If you’re upset at the #GilletteAd you’re telling on yourself (and other obvious things)
One week after the fact, the amount of people still talking about the Gillette ad is astounding, but of course it’s not astounding. People get hard over their takes and because we live in the darkest and dumbest timeline, discourse has been reduced to tweets, statuses, comments, and blog posts (like this one).
We have been successfully conditioned to be dutiful social media idiots desperate to have takes (like this one) and as such we are perpetually ripe for the picking when things like the Gillette ad come along, because let’s get fucking real: that spot was created so that everybody would talk about it and fight about it and create #content about it and in so doing, discuss Gillette with an energy and ardour not usually brought to the topic of depilation.
Sure, okay, fine. Maybe Procter & Gamble/Gillette wanted to make a point. Maybe they wanted to say something about society and own a bit of blame for their role in some of its problems.
What’s not a maybe but rather a definitely: P&G wanted to realign Gillette’s brand identity so that they could make more money.
“We were just trying to upgrade the selling line that we’ve held for 30 years—the Best a Man Can Get—and make it relevant,” Gillette brand director Pankaj Bhalla told Fast Company. “I don’t think our intention was to have controversy just for the sake of controversy.” I believed him until that last part, because of course they wanted controversy.
TL;DR P&G/Gillette wanted to get people saying “Gillette” more. The spot wasn’t about selling products, or at least not strictly about selling products.
It was about advertising in 2019.
[NB: I read Melinda Wenner Moyer’s excellent Slate piece after writing this piece in full. Some of my points, above, sound similar to hers.]
On the page created to discuss this “upgraded” selling line, Gillette’s copywriters explain that men are “at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity.” Their copy touches all the right notes and says all the right things, like this [emphasis theirs]:
It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us — to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.
And, also [emphasis theirs]:
From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.
The spot heard ‘round the world was the first action in Gillette’s brave new world, and in the aftermath of the spot, the social internet became Thunderdome. (Or least more Thunderdome-y than usual.)
In the past week, many blogs/publications/people applauded Gillette because a message of “hey, dudes, let’s do better yeah?” is a pretty good one, even if it comes from an ad.
As you also probably know, other blogs/publications/people assailed Gillette because they felt attacked or belittled (or something) by the spot, which I think just means they have certain beliefs vis-à-vis manhood, masculinity, and society, and anything other than the versions of those things they personally believe are wrong and insulting to them.
In the past week, social media platforms have been awash with men (and more than a handful of women) angry about the ad. These people have been shouting their displeasure and vowing to boycott Gillette and/or switch to the competition. Some of them have even taken to throwing their Gillette products away and documenting the proof.
For what it’s worth, I’m a bleeding-heart left-wing progressive pinko type and I liked the ad’s messaging and tend to agree with it. The world is different than it used to be and to be honest, the way it used to be wasn’t actually that good—we were just taught that it was normal.
That said, I also know brands are not our friends and that you shouldn’t look to advertising to calibrate your moral compass. As such, I don’t have much of a take other than to respond, “well, yeah, of course” to the other takes, most of which seem to fit into the two piles described above.
It’s pretty obvious that if you are offended by the spot it is absolutely about you and if you love the spot it is absolutely for you.
For all the shit people say about marketing and advertising—fields I’ve worked in and around since 2006 and with which I have a complicated, love/hate relationship—the people who make the really big ads for colossal brands like Gillette and Nike aren’t dumb. They know exactly what the fuck they’re doing.
They knew that people like Piers Morgan and Tammy Lauren would tweet angry/complain-y things. They knew that people would lambaste Gillette for “virtue signalling” and anticipated the references to “SJWs” and “soy boys.” They knew that a bunch of people would make a big show of dumping the brand and moving to a competitor and they knew that their competitors would thrust their doors open (but not comment on the spot).
They also knew that other people would delight in dunking on people like Piers and Tammy and whoever else was whining about the spot and that those not dunking or clapping back would still find a way to publicly show their support of what they saw as a good message and/or corporate America being good (or at least better) because in the dumbest and darkest timeline, we treat billion-dollar brands like people—as if they represent a set of values above and beyond doing whatever it takes to get that skrill.
They knew right-wing publications would write about it. They knew left-wing publications would write about it. They knew that people like me would write things like this discussing it, what other people have said about it, and what it all means. Or might.
They knew that others still would get dizzy spinning around on the “advertising got woke” merry-go-round, which is actually two merry-go-rounds:
(1) “It’s great that brands want to align themselves with social good!”
(2) “Brands are only getting woke because there’s money in it!”
I’m not blessed with a lot of free time and as such don’t know why I wrote all of this, but I suspect it has something to do with not understanding the age I live in. Try as I might, I can’t seem to grasp why in the greatest information age in human history people don’t understand that politicians say what they need to in order to get elected, brands say what they need to say to get bought, and that guys like me get paid to look at how people respond to things like the #GilletteAd by companies and corporations looking for more effective ways to hawk their shit.
It’s one thing to have certain beliefs about manhood, masculinity, and society, but it’s a complete other thing to get triggered by a commercial. You don’t like what the voiceover actor says? Cool. Why not just ignore it and move on with your life? Don’t want to use Gillette razors? Cool. Schick and Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s make a good product, and Bic, well, yeah Bic is a brand that exists, too.
A few days ago, my girlfriend asked me, rhetorically, “Who has a problem with a man sticking up for a kid who’s being beat up?” and honestly, I don’t know.
I also don’t know why people think that corporations with a market cap around $230 billion give a fuck about them or what they believe in, because you know what? If this thing backfires on Gillette, if their sales start tanking and it’s blamed on the “upgraded” selling line and associated visuals, you can bet your motherfucking boots they’ll change tack, and all the people who made a gigantic stink about this will quietly go back to buying Gillette products if they’re cheaper than the other ones—if they hadn’t already—because no one actually gives a fuck about any of this.
It just looks like it.
Hi, I’m Dave. Since 2005, I have written for a bunch of publications, agencies, and brands (and even won some awards along the way). I also write a newsletter called DMail that people seem to like and which you should subscribe to.