Gillette’s controversial ad looks beyond advertising’s male lens

Gillette’s clever commercial work has disrupted the traditional advertising tactics used in the male personal care category, and allowed Gillette to enter into a relevant, and topical conversation, argues Bec Brideson.

The new marketing lens

Old marketing is often still stuck in a mindset of push, push, push the brand’s features and benefits onto the consumer, who shall receive tablets from the Mount, and act accordingly.

The new marketing lens allows people to identify with a brand through shared values that are built together via emotional connection. I’m not saying they go in the same significant place in your heart as your children and grandma, but they do evoke the emotional response that has a feeling attached to it – converting to where dollars are spent.

The formula featuring close cutting product demonstrations of the 6th blade on a razor with metaphors of fighter jets has gotten, well, dusty.

Gillette established the line “the best a man can get”, but its latest ad has shown another way to tell this narrative, without a rational product demonstration, all while touching upon a socially significant issue that we are talking about globally.

We’ve seen lots of ‘girls can’ ads, but this is an innovative one using a similar strategy for a male brand. “Like a Girl” for Always in the US didn’t show one piece of blue inked absorbency. It changed the conversation, set a higher bar, and proved that connecting with consumers in the two-way dialogue is a valid strategy in today’s brand economy.

In terms of other male brands pushing a similar envelope, there is Mexico’s Tecate beer that urged their male consumers who commit domestic violence not to drink their beer.

Masculine and feminine

The diagram below shows our biological and socially constructed preferences and the levers that the feminine and masculine are more likely to respond to when it comes to comms.

Those who identify or prefer ‘male’ attributes are more likely to respond to advertising that employs levers that explain and demonstrate the more rational benefits of a product or service. For example, does it make them faster? Stronger? More competitive? Intelligent? Wealthier? More desirable?

Whether purposefully or not, Gillette has now moved further to the left of the continuum – using more feminine preferences or being more female-lensed in its communication.

Gillette is making it less about product and more about the people using it. While this might not seem relevant to the brand or the product, and therefore disingenuous, it’s an attempt at creating a resonant, long-term emotional connection that could not be realised through the technical benefits of a razor-sharp shave.

It’s no surprise that this has created a shit storm in the marketing world. This ad is disruptive and is eliciting so many polarising opinions because it is utilising a female lens for a male category. And many men and marketers are rejecting it.

It’s the same from the other end of the spectrum, where female categories have traditionally used a male-lensed preference within their comms, resulting in disconnection from female consumers – think cleaning product ads, supermarket ads, Victoria’s Secret.

Creative agencies dominated by male-lensed creative teams and CDs are myopic. They’re not using or benefiting from opening their apertures wider to include that connective female-lens.

And no, you don’t have to be a female to have a female-lens. It’s a skill many men can develop and take on too.

#MeToo? Political agenda? Maybe not.

I’ve seen a bunch of headlines claiming that this is a #MeToo ad. #MeToo is about sexual harassment in the workplace. Besides showing a man stepping in to stop another man harassing another woman, there’s nothing connecting the two.

As for political agendas and controversy, I think we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Let’s take the hotly controversial term “toxic masculinity” out of it. All the ad is suggesting is that there is a nouveau masculine which asks men to be the best that they can be by liberating themselves from the shackles of “old masculinity” and reflect upon the negatives of male culture that degrade and control them such as phrases like “boys will be boys” that excuse abhorrent and anti-social behaviour, encourage disrespect to women and set unreachable and idealistic standards for men – similar to that of women.

Is there anything wrong with rallying against that?

Take it from a man

This ad is not without its faults.

Discussing this ad with my husband who provides a brilliant, insightful and diametric perspective to my female brain, he suggested that men are rejecting it because it’s not inviting them into the conversation, it’s preaching it to them – and they’re not necessarily a receptive choir. He asked me, if I were a male-lensed thinker, would I want the argument/narrative framed in more masculine terms?

He suggested, and I agreed, it could have appealed to the inner hero of men and still have the same outcome. In this case, I think a better choice of metaphor might have been that in this world there are shepherds and wolves, and we do indeed need more shepherds.

Every man likes to think he’s one of the ‘good guys’ – the hero and protector, not the villain. He’s James Bond and Sherlock Holmes – not Blofeld, or Moriarty. I can understand that men are feeling “attacked” by this ad and feel they are being told they are inherently bad and must become good though better actions.

No one likes to hear that or feel that, regardless of their gender. However encouraging reflection of our behaviour and a greater consideration and care for those around us, no matter who we are, is not necessarily a bad thing. If we can all take that on, it might make for a better world.