Why Gillette’s Commercial About Toxic Masculinity Is More Confusing Than Inspiring

Adolescent boys taking in racy imagery of women in the new Gillette campaign. Gillette / YouTube

Gillette’s new promotional campaign taking on toxic masculinity was evidently designed to tug at the heartstrings of millions of, uh, shavers, but it’s notable that before now, the brand has never really thought it necessary to wade into the political landscape. Its sudden, rather jarring pivot in strategy did not go unnoticed by consumers—the video currently has 479,000 dislikes and 158,000 likes on YouTube—or public relations experts, some of whom felt that the video was a misstep.

“Men everywhere are already working to re-write the rules on what it looks like to be ‘the best,’ and how a culture can come together to make it happen,” Gillette said in a statement emailed to Observer. “As a brand that has been serving men for over a century, we wanted to be a part of this change through our advertising and by taking action…Through this campaign we will be working to inspire more respect & inclusion, accountability and positive role modeling.”

When a popular brand makes the decision to make broad assessments about the public state of the union, the message is generally more effective if the company has a proven track record of wading into political messaging. When advertising executive Bill Backer wrote the legendary “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” ad, his objective was to cast the product as a uniting force; “to see Coke not as it was originally designed to be—a liquid refresher—but as a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that would help to keep them company for a few minutes,” Backer wrote.

Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” campaign isn’t totally without precedent for the brand in terms of asserting a firm stance—in the 1950’s, Gillette broke with the norm at the time when the brand featured Willie Mays in television commercials—but tonally the new video is tangibly somewhat off, even though the central ideas it’s promoting are both worthwhile and necessary.

The advertisement (because at its core, of course this is what the video is) features a montage of stereotypically male behaviors exhibited by Gillette’s idea of stereotypical men: guys grilling meat, guys fighting, guys watching footage of scantily clad women. As the commercial progresses, certain men begin to step in to correct these behaviors. One guy steps in to tell another guy it’s not cool to harass women on the street; a father intervenes to stop two boys from tussling; you get the idea. It’s pat, sweet and overall rather innocuous, so of course Fox News had a field day tearing it to pieces.

Ronn Torossian, the founder of 5W Public Relations and a longtime crisis management veteran, told Observer on Tuesday that he didn’t think the Gillette video had hit its marks, and that other brands had done a much better job at making campaigns with coherent, socially conscious messaging.

“The whole thing just didn’t make sense to me. I feel like it went all over the place, like they were trying too hard to make a statement,” Torossian said. “Whether or not you like the Colin Kaepernick ad, it stood for something. You understood what it was about.”

The sheer novelty of watching people acting demonstrably threatened by a treacly shaving company advertisement non-withstanding, Torossian makes a salient point about the famous Kaepernick commercial.

Kaepernick, the star quarterback and activist who was blacklisted by the NFL at the height of his career for the apparently unpardonable sin of taking a knee during the National Anthem in order to protest police brutality, appeared in a Nike ad that appeared to be in keeping with his own personal convictions: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” Kaepernick intoned for the cameras.

Ultimately, Gillette may have overshot its mark on this one and landed with something like a Lifetime movie that you’d want to turn off, but at least the brand appeared to want to begin to interrogate the masculine power structures that have dominated our lives for innumerable centuries. That’s more than can be said for Carl’s Jr., which has more or less stuck to its tried and true formula of running Super Bowl ads that feature hot women taking huge bites of hamburgers.

Why Gillette’s Commercial About Toxic Masculinity Is More Confusing Than Inspiring