Unpacking the Gillette Commercial
Unless you’re living under a rock, by now you’ve probably seen Gillette’s “conversation sparking” commercial discussing toxic masculinity all over social media. Last week, my Facebook news feed was full of shared links to the video, with commentary on its “inspiring” and “important” message that fights bullying, harassment, and inequality. On the other hand, I’ve read dozens of combative news reports and tweets that demonstrate the opposite reaction; arguing the spot is “emasculating” to men and perpetuates a noxious cyclone of “delicate snowflakes.” Psychologists and politicians alike have weighed in on this heated debate. From Forbes:
“At the center of this controversy is the idea that the commercial seems to be attacking the company's consumer base, men, by highlighting male misbehavior. However, viewing the commercial with the assumption that the ad desires to demonize men, misses its point. The commercial doesn’t seek to malign all men or masculinity but identifies male misbehavior and encourages all men to be active in stopping it. Gillette’s commercial attempts to tackle a bystander problem.”
I think everyone is missing the point. Gillette’s video may appear to “tackle a bystander problem,” but actually, it’s an advertisement that is trying to sell men’s razors.
Gillette is a multi-billion-dollar brand that – for over a century – has been manufacturing safety razors. With this “timely” video, they appear to be promoting a progressive ideal that has the power to change the world. However, it’s crucial to understand that this commercial is – first and foremost – designed to sell products. By sparking a controversial debate, the advertising experts hired by mammoth parent-company Proctor & Gamble have brilliantly crafted a “viral” video that has been shared millions of times. They say any press is good press, and Gillette’s brand identity is promoted with every view, like, click, comment, hashtag mention, and share of their self-described “short film.” Frankly, I too am an unpaid pawn in their game by posting this very commentary.
In my two decades of designing collateral with both for- and not-for-profit clients, I’ve had a lot of time to mull over the ethics of advertising. Like it or not, marketing is an intrinsic component to selling a product, idea, or behavior change. The act of perpetuating an ideal to promote an agenda does not make any company or organization evil. My four-year-old does this all day, every day (granted, she’s usually vying for sweets or screen time). There are plenty of good, honest people who make a living and otherwise benefit from marketing.
On the other hand, I do question the moral compass of multi-million-dollar (or in this case, multi-billion) companies who use a timely social crisis to sell a product that arguably, has historically perpetuated the very “problem” they appear to be combating. Gillette wants to shut down toxic masculinity, but let’s not forget their century+ track record of promoting an over-the-top heteronormative definition of masculinity – or decades of shaming women for having body hair. Not to mention the environmental impact of two billion plastic razors being tossed in the trash every year. All in the name of turning a massive profit.
I don’t mean to attack or unfairly single-out Gillette for employing this oft-used marketing tactic.** Countless brands have utilized the ploy of “cause marketing” to their advantage – think of Gap, Armani, and Apple’s Product (Red) Campaign, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, or Nike’s Live Strong Bracelet. While these campaigns may appear to promote a positive, progressive message or raise awareness about an important cause, it’s important to keep in mind that someone is profiting – financially, significantly, and likely at someone else’s expense – from these ventures.
**TBH, I’ve been using Gillette’s female-targeted Venus razors for… 25 years? All the while, paying a 25-50% markup for what’s essentially the same product as the man’s version. Apparently in this era of #MeToo, the pink tax still has no bearing on “the best a man can get.”