The Real Brilliance of the Gillette Commercial and Why You Should Ignore It

The Real Brilliance of the Gillette Commercial and Why You Should Ignore It January 23, 2019

I have been hesitant to write on the viral Gillette ad for a few reasons. The first, and primary, being the sensitive nature of the content. The #metoo movement and “toxic masculinity” discussions are so thin-skinned it seems almost impossible to have a well-reasoned, thoughtful discussion.  To some extent, I understand this. Defining and appropriating sexuality in terms of gender, acceptable boundaries, and relationships is deeply personal to all involved. Notwithstanding, there are serious problems on both sides of the proverbial wall, when a position is not rooted in Scripture’s ideals.

Given the established sensitivity of the topic, I feel compelled to state clearly, concisely, and unequivocally: sexual abuse and sexual harassment is wrong and sinful. There are no excuses. If I am honest, I still do not know what “toxic masculinity” exactly means. It seems very culturally subjective. So, I will refrain from any specific commentary on this issue. Moving on.

The second reason I have been slow to comment on the commercial is that I didn’t want to throw more fuel into the social media fire. If I were more entrepreneurial, instead of writing a blog piece, I would just sell some t-shirts that say proudly “I survived the Gillette ad firestorm of 2019.” But as it is, I’ve sat on my thoughts for about a week, hoping it would die down and go away. But it hasn’t. Instead, other razor companies are now riding Gillette’s social commentary coattails, and I cannot remain silent anymore.

Earlier this week, Harry’s Razors tweeted this:

Today is International Men’s Day. Believe it or not, that’s a thing. Now more than ever, being a man demands introspection humility, and optimism. To get to a better tomorrow, we need to take a look at today, and at the misguided stereotypes that got us here in the first place

I’m pretty sure just typing that tweet out caused my IQ to fall a few points. When I first read it I almost wondered if Harry’s Razors hired comedian Jack Handey to run their social media platform. A fitting new twitter handle might be: “Cheap Thoughts by Cheap Razors”. Why cheap? Well, because the whole debacle is little more than a marketing circus. Both Gillette and Harry’s are just after your business.

I’m flabbergasted so many people are bent out of shape because some cut-rate razor companies decided to offer some hot-take social commentary. It’s ludicrous! For the life of me, why anyone would even follow a razor company on Twitter? Are you looking for coupons or something? That adds an entire new layer of absurdity to the mix. You follow Harry’s or Gillette to try and save a quarter on your next blade refill and instead you get social justice philosophy.

I want to grab everyone by the ears, look them in the eye, and remind them that they are played. This entire fiasco is a marketing ploy to make money. The people who made the Gillette commercial are paid to do a job. They aren’t a non-profit company. They sell razors. Yes, I am aware that Gillette is donating some money to causes to prevent sexual abuse, harassment, etc. But even that is done with under the banner of profit.

Proctor & Gamble, the parent company of the Gillette brand, says in their mission statement that everything they do is directed towards profit. To keep the scope of all this in perspective, Proctor and Gamble had revenues of $65 Billion last fiscal year. That number is more than the GDP of several US states! P&G is a mega company with 1 thing in mind:  mega-money. If P&G is truly concerned about helping you and your loved ones become “the best man you can be,” then they are colossal hypocrites.

Let’s consider another brand P&G owns – Old Spice. Old Spice has notoriously made commercials exploiting/promoting manhood. As an example, in 2014,  Old Spice launched an ad campaign called “Momsong” This commercial portrays moms lamenting over their sons growing up and becoming men – as indicated by their use of Old Spice body spray.

The lyrics to the song/commercial are:

Now my sweet sons sprayed into a man…. we know just who to blame. When sons have fun with women and misbehave. Old Spice sprayed a man of my son. Now he’s kissing all the women and chores aren’t done. He was just my little sweeties’ tiny fingers, hands, and feeties’. Now he’s touching, kissing, feeling all the women because Old Spice…

Kissing women instead of chores? Touching, kissing, feeling all the women? Disgusting. That is not manhood, Proctor and Gamble. As a reminder, this is the exact same company that owns Gillette and the infamous “toxic masculinity” ad. It’s absolute hypocrisy. The American public is getting duped by simple branding. The lesson? Don’t get your social ideals from companies.

However, for the point to truly stick, I think we need to dig deeper into the financials. Around 2010, P&G began losing market share to low-priced competitors such as Dollar Shave Club, Schick, and our social commentator friends at Harry’s Razors. They have been in decline for six straight years. From 2010 to 2016 they lost about 20% market share. That’s a lot. If you estimate their revenues to be about $6.5B, that means they lost an estimated $1.3 Billion in market share. This 2016 article from The Motley Fool outlines more on the decline and loss in market share.

So, what do companies do when they lose money? They use marketing techniques and campaigns to attract new buyers.

Gillette/P&G may have some employees who share the vision communicated in their new commercial. But the fact remains, everyone involved in that ad was paid to help P&G recover their lost market share, and the early indicators are that it’s working.

I believe I heard Ben Shapiro say that this past week, Gillette had something like 1.5 million mentions on twitter, up from only 10k the week before. That’s huge! With this new “be the best man you can” ad campaign, P&G is attracting new demographics. Historically, Gillette’s consumers have been men over the age of the 35. Though, 62% of the recent burst in online conversation is being facilitated by women, and 75% of them are under the age of 35.  If an objective of this campaign was to reach more female consumers, Gillette succeeded. Ethical and social commentary aside, the marketing move here was genius.

But there it is again. The underlying problem with the whole thing – the social commentary. I am worn out of companies taking stances on social commentary. Certainly, they are free to do so. But, if I watch a commercial about razors, I would like for it to tell me about, oh, I don’t know, maybe…. razors? This is my opinion, and may not be shared by other writers on this site. I know some people like it when companies take stances. Though for me, I don’t want to be told by a marketing department what to think about manhood or womanhood. In the case of Gillette, it’s truly impossible to know where the line of intention and manipulation really lies. This is why we must look to holy Scripture for such definitions and worldview assessment.  Any other source is sinking sand.

In Scripture alone will we find the objective truth needed to rightly discern what is proper manhood and womanhood. Just a few years have passed since P&G told us manhood is womanizing and neglecting responsibilities. Commercials and social commentary are subjective and will be forgotten, but the Word of God remains forever.

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  • Otto Tellick

    So… you find it appalling that mass-media appeals to promote ethical behavior can be used successfully to increase corporate profits? That’s so quaintly “moralistic.” I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where Gillette got what you seem to think they deserve: upon foisting this ad (extolling men who behave responsibly and compassionately) on a complacent public, the resulting loss of revenue put them out of business. Is that the sort of outcome you would prefer?

  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    First, regarding “The #metoo movement and ‘toxic musicality’ discussions are so thin-skinned it seems almost impossible to have a well-reasoned, thoughtful discussion”: Although I believe there is some music which can properly be termed “toxic”, I think the author means “toxic masculinity”.

    “In the case of Gillette, it’s truly impossible to know where the line of intention and manipulation really lies”: Up to this point in the article, it sounded to me as if the author is certain that Gillette’s ad, which is entitled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”, is totally insincere and nothing more than a cynical attempt to increase sales.

    “Though for me, I don’t want to be told by a marketing department what to think about manhood or womanhood”: Understandable–but what if an advertisement promoted biblical notions of manhood and womanhood? What if it did so effectively?

    “Barely 3 years have passed since P&G told us manhood is womanzing [sic] and neglecting responsibilities”: The ad “Mom’s Song” was posted in January 2014: thus five years ago. I dislike it, but recognize it as quite facetious. Obviously, the use of Old Spice spray does not make a man of anyone, and manhood is not a matter of neglecting chores and being attractive to women.

    The mission statement of Procter & Gamble does not say that “everything they do is directed towards profit”. The first thing they say about “Our Purpose” is: “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers”. Then they say: “As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders, and the communities in which we live and work to prosper”. I myself think well of businesses which practice good, honest, corporate citizenship. I also like “Doing well by doing well”, i.e. personally benefiting by doing something which is morally good. I think that “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” could be an honest attempt at such.

    • Jack Lee

      Salvatore,

      As always, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think autocorrect got me on the musicality comment. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll correct that.

      Regarding your question about an advertisement that correctly promoted biblical manhood and womanhood, this may be a matter of preference. All truth is God’s truth, as the saying goes. However, personally, I would prefer organizations (that do not have a direct tie to biblical definitions) focus on what their product or company does. Leave the worldview building to the church.

      Regarding your comment about the Old Spice ad, I respectfully disagree. The goofiness of how they are defining manhood is part of the problem. Western Civilization has a big problem is men not embracing (or even understanding) biblical manhood. This silliness promotes it. At the very least it the exact opposite message of the Gillette commercial.

      Regarding the mission statement comment, they do say those things upfront but without a profit they cease to exist. Profit and money must and do come first organizationally. Without it, they are nothing. This is the fundamental difference between a non-profit and a for-profit company. These statements and ideals are aligned to drive sales and make shareholders happy. Perhaps, I am too cynical.

      • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

        Thank you for your reply.

        Regarding “Leave the worldview building to the church”: What about a business which is owned by a Christian or a Christian family, e.g. Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A? I wouldn’t mind if such a business produced advertisements which deliberately and effectively present a biblical worldview.

        Regarding the Old Spice ad: As I said, I dislike it. I don’t consider it good. It’s entirely facetious. Just as one would have to be very foolish to believe that Old Spice spray can make a boy into a man, one would have to be very foolish to believe in Old Spice’s notions of manhood (and of motherhood, too). Thus, if it is harmful, it is not because viewers will take what it says about manhood seriously, but because they may take manhood unseriously. This ad is the opposite of the Gillette ad in that the latter is entirely serious in its promotion of notions of manhood.

        Regarding P & G and their purpose: You may be right–but, if you are, then the statement of their purpose is dishonest. I believe that there are manufacturers whose priority is to make good-quality products–ones in which it is not so that “Profit and money must and do come first organizationally”. Such manufacturers would rather close than make bad-quality products at a profit. Whether P & G is such a business, I do not know.

        Also: Note that in the article you have said “I didn’t wait to throw more fuel into the social media fire”. I think you mean “want”, not “wait”.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    If you want to believe men are superior to women, go right ahead. Nobody is stopping you, but not everyone will agree with you. Also, since this an evangelical post, i am sure me, being a female and heavily abused by christian parents, will go on ignored. that is ok, i know my own self worth, and the approval of christians is not needed nor is it well received.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    To be fair, dont be surprised if someone puts guys like you in YOUR place some day and thats not wherever you might think it is.

    • Bree-Bree,

      What is so toxic about saying “Smile, Sweetie” to a girl at a keg party?

      What is so toxic about trying to explain something at a board meeting that a
      female co-worker apparently did not adequately explain?

      What is so toxic about wanting to go and talk to an attractive woman that you
      see on the street? (I guess a hot woman walking down the street in
      short shorts with a boob-hugging top would be absolutely appalled that a
      man would notice her, right?)

      Just askin’.

  • Brianna LaPoint

    by the way, this comes off as a blog for repressed wife beaters. Nice going.