The Best an Ad Can Get

February 8, 2019

Gillette Ad

If you haven’t heard, Gillette, in an effort to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their “Best a Man Can Get” campaign, relaunched it as “Best a Man Can Be“. And as you guessed, outrage ensued.

Who’s Angry?

Some men felt they were being reprimanded and took to social media to express their displeasure. Others felt the ad missed the mark. I am in that camp. Of course, there are people who felt it landed well and celebrated the good guys, the men who represent positive masculinity. And let’s not forget about the people pissed off about the pink tax. I’ll get to that later.

About the Ad

In theory, when a man shaves in the morning, they have a chance to look in the mirror and reflect on who they are. This is when they have the opportunity to look at themselves as role models, fathers, husbands, sons. The ad was designed to be eye-opening and showcase men doing the right thing in a Cyberbullying, Sexual-Harassing, Un-PC World. It was meant to be an example of who men can and should be.

One of my “good guy” friends and I kicked this around. He liked the ad and responded well to it because he’s a good guy. The ad wasn’t going to change that or impact his behavior, he’s already trying to make a positive difference. He told me about teaching his teenaged son and his friends about being a good guy. In conveying his message to the young humans he was seeing to influence, he made practical comparisons and suggested they think about how they want their moms and sisters to be treated. He talked to them about how good and bad behavior could impact their lives today and in the future. He shared his own experiences and most importantly, he made in about them.

But it’s not about them, right? It’s about others. Well, since you asked…this is basic sales and marketing. It’s the WIIFM (What Is In It For Me). This is features and benefits communications taught in entry-level marketing classes. My friend, who is a professional salesman, understands this. Gillette seems to have forgotten this.

My understanding is that the ad was created by a woman. Great, I believe in women making a difference in the world (I’m one of them). Except, this particular message was directed specifically at men. Yes, of course, men have been creating marketing messages for women for years. We’ve all seen those realistic tampon commercials designed by men depicting menstruating women running carefree through fields of flowers. This along tells us that communicating a message for the opposite gender is challenging. In the case of Gillette, it appears to be right message, wrong delivery. Sure, women can do anything they want. But they can’t understand what it’s like to be a man. In this instance, they chose the wrong person to convey an important message.

A Look at The Company

Gillette is owned by Proctor & Gamble. They are a Fortune 500 company with high than average percentage (approximately 35%) of female executives and a very significant investment in developing female leaders. They sell Pampers and Tide, two products traditionally targeted towards women. Yes, dads buy diapers and do laundry, but these buying decisions are often made by women, just like the decision on what car to purchase. Having a strong female leadership team makes complete sense for so many reasons including being able to understand a large part of their target market.

So what about Gillette’s “pink tax” or the practice of charging higher prices on women’s products over mens‘? In my own informal research I found that their standard two-blade razors, Sensor 2 and Daisy are equally priced at a number of retailers. It was nearly impossible to price compare on higher end razors like Venus or Fusion, because they have different features, but in some cases I actually found Venus to be cheaper. Now, this was absolutely my own research and not a double-blind, controlled study, but I think it’s unfair to say women are being ripped off. And I have no affiliation with Gillette, I just appreciate facts. I don’t feel like this campaign is hypocritical and actually reflects their current culture. Let’s give them that and quell some of the outrage right now.

I want to also mention that the Best a Man Can Be campaign was accompanied by a $3 million dollar investment in developing men including a partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Putting their money where their mouth is. Good job.

Now let’s get back to discussing communication.

Where the Ad Went Wrong

The ad was simply not persuasive. It did not show a direct benefit to its audience for doing the right thing. It did not use relatable scenarios. It didn’t evoke emotion. It blended caricature with unrealistic scenarios in a way that appeared amateurish. It showcased bullying, #MeToo and female inequality is a way that felt disjointed and was frankly, hard to follow. There are a number of suggestions I can Monday-morning Quarterback, but there is one thing that won’t change. I’m not a man and my style in communicating to them about the essence of what masculinity is and isn’t simply doesn’t belong in my domain. I can certainly have an opinion of what it means to be a modern man, but to be able to convey a message that inspires them to change and see things differently is beyond my capability. I’m not that talented.

But you know who is? People like my good guy friend. Because he’s a dude. He gets it. He understands what it’s like to suddenly feel ashamed at being attracted to a woman in 2019 for fear of being accused of evil. He understands the hormones that drive male behavior around women and their male peers. He knows how to respect women, how to handle disputes and how to be honorable. And he knows how men and boys think from a biological standpoint (not because he’s an expert, but because he’s one of them). He knows that when he spoke to his son that he heard him and understood the consequences of actions. He doesn’t work at at ad agency, but he seems more qualified than whoever created the ad to speak to men.

Bottom Line

Do I think that corporations should take a proactive approach in shaping society for the better. Absolutely. What went wrong here was having the wrong messenger. This was a communication and message problem, not a fundamental misstep in role. Do I realize that Gillette is a for-profit brand and this was a strategy to promote themselves? Yup. But I ask you, is making money while being socially conscious a bad thing? I happen to like it.

So P&G, was this the best an ad can get? Not at all. Congratulations on trying to make a difference. I applaud you. It’s unfortunate that you missed an opportunity to make a difference and instead caused outrage. The truth is, the people who should be outraged are your executive team who paid what I can only assume is a shit ton of money for a crappy ad.