Authentic brand purpose? You bet it is

Gillette launched their new ‘The Best a Man Can be’ campaign yesterday and it’s brave and brilliant.

Some have criticised the marketing wisdom of this and the overt display of ‘brand purpose’. It’s fair to say that brand purpose has been used and abused in recent years (see Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner fiasco for just one terrible example), but here it’s completely appropriate.  Ads for male grooming products have traditionally celebrated a mild form of toxic masculinity and sexism.  Something I’ve previously described as ‘men only wash to get laid’.

You may not like the ad, and it may seem a bit heavy-handed in places.  But subtlety would not have generated this volume of media attention. The #MeToo debate had become too focused on movie producers, politicians and over-paid sportsmen abusing their power, making it too easy for men to opt-out and jump on the #NotAllMen bandwagon.

Gillette have used their reach and influence to bring an important topic to the mainstream.  Addressing the everyday examples of #ToxicMasculinity and #MaleViolence, means the majority of men – not just the most liberal woke bro’s – can see the impact this has on our society and how they can help bring about change.

The responses to this ad shows exactly why it was so needed.  The amount of what-aboutery is breathtaking (my favourite being, ‘where’s the female version?’, as if toxic femininity is even a thing).  Those that complain the loudest are those that need it the most. Hilariously, some were aghast that a female director could helm an ad for a man’s product, conveniently forgetting the decades of male-directed bullshit women have had to put up with. Again, for the record, yogurt and shampoo are not sexual stimulants, a sparkling kitchen is not a life goal and mountain climbing is the last thing most women what to do when they have their period.

Male violence and toxic masculinity means 2-3 women are murdered every week in the UK, mainly by men they know. It’s created the culture of self-entitlement and aggression that has led to ‘Trans Rights’ activists demanding access to women’s bathrooms and other sex-segregated spaces, based on their own fear of male behaviour (‘we’re afraid of men, so we demand these men be let into your space!’), oblivious to the irony and potential danger.  And it’s the prevalence and accessibility of extreme, violent porn that means girls are not even safe from sexual assault at school.

On Twitter recently, someone asked women how their life might change if this horrible culture went away.  It was shocking how much women just wanted to do the simple, everyday things that men routinely take for granted.  The number one response was ‘go for a run at night with my headphones in’.  More men need to realise the climate of fear and intimidation that their sex is collectively responsible for.  It effectively curfews the rights and freedoms of half the population.

The Gillette ad featured on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, with one male journalist complaining it portrays them as “sex pests and bullies”.  The female viewpoint was notably absent (as usual), but that aside, the sad truth is many men are just that.  Sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly.  Mostly without even realising it.  As the ad suggests, it’s not just about violence and harassment, it’s every time a man talks over a woman while she’s speaking, mansplains her area of expertise to her, invades her personal space on the tube, wolf whistles in the street or stares at her chest while she’s talking to them (up here, love).

Damn straight it’s time for men to start having a conversation about this with their friends, their colleagues and their sons.

So from a marketing point of view, is this brand bravery worth it?  Sure, the new tag line may not last 30 years and they may even ditch the ad tomorrow (although I sincerely hope they hold their nerve).  What they have successfully done – in just 24 hours – is use their influence to start a debate in the community that needed it most.  And that’s not just brand purpose, that’s good old-fashioned Corporate Social Responsibility (backed by a pledge to donate $3m to relevant causes).

But will it shift product? Will it lose customers?  Whilst lots of men are saying they’ll stop giving Gillette their ‘toxic dollars’ and have filmed themselves throwing their razors down the loo (how environmentally responsible!), the dust will settle.  It’s maybe more important to note that the vast majority of grocery shopping is still done by women, many of whom will see their husbands as the heroes featured in this ad and throw a pack of Gillette razors in the trolley.

So thank you, Gillette for bringing the debate to the audience that really need to have it. Many women are only too aware that no matter how long, how collectively, they shout about something, in this patriarchal society, change only happens when men get on board too.

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