The Best a Brand Can Get?


So much has been discussed regarding the Gillette ad that calls out “toxic masculinity.” In it, we see the turning tide of “manhood” from boardroom slights and televised harassment to viral affirmations and bully interventions. It’s a moving ad, and with over 25 million views on YouTube, it’s been widely viewed, praised and jeered. 

At best, it’s done exactly what advertising sets out to do: generate buzz. Grabbing the attention of a consumer base in the men’s grooming space is a difficult challenge. Most men grab the cheapest devices possible, with the path of least resistance to do the simplest of tasks. Innovation in men’s grooming in recent years has had less to do with drama and more to do with the device. More blades, fewer blades, delivery to your door for a lower price - this has passed for innovation. 

So where does Gillette get off trying to tug at the heart strings? I think they dared to face two challenges most brands shy away from and, in doing so, made a brilliant marketing move. 

The Challenge of Being One of the First to Market

Manhood is a sensitive issue. It always has been, it always will be. So what does it mean to be a man in the context of the #MeToo movement? What role models do we look to today? Who frames the conversation and how do we answer?

Gillette’s decision to be one of the first to market to try and answer these questions had the expected, though multifaceted, response. Some people think Gillette is crazy for addressing the dark side of masculinity at all. Then there are others who, rightly, point out the hypocrisy of a brand who is so closely affiliated with other hyper masculine, even toxic, brands like the NFL. Finally, to round it all out, there are those who are grateful a company has taken a stand for something broader than selling razors. 

Gillette scanned the front lines of a culture war and, if they did their homework, understood the challenges that came along with taking an early stand. If Nike is any indication, the upside to entering early outweighs the comment section of YouTube. 

The Challenge of Creating Context

There are times where brands have to make a statement about who they are now. Sometimes, it’s a jarring hard left. Other times, it’s a subtle shift. While Gillette’s latest ad has gotten the most press, they’ve actually been setting this up for a while now, creating the context for an updated version of themselves that pushes against the long held views of masculinity. 

Gillette’s “Handle With Care” ad highlights masculinity as caring for others. How does selling a razor do that? Gillette created an assisted shaving razor and showed a man dutifully and delicately caring for his aging father while his son watches on. 

The ads featuring Shaquem Griffin, the one handed linebacker drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, do away with the tropes of bashing someone's head in during a tackle. Instead, Gillette shows all that he has had to overcome by highlighting the investment of his father. Moment by moment, his father walks him through manhood on his route to the NFL. 

By creating a new context for manliness, Gillette started the march toward their revolutionary ad a while ago by first reframing masculinity as care, selflessness and positivity. 

So many brands wait until someone else tries the great idea, and takes the initial pummeling, before they ever try to do something remarkable. Sure, it's easier and safer being second; you can gather much better metrics before you plot your next move. It’s much easier to slide into someone else’s context, point out what they get right and wrong and offer an alternative.
Neither of those moves are bravery, but that’s what I think Gillette’s ad is.

Perfect? No. Flawed? Maybe. Preachy? Sure. But also? Brave.

If there’s anything a brand targeting manliness MUST be, it’s that. Brave.