while celebrating men who are doing things right was an easy choice that makes a difference.

In addition, Gillette said it will donate $1 million per year for the next three years to non-profit organizations executing programs in the United States designed to help men of all ages achieve their personal best. (The first recipient is the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.)

Critics and Supporters

To say the least, so far “We Believe” has been polarizing. Detractors have harshly criticized the campaign for being preachy and inauthentic. Mark Ritson of Marketing Week wrote,

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.

This could have been a win for Gillette. A less heavy hand. A less preachy tone. A more inspirational message that real men, the kind who use Gillette, behave better and stand for change.

He noted that dislikes of the ad on YouTube outnumber likes by a wide margin (you can keep tabs here). In addition, as reported in the BBC, detractors are taking to social media to urge a Gillette boycott.

Forrester Research analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee wrote on LinkedIn, This Gillette ad doesn't work for me. Here's why: It's reeks of being a Nike copycat, but contrived. At least the Nike brand has the emotional equity of fighting to win against all odds. Gillette's emotional equity? Ho Hum. Last week at CES it was AI-powered intelligent heated razors. This week, why not take on gender roles? You can't manufacture purpose like you manufacture razors.”

But supporters, such as Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., have praised the ad for taking a stand. “This commercial isn’t anti-male,” she tweeted. “It’s pro-humanity. And it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions.” Similarly, writer Andrew P. Street wrote, “Gents, If your version of masculinity is threatened by the idea of respect then you're doing masculinity wrong."

Angelina Natividad, writing for Muse by Clio (of Clio Awards fame), wrote,

In a surprising act of humility and conviction, Gillette's new short film, "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be," directly challenges its longtime tagline, "The Best a Man Can Get." The copywriting is deft and unforgiving, redefining masculine identity from a tale of acquisition to one of character. 

These are just representative praises and criticisms – but you get the idea.

It’s interesting to note that Gillette is not being criticized for sharing brand values, per se. Embracing values such as respect, accountability, and role modeling is not the issue. Rather, the issue is how Gillette has chosen to articulate those values through a high-profile video with a strong, hard-hitting message. To a critic such as Dipanjan Chatterjee, it feels like Gillette has suddenly asked its audiences to accept new values by watching a video instead, of, perhaps, building up to the moment in a more subtle way. To other critics, the tone of the video has grated.

What Happens Next?

Gillette is in the early days of a campaign. The company has put a stake in the ground and taken flak for one video. But as Gillette noted, the new campaign encompasses many elements, including social media, partnerships with other organizations (through Gillette’s $1 million donations), and holding all public content against the values of respect, accountability, and role modeling.

It will be interesting to see what Gillette does next. Will Gillette double down with another high-concept video? Enlist influencers to spread the word on social? Put the campaign on pause and monitor social sentiment? Continue the campaign but soften the tone?

Clearly, Gillette has made a statement. The company has an opportunity to build even more momentum now, as well as controversy. But this campaign needs to be a long-term play. So long as the broader campaign (beyond the video) is an authentic reflection of Gillette’s brand values, Gillette will likely be fine. One has to wonder whether the people who want to boycott Gillette for challenging men to be accountable to each other are the kind of customers Gillette wants to keep. Moreover, Gillette may gain new customers whose values align with the message in the campaign.

At any rate, “We Believe” underscores just how hard it is to articulate and share brand values. Our own recently published report, Brand Values and the Bottom Line, reports that only 25 percent of businesses rate themselves as very effective at consistently managing their brand values across digital channels. But companies that do manage their values report benefits such as improved sales.

Read Brand Values and the Bottom Line to understand the challenge that brands face articulating their values -- and the opportunity to improve. And contact Investis Digital to tell your own narrative in a more powerful way. We combine strategic insight with original ideas to articulate brand values in a way that that’s relevant and compelling for all your audiences.

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