The company met with marketing teams before releasing the now infamous ad; there was no real risk in their change of branding.
On Jan. 13, 2019, the shaving and razor company Gillette released an ad titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film)” on their YouTube channel and social media pages. The ad, which clocks in at just under two minutes, is a thoughtfully-shot and generally well-produced video that tackles relevant areas of social discourse including toxic masculinity, sexual assault, sexual harassment and bullying.
At the time of writing, the ad holds over 26 million YouTube views with a like to dislike ratio of 722 thousand likes to 1.3 million dislikes. Views on other platforms also number into the tens of millions. The ad was met with equally polarizing responses on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
With the ad being so widely controversial, you’re likely to have seen or at least heard about it by now, and you have probably formed your own opinion. The day of the ad’s release saw dozens of public figures tweeting and posting about the ad and taking sides in the ensuing debate. In the two weeks since the ad’s release, Gillette’s sales haven’t dropped by any substantial margin, and sources vary on how much they’ve increased (if at all), but the impact of the ad is certain: everyone has Gillette on their mind, and the company’s brand is now associated with a hotly debated social issue, for better or worse. For Gillette, likely for better.
Make no mistake, Gillette doesn’t care about you or your political views. Whether you think the commercial was a warm-hearted show of solidarity in a turbulent time or an assault on masculinity itself, Gillette doesn’t care. They just don’t give a shit. Gillette is a corporation whose main purpose is to make money, and strategies for doing so can certainly include piggybacking important social issues to increase brand awareness. Corporations tend to enact this tactic after extensive market research, and which almost never fails. The only example of a failure I can think of is Pepsi’s 2017 ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which the company eventually pulled and for which they have since publicly apologized.
But Gillette hasn’t pulled their ad, and they show no signs of doing so. Company executives have reportedly stated their satisfaction with the ad and its outcome. Whether this is genuine or mere damage control is up for debate, but the internet mob’s inability to focus on a subject for longer than a week or two means that this whole ad debacle will be soon forgotten. The only thing remaining will be a mere subconscious suggestion to grab the shiny, blue Gillette packaging the next time you’re absentmindedly shopping.
But let’s ignore the empty gaze of the soulless corporation for a moment and focus on the actual issues under discussion in the ad. The ad’s tagline asked, “Is this the best a man can get?” referencing Gillette own sales tagline, “The best a man can get,” and features vignettes of sexual harassment, catcalling, physical violence and a through-line of bullying. It ends with encouragement to step in and stop such behavior, as well as to set a better model for the youth.
As can reasonably be expected with anything that taps even slightly into gender-based social issues, a sizable population of men felt personally attacked, with hundreds if not thousands of commenters across the various platforms vowing to boycott Gillette entirely. The men who felt themselves so victimized proselytized against what they considered to be an assault on masculinity and another breach of those pesky Leftists into the formerly pure world of corporate advertisement.
A critical look at the ad reveals that these allegations don’t really hold any water. “Men” as an entity aren’t addressed or targeted in the ad; Gillette doesn’t cast a net on all men, calling them sexual harassers or bullies or proponents of toxic masculinity. In fact, the ad is obvious in its stance that, indeed, not all men are shitty: the heroes in the ad are men, after all. The guys who chastise the catcallers, the father who breaks up the kids fighting and the father who helps the kid getting bullied: men.
An interpolated clip of actor Terry Crews stating, “Men need to hold other men accountable,” sums up the ad’s message rather well. Gillette is clear in their stance that not all men are jackasses, but that some are, and that the men who aren’t jackasses should stand up and say to the men who are jackasses, “Hey, you guys should stop acting like jackasses.” In any case, the jackasses collectively showed themselves in comment sections across all social platforms, and they weren’t happy.
As for the criticism of the ad’s progressivism and more implicit criticism of the ideals espoused by left-leaning individuals: please, stop making social issues bipartisan. There is no contesting that sexual harassment is bad, that bullying is bad or that toxic masculinity is bad. When taking a stance against a company that publicly engages in these commonly-held opinions, why criticize their progressiveness? Why voluntarily put yourself on the wrong side of history? Of all the reasons you could have for criticizing a company, why refer to “progressivism” as an umbrella-term, when the ad’s “progressivism” clearly rails against such genuinely undebatable issues such as bullying (a child is chased and pummelled) and sexual harassment (a parody of live-audience television depicts a man molesting a woman).
But here I am, defending the merits of an internet ad from a massive corporation. Allow me to reiterate, Gillette doesn’t care if you liked or disliked the ad. In fact, the only reason that Gillette might even care about this article, or others like it, is that it contains the word “Gillette” 20 times.
Corporations only act for their own benefit, and they don’t make broad moves or take allegedly political stances unless their market research assures them such a move would be profitable. They likely didn’t make this ad to launch a genuine campaign against toxic masculinity, but to make money. Companies don’t pick sides unless motivated by money. I’d like to frame this more gracefully, but that’s really the bottom line here. Gillette wanted money, not to make a genuine statement on how to improve human nature.