We start the year where we left the last: looking at adverts.
This month, Gillette released its #MeToo-inspired Super Bowl ad, ‘We Believe’, which has propelled the topic of diversity into the New Year limelight. The short film centres on “toxic masculinity”, depicting the ways that harmful forms of male behaviour have become normalised – cue scenes of sexual harassment and bullying. Gillette calls for men to be self-reflective about these damaging attitudes and behaviours, urging them to be “The Best Men Can Be”.
Predictably, the commercial has gone viral following its release on YouTube, racking up more than 25 million views in just over a week. However, it has been met with a mixed reception. Over 1.2 million people have downvoted the ad, with those in favour trailing behind with a mere 700k likes. This has led some critics to brand ‘We Believe’ potentially the most disliked advert ever.
Criticism has come from all corners. Men from across the globe have flocked to social media, declaring they feel targeted, attacked and victimised. Some individuals have even claimed they will boycott the brand, discontinuing their use of Gillette products all together.
Both men and women have questioned the authenticity of the advert. P&G, Gillette’s parent company, has had its fair share of controversies over the years, ranging from price fixing to child labour, and Gillette itself has been accused of being a historically sexist brand. As a result, it has been argued the company is “virtue-signalling” about a cause they do not really care about, in a bid to drive profits.
In support of this view, many female viewers have raised the issue of ‘pink tax’. They claim its elimination would be more beneficial to the cause than what they perceive as superficial PR activities. A 2015 study by the New York Department of Affairs reported that on average, the cost of women’s products is 7% higher than similar male items, highlighting how companies like Gillette profit from gender inequality.
On the professional end of the spectrum, Adland seems torn on what to make of the campaign. Some representatives have praised Gillette’s attempt at creating a compelling brand story, whilst others have expressed their disdain for the advert’s “clunky” and “cheesy” nature -
the ability to portray toxic masculinity in under two minutes has been seriously questioned.
Despite the backlash, most people have agreed Gillette’s underlying message is an important one: we must promote progressive views in line with today’s society. With 2019 cited as the year we place equality centre stage, the campaign could not have come at a better time.
This begs the question, has Gillette started an important conversation or have they used feminism to sell men’s grooming products?
Let’s assume it’s the former for a minute.
In an age where discrimination in both personal and professional life is still rife, it could be argued Gillette has used its campaign to address the likes of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements on a global stage. An action much needed.
Take workplace inequality in the creative industries for example.
The 2018 ‘Who are We’ report published by the Advertising Diversity Taskforce found that the glass ceiling remains unbroken in Adland. Men continue to outnumber women at director level and beyond, whilst a mere 8% of senior leaders are from BAME backgrounds.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s (IPA) latest findings are slightly more optimistic. It reports an increase in women at C-suite level from 31.2% in 2017 to 32.7% this year and the number of BAME individuals has hit a record 5.5% - a 0.8% improvement on last year.
Whilst these figures point towards incremental change, it is clear there is much still to be done. Has Gillette released its ad in response to this?
Some would say no.
Critics have argued that Gillette is engaging in cause marketing, using feminism to grow sales and build brand identity – not to elicit social transformation.
The company has vowed to donate an annual $1 million for the next three years to charities that will help men become role models for the next generation. Through partnering its products with a social cause, Gillette may be trying to differentiate its offering and encourage consumer buy-in.
If done successfully, cause marketing can be extremely lucrative. Think Nike’s 2018 Colin Kaepernick ad. The campaign, which touched on the issue of racial discrimination, boosted Nike’s online sales by 31% in the days following its release.
So, is Gillette simply following in the footsteps of success stories, such as Nike?
It’s fair to say the jury is still out. Whether ‘We Believe’ represents a cultural shift in adverts directed at men is dependent on what Gillette does next. The company must invest further resources into the campaign to prove its message is genuine.
Some would question if the ad’s authenticity really matters. Shouldn’t any attempt to promote equality, PR stunt or not, be welcomed?
Irrespective of whether you are one who listens or one who questions these messages, let’s make 2019 the year for change.
It’s down to us.