Today, Gillette released a “short film” [read advertisement] that takes aim at “toxic masculinity.” Before you read any further, I highly recommend viewing the video for context. It’s only about 1.5 minutes long anyway. I’ll embed the video below to make it easy on you. 🙂
I’m here to argue how I think mixing politics and marketing is a bad idea. I am not here to argue whether or not an attack on masculinity is actually happening nor am I dissecting the validity of the Me Too movement. I’m a businessman and marketer, my opinion has to with branding and ROI. My view is that injecting your brand into a hot-button political topic is generally not a good idea because you’re highly likely to alienate existing customers without gaining enough new customers in the process. In other words, your political statement costs more than it returns.
Let’s first take a quick look at Gillette to try and understand where the need for such a strong statement is coming from. Gillette is a brand owned by Proctor & Gamble. P&G stock has been relatively consistent, raising in value about 1% over the last year (MarketWatch). Considering the volatility of the market, maintaining value isn’t such a bad thing. So, the need to come out with such a politically charged statement is a little beyond me. Perhaps there are some other factors at play regarding market share that are motivating Gillette to feel the need to do something big. The rising popularity of subscription services like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s could definitely be a factor. However, I’d say their new ad is a bit extreme.
Gillette launched their “We Believe” video today (January 15th). The video wastes no time getting political as the first words are “bullying” “me too movement” and “toxic masculinity.” The rest of the video is peppered with pop culture examples of men doing bad things and those bad things being discussed in the news. The general theme of the video is that men can be better, illustrated by one guy stopping another guy from catcalling a group of girls and a dad breaking up a fight between boys. The video ends with the call to action “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.” Throw in some slowly progressing background music and you have a tear-inspiring ad that follows in the steps of Nike’s Kaepernick ad released a few months prior.
Gillette also released a statement along with the video that further explains their stance. In the statement, Gillette doubles down on their political viewpoint. They claim that society is entering a new era of masculinity and that the transition is seemingly confusing for men. Gillette takes responsibility for influencing culture with their ads and for “promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” They wrap it all up with a pledge to challenge stereotypes and donate $1 million dollars per year for 3 years to non-profits like the Boys and Girls Club. Because no corporate statement is complete without donations to non-profits, right?
OK, now that we are all caught up, let me discuss my 2 problems with this Gillette video.
Gillette is inserting their brand into a heated political discussion going on right now – one with lots of people on either side. You can’t turn on the news or browse social media without seeing something about the Me Too movement or about how masculinity is under attack. There are opposing arguments in this discussion and lots of people on either side of the issue. Furthermore, this discussion is a complicated one. There are deep facets to the history, detriments, and benefits of masculinity. Is it a conversation that we should be having as a society? I think so. It’s important for human beings to analyze themselves to try and understand how we can progress. This discussion should be had between knowledgable parties on both sides. Politicians and scholars should be dissecting the issue, and interested parties should be free to listen in and even discuss within their communities. This is the beauty of free speech. The problem with Gillette’s statement isn’t the subject material, it’s that they are a company with the objective of making money. Gillette makes money by selling more people more razors. By taking a public stance and inserting their brand into such a controversial political topic, they’ve very likely alienated a large portion of their audience.
Do a quick search on twitter for Gillette and just look at all the people ready to boycott the company. At the time of writing this article, the “We Believe” video on YouTube has 112,000 upvotes and 391,000 downvotes. Holy shit, that is a 3:1 ration IN THE NEGATIVE. The same negative ratio of votes exists across multiple channels that have posted the video supporting Gillett’s stance. Gillette has inspired a few and pissed off many. Lots of those pissed off people were paying customers.
Gillette isn’t really taking a stance on anything controversial here. There isn’t any meaningful segment of the American population that is going to disagree with the fact that sexual harassment is bad. If you do think that groping women without their consent is cool, then you are a super douche and probably have no friends. Furthermore, “bad men” make up such a small portion of the population that it’s statistically irrelevant to a company like Gillette. Gillette makes decisions about their market share by looking at macro demographics like “ALL MEN.” They are a massive company within an even more massive company, P&G. A microscopic portion of men that think sexual harassment is ok and would get turned off by a stance about sexual harassment being bad is meaningless.
The issue with their video is not in the stance Gillette took, but in the impact it would certainly have on men who feel that there is an attack on masculinity in this county. If you really dissect the video, there isn’t anything in it that clearly says that masculinity is bad. There are not statements saying that men should become “snowflakes” or anything like that. But in the ad business, it isn’t about what you are trying to say, it’s about how what you said is perceived. If you are Gillette, how could you NOT see that this content would be perceived as an attack on masculinity by certain folks? Whether or not you or I agree or disagree that there is an attack on masculinity is not relevant to this conversation. The point is that there are people who do think so. Most of those people, I would hypothesize, lean right politically. We know that right-leaning people make up about half of population. So, Gillette is making a statement that has the potential to upset potentially half of the population. HALF! And this is my point…
Gillette’s “We Believe” video and corresponding marketing materials are going to appeal to a segment of the population and even inspire them – that alone isn’t bad. The problem is that in doing so, they are also highly likely to alienate another large portion of people who think differently. The people that agree with Gillette are going to be moderately impressed with the ad, and will probably keep buying those razors. However, the other portion of people that are pissed off are going to stop buying from you. Gillette released an ad that appeals only to a portion of their audience and simultaneously alienates another large portion. Low benefit, high cost, bad ROI.
Here’s how Gillette could have done things differently and achieved similar results.
Release a segment of short, 5-second pre-roll video ads of Dad’s telling their daughters that they are strong. In the “We Believe” video, there is a short segment just like this, and it’s very powerful. There are also dozens of viral videos showing exactly this. Gillette could go a step further and request that Dad’s send in videos of their Daughters doing badass stuff for a chance to win a killer prize. Gillette wins because they are supporting men in a positive way and inspiring other men to be great dads. Their tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get,” fits just fine in this scenario.
Here’s another idea. Just announce that you are going to be donating $1M to the Boys and Girls Club with the intention of promoting powerful programs for young boys. The people who know about the Boys and Girls Club already know that the organization does great things. Other folks are going to perceive a charitable donation as a positive thing overall. No hate. No backlash. The idea that good men start as kids (another important theme of the “We Believe” video) could 100% be tied to this type of announcement.
My point is to BE POSITIVE. Focus on positive examples of boys/men doing good things. Doing so avoids the size of the backlash from opposing viewpoints and still gets your message across.
If you are a business owner and are reading this article, here’s the key takeaway. If you are trying to make money, do not mix politics with your marketing.