Wednesday 23 October 2019

John McGee: 'Gillette's ad campaign: the best a brand can be'

Stills from the Gillette ad which, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, asks “is this the best men can get?”
Stills from the Gillette ad which, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, asks “is this the best men can get?”

John McGee

Every once in a while, a big brand launches a controversial advertising campaign that quickly raises eyebrows, gets people talking and, ultimately, polarises opinion into two camps: the likers and the haters.

Last year it was Nike's campaign featuring former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kickstarted a protest movement against racial injustice in the US. Even Donald Trump weighed in with his tuppence-worth.

A few years before that, it was a Benetton campaign featuring manipulated images of China's Hu Jintao kissing Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI kissing Egypt's Imam Ahmed el Tayeb, that set tongues wagging and the Twitter lynch mob into a frenzy.

First out of the 2019 storm-chasing trap is Gillette which, several weeks ago, launched its bravest and most controversial campaign in its 116-year old history.

If you haven't seen it, the TV campaign is a firm nod to the #MeToo movement and aims to challenge many of the entrenched traits of toxic masculinity that have permeated our society and culture since time immemorial. Replacing the traditional Gillette tagline, 'the best a man can get' with 'the best men can be,' the narrator tells us that it's no longer acceptable to make the same old excuses in defence of the sexism in the boardroom, unwanted sexual harassment, bullying and violence between boys in the playground because 'the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow'.

With 29 million views on YouTube alone, the campaign has generated lavish praise and predictable scorn in equal measures. With the vexatious Piers Morgan taking to Twitter in protest in his usual, well, unctuous manner. "I'm so sick of this war on masculinity and I'm not alone - with their pathetic, man-hating ad Gillette have just cut their own throat."

It is, of course, easy to be cynical about Gillette, a brand that has built its reputation and market share by portraying what it thinks masculinity is supposed to look like through the well-polished and gilded mirrors of moneyed superstars like David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Roger Federer.

It's also no secret that the P&G brand has found that its once vice-like grip on the €22.7bn global market for razor blades to be somewhat shaky in recent years as parvenu brands like Dollar Shave Club - which is owned by rival Unilever - shave away at its market share which stands at around 65pc. In its most recent quarterly earnings report in 2018, for example, the Gillette-led grooming division was also the worst-performing unit within the group with organic sales down by 3pc.

But P&G, the largest advertiser in the world, is no slouch when it comes to understanding marketing and its customers. This, after all, is the company which has perfected to so-called 'razor-blade business model' which revolves around selling consumers a razor at a loss but locking them into relationship that delivers the company a reliable and recurring revenue stream when consumers go to replace their often expensive and proprietary blades. It's a business model that many marketers can only dream of. It also explains why P&G coughed up a staggering $57bn to buy Gillette in 2005.

While Gillette's apparent volte-face has led to accusations of cynically gate-crashing the #MeToo movement and demonising men, all for commercial gain, others have welcomed it as a brave foray into a much wider debate about how women are treated in society by their male counterparts. And if this debate can tap into the power of advertising, then all the better.

As we know, advertising has the power to entertain and inform people. Really good advertising, however, has the power to influence people, and change behaviours while making an indelible mark on the prevailing culture.

Gillette is of course not the first brand to tackle these big issues head-on. Two years ago, the Mexican beer brand Tecate told its predominantly male customers that it no longer wanted them to drink its beer if they didn't know how to treat women respectfully. In response to growing levels of domestic abuse in Mexican society - most of which was fuelled by alcohol - the brand took a firm stand. Initially it lost sales as Mexican men took umbrage at being told what to do by a brand. But the company had already anticipated that and as the debate gathered momentum and people reflected on the message, sales started to pick up again.

For an industry that has propagated gender stereotypes in much of its output over the last 50 years, Gillette's campaign also comes at a time when many within the advertising world are still trying to figure out how to portray men and women without offending, pigeon-holing or reinforcing the outdated and lazy stereotypes that are all too often the default within the industry.

It's a debate that is still in its infancy and while there will be many learnings along the way, it does mark a turning point by segueing men into the wider conversation. And this can only be a good thing.

Sunday Indo Business

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