GILLETTE TRIES TO SELL BY
INSULTING ITS CUSTOMERS
Granted, I started in direct marketing, where the effectiveness of any promotion is evaluated by strict, bottom-line measures like number-of-sales and cost-per-order.
But these days it doesn’t seem like an ad is expected to actually sell anything. After having viewed that Prevagen spot a hundred-or-so times, I still don’t get the connection between some ingredient that comes from jellyfish and improving my memory.
Progressive Insurance is probably the worst. They’ve run their “Flo” character into the ground, and their spots just get more abstract and obscure.
Liberty Mutual isn’t far behind. The clever campaign that began with that cute little girl and her car, “Brad,” has been creeping over into silliness lately.
Creative directors need to remind their copywriters that humor in advertising only works when the laugh grows out of the problem that’s solved by buying the product. If you’re just going for the laugh, you may succeed in amusing your viewers, but you won’t sell much.
Then there’s the current trend of social commentary in product ads. Have you noticed all the spots that feature mixed-race families? In a time when marriage and adoption across racial lines is increasingly common, what burning problem does Corporate America think it’s being bold in confronting?
And then there’s Gillette.
The Proctor & Gamble subsidiary has set off a firestorm of complaints with an online ad that seems to suggest all men are bullies, brutes and harassers. As the Daily Mail reports…
“Gillette customers are dumping their razors en masse in response to the brand’s recent controversial ad which denounces ‘toxic masculinity’ and calls on boys to be ‘the best a man can get.’
“After the ad was released on Monday, shocked viewers took to Twitter to separate themselves from the brand.
“They felt the commercial, which invokes the tone of the past year in pop culture and the #MeToo movement to inspire men to stand up for women and equality, unfairly made out that all males were misogynist.”
The phrase “toxic masculinity” isn’t put forth as a prominent accusation in the spot — actually it’s a background element, heard quickly as if from a news report playing in the distance. But the spot calls on men to be aware of their own less-than-salutary tendencies and to be ready to provide brotherly correction when their fellows exhibit bad behavior.
The message is actually quite gentle, and probably doesn’t warrant the volume of angry reaction it’s generated. Still, after decades of snarky ads in which men are made to look thickheaded and buffoonish — along with last year’s ceaseless drumbeat of #MeToo grievance — the male audience has reached a kind of breaking point.
Commentator Matt Walsh sees Gillette’s little homily as not only demeaning but superfluous. Writing on Daily Wire, Walsh observes that…
“It is obviously insulting, not to mention absurd, to suggest that men, as a whole, experienced some sort of great awakening when Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Kevin Spacey got in trouble. We already knew that it’s wrong to rape. We were already well aware that harassment is not okay. There is not a single man on Earth who watched a news report about Weinstein, slapped his forehead, and said, ‘Oh! So we’re not supposed to do that? Alright then! My mistake!’”
According to the Daily Mail, Gillette’s ad, titled “We Believe,” has been viewed more than 4 million times on YouTube…
“But while it has amassed 85,000 likes, it has also racked up 347,000 dislikes with some of the 98,657 comments below accusing it of being ‘anti-male and anti-white’ and of ‘spreading pure propaganda and indoctrination.’”
But Gillette is standing behind the spot, which the Mail reports…
“was informed by a survey in which it asked people across the U.S. what a man ‘at his best’ looks like.
“According to the study, the most positive traits were honesty, moral integrity, being hard-working and being respectful to others.”
It seems a bit of a leap from those simple and obvious virtues to the idea of “toxic masculinity.” But then, the ad was created by a production firm and a director both drawn to social issues which they attack with a mindset that’s decidedly Feminist. For instance, a short film created last year by the director, Australian-born Kim Gehrig…
“was intended to challenge the increasingly tough self-image of Australian men and features a protagonist whose life crumbles when he becomes addicted to steroids.”
Industry supposition is that Gillette felt it needed a high-profile message with which to gain attention in a highly cluttered advertising environment. The company, which once controlled 70 percent of its market, has fallen to less than a 50-percent share with heavy competition from trendier brands like Harry’s and Dollar Shaving Club. On top of that, beards are hot right now among the millennial crowd.
Allen Adamson of the branding firm Metaforce called Gillette’s move a “hail Mary pass” — that is to say, a desperation move. He observed to the Associated Press that…
“Getting noticed and getting buzz is no easy task, and they’ve managed to break through …. Most advertisers advertise, and no one notices because there is so much noise in the marketplace, so just getting noticed Is a big win, especially for a low-interest category like a razor.”
The audience reaction harkens back to Nike’s infamous Colin Kaepernick spot by which that shoe and athletic wear company tried to position itself as some kind of civil rights trendsetter. Their gambit met with some success at burnishing Nike’s image among the “woke” crowd that supported Kaepernick’s kneeling protest. But it sowed seeds of resentment in other segments of the public.
Larry Chiagouris, marketing professor at Pace University, told AP he’s skeptical about the Gillette approach…
“Treating people with respect, who can argue with that, but they’re kind of late to the party here, that’s the biggest problem. It’s gratuitous and self-serving.”
So advertisers are left with a very basic question…
Can you insult customers into buying your product?
I doubt it. Just as with humor in advertising there must be a connection between the joke and the product benefits, any sales pitch must make the prospect believe he’s smart enough, astute enough, wise enough — in a sense, good enough — to perceive those benefits.
The Gillette spot fails because it doesn’t instill that confidence. Quite the contrary, in the current #MeToo atmosphere, it merely insists on how flawed we are.
As one critic of the ad told the Daily Mail, “I want to shave, not feel bad about myself.”
It’s all rather wearying.
Seems like there’s just no area of modern life where we can go to avoid being reminded of what a lousy, unjust society we’ve created — and that men are the worst part of it.
Frankly, I’m glad I use an electric shaver.
A Facebook post from someone named Gerald asks if Gillette isn’t indulging in the kind of female objectification its “We Believe” ad decries…
“You were preaching to us this week about toxic masculinity and the proper treatment of women. I guess they’re not really being objectified if they’re willing, paid participants in your marketing campaign, yes? Is that where you draw the line at morality: ‘She wanted it!’?”
Boys will be boys.
A fellow named Kenny Weber posted on Facebook…
“Gillette jumped on the liberal progressive bandwagon, and I will be boycotting their products from now on.”
…and appended this very clever feminist fantasy reflection…
Here are links to two articles from the Daily Mail examining Gillette’s “We Believe” ad and the backlash it’s drawn…
And here’s Matt Walsh’s Daily Wire commentary…
“What these drooling stupid liberals don’t seem to understand is they’re not describing masculinity at all, but rather the opposite. They’re describing immaturity, narcissism, and selfishness.”
The voice of the people.
With a history of infusing its advertising with social concern, Gillette seems to “feel compelled” to stimulate the “important conversation” we’re always told our society needs to pursue. Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette brand director for North America, told The Wall Street Journal…
“We are taking a realistic look at what’s happening today, and aiming to inspire change by acknowledging that the old saying ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is not an excuse. We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and hope all the men we serve will come along on that journey to find our ‘best’ together.”
Writing on PJ Media, psychologist and blogger Dr. Helen Smith suspects that the Gillette spot is serving a second agenda…
“It’s less than two years till the next presidential election. The media and academy’s big project now seems to be to show that masculinity, like Trump’s presidency, is in the toilet. Being manly like Trump is bad and any man with traits like him is toxic.”
Things that make you go, “Hmmmmm…”