Gillette is woke now? When brands try to keep up with the times

Image: Gillette commercial
Gillette has come under fire after releasing a commercial that draws on the #MeToo movement to challenge "toxic masculinity." Copyright Gillette
By Ben Kesslen with NBC News U.S. News
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Gillette's new ad about toxic masculinity and #MeToo drew quick and sharp criticism. Some experts say it was a strategic move meant to appeal to millennials.


You won't see a single razor in Gillette's new one-minute, 49-second advertisement, "We Believe."

The ad, which addresses toxic masculinity and the #MeToo movement, inverts the brand's famous tagline, "the best a man can get."

Instead, it poses a challenge to men, asking, is it the best?

Reaction to the videothat was released Monday was swift and sharp.

While many on social media praised Gillette for taking on a crucial issue of our time, others decried the ad as "offensive to men." Some even called for a boycott of the Procter & Gamble-owned company.

Dollar Shave Club, a subscription razor service that has taken a chunk of the market from the stalwart razor brand, tweeted yesterday in reference to the ad, "Welcome to the Club."

Gillette's ad, as it currently stands, has 139,000 likes on YouTube and 441,000 dislikes.

Some marketing experts said major brands like Gillette know what they're doing when they weigh into contentious social issues.

"These are smart people, they do so much research. They know they're taking on a topic that could be controversial," said Rob Baiocco, co-founder and chief creative officer of BAM Connection, a New York-based marketing firm.

"The Gillette ad is part of a much longer tradition of what I've talked about as commodity activism, where political messages are harnessed to boost the reputation of the company and to sell products," said Sarah Banet-Weiser, a professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics.

Many brands, like Dove and Covergirl, have tried to appeal to feminists, Banet-Weiser said. Gillette's ad takes that model and applies it to men.

"Gillette is not inventing anything new here," she said, adding that they are "taking something seen as a dominant issue of the moment" and weighing in. "They know they're going to alienate some, so they're making a decision on who they are appealing to."

Baiocco believes brands who align themselves with progressive social causes are trying to appeal to younger audiences.

"Millennials care if a company does good," he told NBC News. "They're doing their homework."

A 2015report from Cone Communications found that "more than 9 in 10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause" and "62 percent are willing to take a pay cut to work for a responsible company."

"In our era of transparency, consumers aren't willing to let brands they support take a seat on the sideline," Todd Fischer, a senior vice president at GMR Marketing in Milwaukee, told NBC News.

Gillette, he believes, made a strategic decision to enter the conversation. "Businesses are having to openly talk about where they stand, so that customers understand who they are and why they should choose them over other brands," Fischer said.

Gillette's ad comes as the company's market share has fallen.


As more affordable subscription services like Dollar Shave Club gain in popularity, particularly among younger consumers, Gillette's share of the market has shrunk from 70 percent in 2010 to 54 percent in 2016.

Fischer said that as times changes, your marketing has to evolve.

Gillette probably understood that its tagline, the best a man can get,"takes on a different context in society today, and they see a responsibility to move forward."

Its new line in the ad is: "Is this the best a man can get?"

Baiocco cautions brands to be careful in their approach to timely causes. "When brands try to do cause marketing, the big issue is the weight of the topic," he told NBC News. "Brands have to ask themselves, 'Is the weight of the topic I'm broaching commensurate with the weight of my product?' Because that's when brands get out of step."


Pankaj Bhalla, the North America brand director at Gillette, told NBC News "I think the primary driver of why we wanted to have the conversation was because when we were searching for the best definition--the 2019 definition--of the best a man can get, it became critically clear that many men are incredibly good but they can do so much to be better."

Bhalla said Gillette "was not trying to be part of fad" but has "the responsibility of talking to our consumers about what we can be doing better, and that's what this campaign is about."

"The evolving role of the men in society is a topic that is complex and layered," Bhalla said. "We knew there would be discussion."

Share this articleComments

You might also like

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger dies at 100

WATCH: Brookfield Zoo treats lemurs to a special Thanksgiving feast

Watch: Thanksgiving turkeys prep for White House pardon