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Gillette’s New Campaign: The Best A Brand Can Get?

Josh Cobden

To be a great man requires more than a great shave. That’s the message from the world’s top razor company in their new campaign We Believe. Replacing the slogan “The Best a Man Can Get” with “The Best a Man Can Be,” the two-minute short film rejects “boys will be boys” behavior like sexual harassment and bullying and implores men to shape up and speak out.

Goodbye, swaggering svelte athletes. So long business big shots.  Hello socially conscious, love-handled Dads.

If the reaction to this campaign was, say, a man’s chin, about one third would be silky smooth and the remainder a razor-burned bloody mess.  As of writing this blog, the spot has been watched over 11 million times on YouTube, with 268,000 likes and 650,000 dislikes.  And I bet the bigwigs at P&G are popping corks, not hitting the panic button.

The best brands in the world have always stood for something that is bigger than themselves (Volvo=safety). More recently, brands have been willing to step out of the usual safe zones and take positions on divisive issues like racism, gun-control, even transgender rights.  Brands know that this will result in criticism, even boycott threats (Nike’s Colin Kaepernick spot).  But the smart ones have carefully done their homework through massive amounts of testing, and really understand their target audience.  They know they will annoy some people and the criticism could be loud, but they are steadfastly confident that they will reach the people that matter most.  Despite videos of people burning Nike shoes in anger, sales spiked 31% after the Kaepernick ad.

(Of course, not everyone does this right.  Remember Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner fiasco?)

The chapter on Gillette’s new ad hasn’t been written yet, and yes, there have been some very vocal critics (Piers Morgan says he’s sick of the war on masculinity).  But I give a brand that claims to know how men can be their best very high marks for participating in a heightened, global conversation questioning men’s behavior.

How could Gillette have done better?

First, focus. I would have suggested a call-to-action that starts with changing one behavior.  Right now, the spot includes vignettes on bullying, sexual harassment, marginalization of women in marketing and gender issues in the workplace.  These are all bad behaviors that arguably have a historic connection to masculinity.   But they are not all-or-nothing problems and lumping them together dilutes the impact. I wish Gillette had used this excellent campaign to gradually and individually tackle these ills.  Maybe they will.

Second, while the flagship spot is the equivalent of a near-perfect, awe-inspiring shave, the landing page for the campaign is patchy.  Atop the homepage is, again, the spot. Below that, a rambling narrative that is part history lesson (“30 years ago we launched…”), part manifesto (“It’s time we acknowledge that brands like ours play an influence in influencing culture…”), part humblebrag (“That’s why Gillette is committing to donate $1 million…”) part life lesson (“Because the boys of today are the men of tomorrow.”).  Then a rundown on their generous support of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. And finally, an invitation to “Follow How Men Are Taking Action” through links to the brand’s social media properties where we find the usual contests, offers, and product beauty shots.

I have always admired the Gillette brand and its ability extort a king’s ransom for throw-away razor blades.  They have done this by being bigger than their product.  Now more than ever a company or brand needs to have a clear sense of who they are and what they stand for.  Companies that try to be everything to everyone will risk appealing to nobody.  I applaud Gillette for understanding this and pushing their own boundaries.  Is the campaign up to P&G’s usual marketing mastery?  That’s a close shave.