Gillette: the best an ad can get?

Gillette ad

We’ve blogged before about how tricky it can be for brands to wade into political discussions, and right now, gender politics is one of the most heated areas of social contention. But brands also need to act and communicate in accordance with their values.

What brands have to remember is that doing the right thing won’t always be popular. Just ask Gillette.

Judging by the social media backlash against its latest ad, you’d think that Gillette had produced an attack ad on the entire male sex.

Instead, Gillette produced an ad that featured boys bullying other boys and men bullying women, and it asked if guydom could do better for the wide-eyed five-year-old boys who are learning from them. It didn’t say that all men are thugs, instead it said that all men have the power to intervene when they see another guy being a bit of a jerk.

Predictably, the ad has created a huge amount of outrage – largely from the men who felt personally attacked by it. The video currently has an impressive 566,000 dislikes to 211,000 likes (it is the number 1 trending video though, so…).

What can a brand expect when it takes a stand on a social issue?

It’s like trying to bathe a cat. Yes, you may end up with a clean cat at the end of it, but your bathroom also looks like the set of Kill Bill. In short, be prepared for immense hostility.

While most people may look at the Gillette ad and say “aw, isn’t that a wholesome advert?”, those that hate it really hate it. They will evolve into a social media gremlin faster than Mogwai at a midnight feast and they will spread their discontent quickly.

Issues brands starting a values campaign need to prepare for

Issue 1: Taking a moral stand when you’ve had questionable coverage on other issues

If the brand has any negative stories in its past – fake news or fact – it will be discovered and dragged into the spotlight.

Is the brand prepared to deal with this if it happens? What if statements like this go viral? Does the brand have a plan to respond?

Issue 2: Alienating core customers

Brands that want to promote their values have to accept that (rightly or wrongly) not everyone will like those values. Some people will be passionately against the values or the fact that a brand is “telling” them what to think.

The brand has to decide what’s more important, losing some customers (who will probably be replaced by new ones as a result of the campaign) or expressing its values. The brand will then be in a position to formulate a calm response to any backlash.

In Gillette’s case, its campaign did sort of come out of nowhere. Had it spent a few years creating content and driving conversation around gender issues, the reaction may not have been so extreme. As it is, a men’s razor brand has suddenly decided to talk about what it means to be a man, instead of, you know, shaving. Every brand that wants to get involved in this conversation has to start somewhere, but it may be wiser to introduce this change gradually – unless of course, it’s aiming to create controversy.

Issue 3: Dealing with a massive – and sometimes abusive – response

Any brand that decides to run a campaign that advocates progressive values will see their social channels fill with hate speech and insults. From the somewhat tame “SJWs are taking over the world” type complaints, to outright harassment of other commenters. Brands need to be prepared for this type of response and know what they can do to make their social presences a less toxic place for the non-abusive people to be.

Gillette’s Facebook post of the video has had more than 20 thousand comments at the time of writing. Is your brand prepared to deal with that level of response? People will hate on the brand, post insults and get into debates with each other about their views.

In a situation like this, the brand isn’t going to be able to do much to persuade people that hate their campaign to change their minds. Some won’t be posting hate, but expressing genuine issues that they have with the campaign. Should the brand respond to these people?

What they can do is respond to the people who are taking the time (and the risk of being attacked themselves) to show support.

Brands that communicate their values also win new fans

It’s worth noting that not all social networks experience backlashes at the same time, or to the same extent. Gillette posted the ad to YouTube and it’s being slaughtered in the comments section (because, YouTube), but search for #GilletteAd on Twitter and the discourse is much more favourable.

In the case of Gillette, many people saw the initial outrage from a section of the public as ridiculous and started praising the ad in response. So we’re seeing a bit of a backlash against the backlash right now.

By switching from the best a man can get to the best men can be, Gillette is showing that its brand can evolve. It’s showing leadership by expressing its values and encouraging others to be the change they want to see in the world.

That’s not a hostile message, unless you see it as threatening your way of thinking. This may be a backlash, but so far it’s far from a crisis for Gillette. It remains to be seen if Gillette will stick by its new values, or quietly abandon the idea.

Featured photo by Liane Metzler on Unsplash

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