Gillette leaps into culture wars with ad challenging images of masculinity

By Kate Gibson

/ MoneyWatch

Gillette ad sparks controversy

After three decades of touting Gillette razors as part of being an alpha male, Procter & Gamble is doing an about-face with an ad that has the consumer-products company jumping into into the cultural wars with both feet.

A play on its 30-year tagline "The Best A Man Can Get," Gillette's new "The Best Men Can Be" campaign features a nearly two-minute ad showing men intervening to stop fights between boys, and berating others of their gender for saying sexually inappropriate things to females in public.

While there are plenty of "issue-based, ideologically-grounded, cultural branding type" of ads out there, Gillette's is unusual in terms of how direct the messaging is, Robert Kozinets, a scholar of marketing and consumer culture at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told CBS MoneyWatch.

We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film) by Gillette on YouTube

Gillette said in a news release announcing the campaign that the company has a "responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions on what it means to be a man." Gillette included a pledge to donate $1 million annually for the next three years to a nonprofit devoted to helping men "achieve their personal 'best.'" The Boys and Girls Club of America will be the first recipient, according to Adweek.

As with Nike's controversial advertising campaign featuring former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, Gillette's "The Best Men Can Be" campaign inspired backlash on social media and calls for a boycott of its products.

British TV personality Piers Morgan was among the higher-profile objectors to the ad, posting, "this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity."

Christina Sommers, a scholar at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, took to Twitter to slam both the ad and a prominent liberal arts college in Ohio.

Help! Police! Gillette has been hijacked by the Oberlin College Gender Studies Collective. https://t.co/lCMNQ3ofii

— Christina Sommers (@CHSommers) January 15, 2019

Released on Sunday, the video's YouTube page as of Tuesday afternoon had 343,000 dislikes and 83,000 likes.

Still, it remains to be seen whether that initial negative outpouring will impact sales for a conglomerate that generated $66.8 billion in revenue in 2018.

If Nike's decision to feature an athlete known for kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality is any guide, Procter & Gamble and its Gillette division may not have much to worry about, as Nike's stock and sales surged in the wake of its September ad campaign featuring Kaepernick.

Kozinets agreed, saying even negative reviews can be a positive when it comes to drawing interest. "Given that most advertising is ignored, or about some boring functionality such as shaving cream that makes your skin 17 percent softer, this is already a win for P&G," he said.

That victory could be seen in some tweets that had both men and women praising the ad, including one from a mother saying her son had no problem with it.

It’s a wonderful ad. My son loved it and I know he will show it to his son (due in the spring so not for a while)

— Laurie Sundstrom (@lavsplack) January 15, 2019

First published on January 15, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

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