To the marketing team and agency partners at Gillette,
Tough week, huh? You’re in my thoughts and prayers.
Watching your #BestAManCanBe ad get torn apart as a “war against men” on Piers Morgan’s breakfast show must’ve been weird. Being called silly by Ricky Gervais was interesting. I bet you thought there’d be complaints, but did you think it would be quite like this??
I suspect you’re having some really tense and difficult conversations with stakeholders today about whether this was the right move for the brand.
Take heart! Hashtag backlashes are short-lived and I think time will tell you’ve done a strategically clever and brave thing, even if the creative execution was a little clumsy.
Why do I think this? Well, when it comes to advertising, Oscar Wilde was right. The worst thing in the world really is not being talked about. Remember Pepsi? Their ad was creatively weird and morally bankrupt, universally disliked and pulled after one day. But thanks to all the chat, a YouGov poll straight after revealed 44% of people were more favourable to buying Pepsi after seeing the ad. Only a quarter said it turned them off and global sales were unaffected, rising 3% that year as predicted. It seems if people are talking about you they’re thinking about you and buying from you. This will bring great comfort to your sales team, but take note – this great power to influence buyers and culture comes with great responsibility.
Reassure your bosses that those tweeting #BoycottGillette are a vocal minority that will likely boost sales, not detract from them. Remember when Colin Kaepernick made people burn their Nike trainers? Nike were willing to polarise a nation over police brutality and sacrifice customers in the process. They galvanised people who shared their values and Nike sales went up 31%. The world is deeply divided now and you can’t stand for something without alienating someone.
You’ll hear sector experts saying you should’ve taken the Lynx approach to new masculinity. Encourage and support men to be whoever they want, rather than challenge them to work on themselves. Maybe. But would it have got anywhere near the cut through? US Sales of Gillette have dropped for 6 consecutive years. That’s a lot! Down from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2016. You needed to do something radical to survive.
Yes, I think this ad probably did alienate your core audience. It seems most of those supporting you online are women and young people. Not the core of your customer base for Men’s razors, I suspect. But a razor is like a bank account. You get the one your parents tell you to at 13 and blindly use the same brand for the rest of your life. Those progressive Gen Zs are your lifeline for the future and they’re being snapped up by Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. The teens I’ve spoken to about your new ad can’t see why it’s so controversial and are actually mildly impressed (and they’re a cynical crowd).
There is one thing I think you can do better that will turn the tide of public chatter. Now that you’ve made your bed, lie in it. Stick to your guns and radically live out your mission. Support men through the issues caused by unrealistic gender expectations. The most profound criticism in this backlash is that you don’t mean what you say. I know you’ve committed $3m dollars to grassroots men’s charities over the next 3 years but not many other people have picked up on that.
Go further! Get specific and pick issues you will address. Is it suicide? Sexual harassment? Tell the story of the impact you’re having. Don’t just tell men what to do, involve men in the solution and empower us to make change ourselves.
You’ll need to get your own house in order too. You can’t be perpetuating pink razor stereotypes to women whilst running this campaign and I hate that you’re still testing products on animals. Us men should hold each other to account, but we’ll hold you to account too.
Lastly, a personal thank you from me. When I was growing up the world’s view of masculinity seemed crushing and limiting – and I’m straight. I know it was even harder for my gay and trans friends. It is about time we rethought masculinity.
Perhaps your ad was a clunky way to do it but it’s a start. You could’ve easily made an ad that said how amazing your razor blades are, but you did something riskier. You are a huge corporate mammoth and you will impact society for good or ill – so I’m glad you tried to use your power for good. I hope it works and that this is just the start.