When it comes to businesses boldly asserting their values through their marketing, Procter & Gamble’s Gillette just made Nike’s headline-grabbing “Believe in something” Colin Kaepernick ad look coy by comparison.
For the last three decades, Gillette has offered “The Best A Man Can Get.” Now, to mark the switch to its new “The Best Men Can Be” tagline, the shaving-equipment operation has released a lengthy ad that tackles issues around toxic masculinity—bullying, sexual harassment, sexist media, and the boardroom diminishment of women—head-on.
The ad explicitly hails the #MeToo movement as a turning point for men and—through the inclusion of some old Gillette advertising material—it implies that the company’s own messaging hasn’t always been on the right side of history.
“We have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate,” reads a message on Gillette’s website. “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.”
Predictably, there has been an instant and vocal backlash, particularly from conservative and “alt-right” commentators who see the campaign as a finger-wagging lecture or—to quote Piers Morgan—”virtue-signalling PC guff.”
Most marketing could be described as “virtue signalling”—that’s sort of the point, though it really depends on what the observer sees as virtuous. In the self-care industry’s messaging, self-improvement has always been the goal. Gillette is continuing this tradition while adding another aspirational dimension: help other men be better men, for example by stepping in when friends start to creep on women and when boys start to fight one another. This is a full-on call for societal change.
Whatever one’s view on masculinity and what qualifies as toxic or not, P&G has charged into the current culture wars with—manly metaphor alert—all guns blazing. There’s nothing subtle about this ad: no room for interpretation; no arms-length allegiance. Gillette is making its new moral stance fundamental to its identity, and judging its success in doing so will be a long-term endeavor.
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