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Gillette advert sparks a big online debate on ‘toxic masculinity’

PUBLISHED: 11:33 16 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:48 16 January 2019

The new Gillette advert sparking the debate on 'toxic masculinity'  Picture: GILLETTE

The new Gillette advert sparking the debate on 'toxic masculinity' Picture: GILLETTE

A new advert by Gillette aiming to challenge ideas about how men in today’s world should act has stirred up a fierce debate on social media, and racked up more than 10 million views on Youtube in the process.

But what do Suffolk’s own PR gurus make of Gillette’s controversial marketing methods?

The advert features images of a boy being bullied, a corporate businessman being condescending to a female colleague and a TV show in which a man grabs a woman’s behind, and poses the question - ‘is this the best a man can get?’

So far, more than twice the number of viewers have disliked (579,000) the ad compared to those who have given it the thumbs up (218,000). Among other celebrities, Piers Morgan waded into the debate to describe it as “absurd, virtue-signalling PC guff.”

The advert is the latest in a spate of PR campaigns that have been overtly political in order to generate debate.

Last week, HSBC was criticised for an advert some people said was anti-Brexit, which claimed that “the UK is not an island”.

MORE: Would you dare to go cash free? These Suffolk businesses have made the change

Penny Arbuthnot, director at Genesis PR, a PR agency based in Ipswich, said she thinks the ad campaign has proved “very divisive”. “Many consumers have backed the advert’s narrative while others are more cynical, taking offense of the generalisations and assumptions being made,” she said. “Brands take a risk with this type of advert, which has the potential to alienate their own customers and put the brand itself under scrutiny.

“On the other hand, it’s no surprise that brands are seizing the moment to wade in on topical issues and position themselves as leaders of change. If more brands back controversial topics, like Iceland and their recent advert highlighting the impact of palm oil use, it brings these issues into the spotlight.”

Penny Arbuthnot, Genesis PRPenny Arbuthnot, Genesis PR

Tom Harvey, Account Manager, Pier PR & Marketing, based in Felixstowe, claims that marketing campaigns that take aim at social and political issues are becoming increasingly prevalent as companies look to make themselves stand out from their competitors. “From Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign through to the banned Iceland advert focussing on the palm oil debate, brands are becoming more fearless in their pursuit of challenging consumers and heightening awareness,” he said.

“What can make these campaigns successful is that the debate they create can roll on in the media for quite some time, giving a brand free and consistent publicity to a far reaching audience, whilst debate on social media can increase this further.

“However, this tactic is not without risks, and the potential backlash businesses can receive from both the public and media means firms need to think carefully about how these campaigns are implemented. Gillette’s recent ad has already seen calls from certain sections of the public to boycott the company’s products, so taking this approach can be a fine line to tread.

“From a male perspective, I personally am very much behind Gillette’s campaign to promote positive masculinity. We live in a society where men feel pressured to conform to certain norms and stereotypes that they are brought up with and anything that challenges these traditional narratives, making us question how we act and project ourselves, can only be a good thing.”

Stephen Curzon, director of Curzon Marketing, in Woodbridge, said he thought the as was “a brave move”, “designed to reset the brand for today’s world”. “In that sense it is doing it’s job, putting the brand in the debate, whether you like the way they have done it or not,” he said, but added that he felt the film would have been stronger if it had delivered the message in it’s own right without leaning on the media canvas it portrayed and overt reference to #metoo. “However, Gillette advertising still needs to deliver commercial results, otherwise how else can the brand afford to continue to participate in the global debate through advertising?

Mr Curzon added that he doesn’t believe Gillette’s owners, Proctor & Gamble, will sell more shaving products as a result of the ad.

“I see this as just a first step in making the brand more aspirational for today (“The best a man can be”) rather than relying only on making the product more desirable (“The best a man can get”). So I expect a return to ads featuring razors soon!”

Helen Rudd, managing director of Prominent PR, in Felixstowe, said the ad was a “prime example of the shift in the use of advertising and PR for brands”. “We’ve seen it with John Lewis and Iceland - brands are more and more tapping into people’s emotions rather than selling us a product.

“There is so much more competition in the male grooming industry and Gillette has realised it has to identify with a big movement in order to reach out to their new target audience of younger men.

“Adverts for women have always been this way - telling us we need to dye our hair, wear make or better clothes but it’s never been the way in the male industry, we’re seeing a complete shift in how we target men. Some men have seen it as being completely not aspirational to men and giving masculinity a knock. At a time when we’re seeing more male suicides, and the #metoo movement, it might have been better for Gillette to do something that raises the aspirations of men, rather than putting them down.”

What do you think of the advert? Let us know jessica.hill@archant.co.uk


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