Pissing off Piers Morgan is a valid marketing strategy for Gillette

Let's take a look at the marketing implications of Gillette's #MeToo moment.

"I’ve used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men."

In the age of seemingly constant social media-powered outrage, Piers Morgan’s criticism of Gillette’s new campaign is equal parts predictable and pedestrian.

Pissing off Morgan – or, more accurately, being able to weather a Twitter tirade – is an increasingly necessary part of being a progressive marketer.

When marketers expect and are prepared for what Gillette North America brand director Pankaj Bhalla diplomatically calls a "debate", they are better equipped to be braver in their creative output. Gillette's two-minute ad, called "The best men can be" and directed by Kim Gehrig, is certainly brave, showing men intervening to stop fights and calling other men out when they say inappropriate things to women on the streets.

Challenging culture

As the ad explains: "We believe in the best in men. To say the right thing, to act in the right way. Some already are in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow."

It has been 30 years since Gillette launched its "The best a man can get" strapline and it's clear that, to be relevant, the brand has to change, just as masculinity is evolving. Consider, for example, the way in which Lynx has successfully shifted its positioning away from objectifying women to celebrating men for their individuality.  

Yesterday’s men and women would have undoubtedly dismissed this brand evolution as "virtue-signalling". But in reality, just like Lynx, Gillette is a brand that needed to evolve, not just to better reflect the evolution of culture but to ensure long-term business success.

In the midst of the backlash surrounding the Gillette campaign, we are at risk of missing a fundamental point: toxic masculinity is just as damaging to men as it is to women. This isn’t about pitching men against women, commercially or culturally. Gillette is a brand for men but which in many markets is often purchased by women.

The Mask You Live In, the powerful documentary from The Representation Project, has had a huge impact on the discourse surrounding masculinity across the globe. The film follows boys and young men struggling to negotiate society’s narrow definition of masculinity. Pressured by the media, peers and even their parents to "be a man", boys face myriad messages that encourage them to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women and resolve conflicts with violence.

Far from being part of a "global assault on masculinity", Gillette’s campaign is part of the cultural change addressing the crisis in masculinity in which boys must conform to punishing and suffocating gender ideals.

As Gillette explains: "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."

If that means braiding your daughter's hair rather than suffocating your emotions to fit into outdated stereotypes, I am all for it. It is a challenging message and one that is clearly unpalatable for some, but Gillette’s ad is a timely reminder that brave brands recognise that they can be agents of change.

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