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Brief Published: 16 Jan 2019

Gillette Causes Controversy by Tackling Toxic Masculinity

Gillette's latest ad campaign is a well-intentioned attempt to address issues of toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. So different from its previous marketing, the initiative almost feels like a brand refresh – one that hasn't been created collaboratively with consumers, leading to inevitable backlash.

It's been 30 years since Gillette debuted its famous tag line, "The Best A Man Can Get". Since then, its ads have followed a familiar formula – blandly aspirational, positive, and product-focused. This week, the company launched a starkly different kind of campaign, We Believe – led by a two-minute ad that calls on men to tackle issues of toxic masculinity, with hardly a razor in sight.

It's clearly well-intentioned – Gillette will be donating $1m over the next three years to men's charities and has launched a website, The Best Men Can Be, that offers further support. However, it's garnered intense critical backlash – not least from Gillette's target audience of young men. On YouTube, the spot has 300,000 downvotes, compared to 50,000 likes, with comments including "Gillette ad demonises its customers, scores own goal".

It's worth comparing this campaign to Axe's 2017 project to address toxic masculinity, Is It Ok For Guys. Dealing with similar issues and from a brand that – even more so than Gillette – was known for its outmoded messaging, the campaign was a huge success. It transformed Axe's image and is making a tangible difference through its partnership with anti-bullying organisation Ditch the Label. Most importantly, the campaign was underpinned by research from real people, enabling Axe to frame the campaign as one that would, as the brand stated, "[provide] guys with resources to live more freely".

This collaborative, inclusive attitude contrasts with Gillette's top-down broadcast approach, which isn't contextualised within a larger, brand-focused message like Axe's "Find Your Magic". If the backlash continues, Gillette will need to work on creating a dialogue with customers turned off by this approach – something which should have been baked into the campaign from the start.

For more on brands tackling social issues, see Enlightened Masculinity, Nike & Levi's Aim for Moonshots in Purpose-Driven Campaigns, and Incite Marketing Summit 2018.