Analysis: Gillette's latest ad only proves why brands standing for positive change is vital

CMO analyses the latest Gillette ad and why brands striving for positive change is vital, as well as financially sound

Gillette is the latest brand to decide it will stand for something and change societal narrative for the better, with its ‘Best men can be’ campaign, a play on its traditional tagline ‘the best a man can get’.

It struck a chord with many and immediately went viral with more than four million views on YouTube in 48 hours, and more than 13 million views three days in. But equally, it has divided the industry and consumers both in terms of creative and execution, as well as strategy.

Amid the flurry of controversy after its launch this week, including absurd paradoxical criticism that only proved just how vital taking on toxic masculinity is, is the acknowledgement by the P&G powerhouse that brands do, in fact, influence culture and have a role to play in encouraging society, as a whole, to do better.

Hardly a new idea, but an important acknowledgement by a huge brand nonetheless.

‘It’s time we acknowledge brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture’, says Gillette in the ad.

In an article last year on CMO, managing director of International Creative Services, Anne Miles, agreed. “Marketing and advertising creative is such a big part of what consumers see every day. Reflecting society and shaping is both happening, but we have control over it and if we take charge we can impact society in a positive way," she said.  

And Gillette is not simply paying lip service to positive impact, like so many others more concerned with share price. Along with the ad, it is donating US$1 million a year for three years to non-profit organisations with programs designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best’ and become role models for the next generation. It is resoundingly standing up for change in the new era kicked off by #metoo.


It also follows Nike’s successful campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, which caused similar outrage from the professionally offended. Yet Nike’s example not only became a call to action for social change, while arming the cultural zeitgeist, it also enjoyed financial success from an increasingly demanding, and ‘woke’ consumer. In fact, Nike’s sales increased by 36 per cent last year, adding US$6 billion to its bottom line, which no doubt fanned the raging flames of those burning its shoes in protest.

Time will tell if Gillette enjoys financial success from this stance (and if you can even burn a razor), but there is good reason for suspecting it will. Disappointed in governments and not-for-profits, consumers are increasingly demanding brands with the GPD larger than small nations actually stand for something, in particular, something good.

This goes beyond the rehashed and overused terms ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘brand purpose’, and  calls for big brands to inspire and facilitate real, positive change in exchange for the almighty consumer dollar. Of course, many brands are reluctant to do this, for fear of offending the already perpetually offended.

However, multiple studies show consumers reward authentic brands that have a positive purpose. Sixty-four per cent of people in the 2018 Earned Brand study by Edelman US said they are buying from or boycotting brands based on the company's stance on a social or political issues. More than half (53 per cent) said brands can do more to solve issues than governments can.

Similarly, in a recent Sprout Social study, two-thirds of consumers (66 per cent) say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. According to WE Communications’ Brands in Motion 2018 study, three-quarters of consumers (74 per cent) around the globe expect brands to take a stand on important issues, up four per cent on 2017.

So the evidence is there. However, marketers all know what consumers say, and what they end up actually doing, can be entirely different. One thing is for sure, Gillette has certainly polarised the population. Everyone and their horse has had something to say about the ad, whether is women’s rights activist, Clementine Ford (for), media commentator, Miranda Devine (against), TV presenter, Piers Morgan (against), Mark Ritson (for the strategy but against the execution) and even Amnesty International (for).

Ford wrote in an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald: “If the purpose of advertising is to get people to talk about your product, Gillette have really nailed it with their latest campaign for men’s razors…But, in the context of the culture we live in and the reality that advertising forms a hugely influential part of it, ads like this can inspire some small amount of change.”

Agency principal at DPR&Co, Phil Huzzard, remembered when clients would come to him and say, ‘just do a video that goes viral and we’ll get our media for free’.

“I would reply, 'It’s not that prescriptive, I’m afraid'," he told CMO. "It’s the same with most ads that seek to tap into the current zeitgeist. Gillette is not a grass-roots movement like #metoo, and consumers see through the virtue signalling, regardless of their view on the sentiment of the message.

“The good news for Gillette is that consumers - of which only a tiny sliver are currently expressing their displeasure - don’t place anything like as much importance on this kind of brand stance as the owners of the brand might wish to believe.” 

Kantar director of brand, Brian Walker-Catchpole, said people are more likely to engage with brands which stand for something and reflect the culture we live in.

“We also know that some brands overstep the mark and make absurd claims about values they could never hope to emulate or purposes they could never realistically champion. The Gillette film seems both reasonable and relevant, even if it’s a little hokey,” he said.

“But the reaction to the Gillette ad shows a hell lot of defensiveness on the part its critics. They seem to have really hit a nerve, sparked an avalanche of ‘not-all-men’ platitudes and gotten a lot of people talking about a brand that had largely fallen off the radar prior to today.”

At CMO Momentum last year, Dr Jennifer Whelan discussed how advertising impacts society, perpetuates stereotypes, and how it is valuable for both a brand and society to start challenging this status quo.

"Our most prolific exposure to stereotypes comes from media, marketing, advertising. It starts early and it doesn’t change over time," she told attendees.

"We can priorities inclusiveness, make small wins, stop doing things a certain way, and think about the compelling case of why we should do it, which is it’s better for the bottom line, and better for your organisation and customers."    

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu 

 

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