Did Gillette Take a Stand or a Step Too Far?

Just barely two weeks into 2019 and another brand takes a stand. This time it is Gillette with its The Best Men Can Be campaign, “celebrating the stories of men making a positive impact, and to inspire others in the process.” True to form, and following in the path of other cause marketing campaigns, Gillette’s ad launching its new campaign has been aimed to evoke an emotional response with the hopes to kickstart impact and long-term value for the brand. While time will tell if they succeed, the ad has undeniably stirred up emotions and controversy.

Gillette’s new campaign is receiving extra attention compared to some of its peers’ largely due to the amount of backlash and negative commentary that news media outlets have reported on. That said, the backlash should, of course, be expected. Change does not occur without resistance, which is good, as it forces a conversation and individuals to critically reason. And just how some customers burned their Nike shoes, and others boycotted Dick’s Sporting Goods, there will be customers who will loudly oppose Gillette’s campaign — unfortunately for them, razors aren’t the most flammable. After complaints fade away, only time will tell if Gillette will benefit from such things as strengthened brand loyalty/reputation, increased sales, improved recruitment/retention, and other long-term effects related to taking a stand.  

Regardless of the stance, I see the campaign as being strongly executed. Gillette acted boldly – they decided to tackle a sensitive and controversial topic, and lead the way in starting a conversation for how to drive change. Gillette also remained aligned with its parent company’s purpose. When talking about their impact, P&G states: “It’s simple. We want to lead the charge in doing the right thing. Our goal is to use every opportunity we have — no matter how small — to set change in motion. To be a force for good and a force for growth. For you, for the world, and for every generation to come.” This belief undoubtedly fueled the Gillette campaign and is the same fuel that stoked P&G’s other notable campaigns including  #LikeAGirl and Panteen Strong Is Beautiful. Lastly, the campaign was authentic. This was far from an attempt at bandwagoning on a hot topic. P&G conducted research on the topic — surveying more than 1,000 US men and women, secured partnerships with nonprofits like The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and committed to a three-year commitment of supporting other nonprofits that are working “to help men of all ages achieve their personal best.” While Gillette executed the act of ‘taking a stand’ with the launch of the campaign, there is still a lot of work for the company. Gillette will need to continually reinforce, defend, and communicate to its audiences why it took this stance and how it relates back to its values and mission.

It should be called out here that while the implementation and action of Gillette taking a stand was overall executed well, it still does not negate the accompanying risk versus reward dilemma that the brand had to face when deciding on the validity and worthiness of greenlighting the campaign. Regardless of how controversial or groundbreaking a topic a brand wishes to address, deep and thoughtful consideration must be made regarding the long-term outcome and value to stakeholders.

P&G clearly and boldly made their decision.

-Nathan Sanfaçon
Strategist at thinkPARALLAX