Did Gillette’s rant against toxic masculinity go too far?

Discussion
Source: Gillette's "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be"
Jan 21, 2019
Tom Ryan

Gillette’s “Me Too” movement-inspired ad, “Is this the best a man can get?,” has drawn wide praise in some corners and boycotts from others.

The nearly two-minute long spot shows men and boys engaging in a wide range of bad behavior, primarily sexual harassment and bullying. The ad calls on men to abandon “the same old excuses” and hold each other accountable. Towards the end, a line of men stand behind barbeque grills with wafting smoke reciting, “Boys will be boys will be boys will be boys.”

“Is this the best a man can get?” the voiceover asks. By the end, men are calling out catcallers, championing daughters and diffusing brawls.

To support the campaign, Gillette commissioned a study of 1,188 adults to define the attributes of a man “at his best.” The results emphasized “the outsized importance of ‘soft’ skills in today’s modern man — and most particularly the application of those skills to the role of fatherhood.”

Said Gary Coombe, president, Procter and Gamble Global Grooming, in a statement, “As the world’s largest marketer to men, we knew that joining the dialogue on ‘Modern Manhood’ would mean changing how we think about and portray men at every turn.”

The ad, released last Monday only online, earned widespread attention across social media. On YouTube, the ad has been viewed nearly 24 million times. By YouTube grades, the reception has so far slanted negative, displaying 1.1 million thumbs down votes verses about 650,000 thumbs-ups.

Fans of the ads call the execution a brave challenge gender norms. Many reports likened it to Nike’s lauded Colin Kapernnick campaign exploring race relations that also initially received boycotts. Foes believe the ad is demeaning to men and overly politically-correct. Some feel the message wasn’t appropriate for a maker of shavers.

“We’re not saying all guys are bad,” Damon Jones, VP, global communications and advocacy at Procter and Gamble, told Forbes. “We’re not trying to misrepresent any one individual. What we’re saying is, as a collective group, let’s have a little less bad behavior and more good.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you have more praise or criticism for Gillette’s “Is this the best a man can get?” ad? Is it fair game for brands with products for men to build messages around the #MeToo movement?

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Braintrust
"There will be those that hate and those that applaud the ad. And from a business perspective it will do what Nike’s Kapernnick ad did, bring attention to the brand."
"No matter what you say or do, some people will love you and some people won’t. I like that Gillette is reminding us all to be just a little bit better."
"The biggest victim might be the idea that social media monitoring of sentiment matters!"

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33 Comments on "Did Gillette’s rant against toxic masculinity go too far?"


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Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

I’m not getting the gripe with the ad. Gillette took a stand and the stand is positive and based on realities that I’m aware of. Nowhere does it say that all men behave badly, so for those that don’t, there should be no issue and for those that do, maybe recognition is painful. The ad is bold in that it’s a message and not a commercial. Whether a message on manhood will translate into sales or brand love will be interesting to see.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

There’s nothing offensive at all about the advertisement. It’s just calling on men (and by extension all people) to be decent and to treat others with consideration. This should be the norm.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

The ad makes a great point – there are things men should change. That said, is it Gillette’s job to change this or is it their job to sell grooming supplies? When I’m shaving, I’m thinking about the closest shave I can get, not whether I’m being politically correct. Nor am I thinking about boycotting my razor because it wants to be more politically correct. Avoid the political statement – there is lots of research showing Millennials, for example, are less interested in a brand’s political views than we used to think.

Rick Moss
Staff

I agree, Steve. We talked the other day about the need for authenticity when brands take political or social stands. Why does making razors for men make Gillette an expert on masculinity? Because they’ve used the misogynistically-tinged “The best a man can get” slogan for so long? The connection is off. I don’t need some global conglomerate consumer products brand telling me how to be a better man any more than I need Anheuser-Busch telling me how to be a better patriot. “Me Too” is a critical issue for our society and we should look to authentic voices to educate ourselves and our children, not consumer brands. Sorry.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

There are three prominent brands who have made political statements and personally, I agree with Steve … stay away from polarizing statements.

Phil Masiello
BrainTrust

Comparing this ad to the Nike ad is apples and oranges. Nike has always had a “Just Do It” message. The Colin Kaepernick ad did not take a position on any subject. Its statement was simply, do what you believe in, no matter what the cost. It is another way of saying Just Do It.

The issue with Gillette taking any position in this discussion is that it is not a message Gillette believes in or markets. They are one of the largest offenders of the “pink tax” with women’s products priced well over men. But more important, this commercial makes it clear that MOST men behave this way. Not the minority, but most men and that is insulting to not only men but its core customer.

This came across as a blatant attempt to capitalize on a movement that they clearly do not believe in or have ever associated with.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

Do you really think that using a spokesperson who kneels for the National Anthem is not taking a political stand? Do you think Vets see it that way?

Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

Quite frankly, I don’t understand why this received so much negative backlash. This is the new reality and anyone that thinks it goes too far is not being realistic. Men acting badly happens every day – and we’ve become so jaded by it that unless it is pointed out, and on more of a regular basis it will not change. We have all had our moments, but in order to have the attitudes of men and in fact, for our sons to make a real change, we must continue to push this. Is the ad saying that all men are bad? No, but I don’t think it goes too far either. Gillette decided to take a stand and a risky one at that, but over the long term, it is one that was the right thing to do.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Thank you, Gillette.

Liz Adamson
BrainTrust

We live in a very divisive society where anyone with different political or social views are labeled as the enemy. There will be those that hate and those that applaud the ad. And from a business perspective it will do what Nike’s Kapernnick ad did, bring attention to the brand.

As for what the message it communicates, it does not portray all men as bad, I found the scenes of men stepping in to stop harassment touching and hopeful, especially where young sons were looking on. As a mother I find nothing more encouraging than fathers and other men setting good examples for our children of treating others with respect. And in our current political climate we need more examples of how to “be the best a man can get.”

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

The Nike/Kaepernick ad brought to the public’s attention an issue that bothered enough people before it happened that this stand made it a focus for what has now become years. We may not agree; but the fact remains Nike made it a social issue and concern. Nike is not hurting because of it. Neither will Gillette.

Carol Spieckerman
BrainTrust

Personal care brands like Gillette walk a razor thin line (see what I did there?) as they sell products to both men and women, yet advertising is usually directed toward one or the other. The ad, and the perspective it brings forward, builds a bridge between customer bases that appeals to the majority in both. For that reason alone, it’s pretty ingenious.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
9 months 25 days ago

Personally, I applaud what Gillette has done. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that there was and still is so much backlash against Gillette’s ad and the stance it took given the current politics in the U.S. and other parts of the world. That said, more people are looking to CEOs and the private sector for leadership, according to Edelman’s Trust Barometer (reported here by Axios).

As a CEO, it’s important that we stand up for what we think is right and props to Gillette for doing so. Here’s to more companies acting as leaders not just in business, but in making the world better for all who deserve it.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

I’m not a fan of this campaign, not because I disagree with its core message, but because I think it lacks authenticity. In many places the price of a Gillette “woman’s” razor is double that of a “mans”. Isn’t it “toxic” for men to inflate the price of a product based on gender?

I’d also like to see the company publish statistics regarding pay equity, promotion criteria, representative management, etc., etc. Maybe they are there, but — if so — better to lead with an equality message first, then address what’s wrong with male culture.

There is no reason that manufacturers of “products for men” can’t enter into public discourse on issues of, “masculinity” — but even the framing of the campaign is a bit patriarchal.

Why not ask the question, “Is this the best a person can get?”

And, oh yeah, about the price of those “women’s” razors …

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Ryan – if you’re going to scrutinize every brand’s messaging in light of their actual corporate culture and conduct with an eye for contradiction/hypocrisy, I think you will be deeply, deeply disappointed.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Ken,

Sadly, I’m sure you are correct.

But not every brand opts to showcase its Achilles’ heel. By launching the ad Gillette opened itself up to full scrutiny, especially on issues of gender equality. That’s precisely why I would have made sure ALL my “I”s were dotted and “T”s were crossed before I launched this kind of campaign.

Nothing wrong with shining a light … as long as you aren’t living in the shadows.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust
  1. Gillette needed to take an approach different than highlighting the product value proposition itself because new alternatives like Dollar Shave Club are smashing them in that arena.
  2. I really like the sentiment of the ad, but was let down by the execution. There were several points in the spot where the production/acting “pulled me out” if you will — i.e. the dad frantically and awkwardly running over to pull the backyard boys apart — and the momentum leading up to the big “the boys of today … ” finish was stifled.

Overall for society, I think this ad is good as its ripples continue the dialogue of a much needed conversation. The return for Gillette on the other hand — we will see.

Bob Bell
Guest
9 months 25 days ago

Gillette took a different path in terms of roads not taken. An authentic direction and dialogue directly relating to the male audience. Respectfully, their efforts are based on research and soul-searching reality of the current social climate. Thank you Gillette.

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I don’t understand what the backlash can be? This is Gillette taking a stand that many think others should have done a long time ago. In some ways the women’s MeToo movement is forcing men to come out and say some things just are not right. Bullying and sexism among them. Maybe it’s time for all of us to stop and say “enough is enough.” We have gone well beyond the construction workers on the scaffolds whistling at women as they go by.

Joel Rubinson
BrainTrust

Did Gillette go too far? Absolutely! Let’s jump on the male bashing bandwagon and throw our core consumer under the bus. Will it affect sales? Who knows … social media is very negative to this, but so was Kaepernick and Nike, yet it didn’t seem to hurt them.

The biggest victim might be the idea that social media monitoring of sentiment matters!

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Sometimes things just leave me shaking my head. What’s wrong with a company that sells men’s products saying “let’s have a little less bad behavior and more good”? Is it because Gillette is not known for campaigns like this, because what the ad says is true in many cases and that makes us uncomfortable, or is it because we’re all hyper sensitive these days?

No matter what you say or do, some people will love you and some people won’t. I like that Gillette is reminding us all to be just a little bit better.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
I don’t like the ad because it failed in execution. There is nothing fundamentally fresh in the situations, it is cluttered without adding new conversation, and gives the classic appearance of a company over-reaching in its attempt to be “purpose driven.” That said, my wife had a different take. She noticed early that there are boys with a group of moms. And she thought it fresh that the ad raised the truth that women have a share in these issues — whether moms in the choices they make raising boys or how they treat men as adults. As someone observed to me on Twitter — their mother had tremendous impact in making them who they are. Yet my wife also disliked the clutter, the length, and the eventual boredom — all related to lacking fresh insight. I any company is going to engage such a sensitive topic, they need to nail the landing. And Gillette didn’t. It may not destroy them but they also won’t get much positive from the effort either. In the end,… Read more »
Rich Duprey
Guest
Of course the Gillette ad went too far. Although the ad itself never utters the words “toxic masculinity,” the fact that so many others, including this article’s headline, filled in the blanks with it indicates that was what was implied. Yet when does our culture actually encourage bullying, harassment, etc? It does not, and never has. In fact, it has always done the opposite. Are there bad actors in society? Sure, but what is needed in today’s culture is actually more masculinity by men, not less. Culture is actively trying to suppress any outward expression of masculinity. Consider that the American Psychological Association just deemed “traditional masculinity” as “harmful.” This sort of assault on men has made it so that fully one quarter of Millennial males responding to a YouGov poll think asking a woman out for a drink is a form of sexual harassment. Over one-third think commenting on a woman’s attractiveness is almost always harassment. Obviously there’s a time and place for everything, but in the main, men are being conditioned to be… Read more »
Rick Moss
Staff

You make some good points, Rich, but I think your argument would be stronger if we understood your definition of “masculinity.” When you say, today’s culture needs “more masculinity by men,” what kind of behavior is that, exactly? The point Gillette is trying to make (not all that successfully, IMO), is that we need a new definition of masculinity. Is compassion a core ingredient of masculinity? How important is “toughness”? Are gay men any less “masculine” than hetero men? If so, why? Is masculinity a desirable quality for women? If not, why not? Do we need masculinity at all in our culture? If so, what purpose does it serve?

I’m being rhetorical. These are questions that go to the very heart of our male-dominated culture. Answering them satisfactorily might teach us a lot about ourselves. But they certainly will not be answered quickly, and for sure not by Gillette. And maybe that’s the point. This is a hugely complicated issue. Maybe they should stick to selling razors.

Rich Duprey
Guest

Rick, to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I can’t define masculinity, but I know it when I see it, and it has nothing to do with someone’s sexual orientation. But men and women are wired much differently, which I think is just basic science. Men tend to be bigger, stronger, more muscular than women. It’s not biased to say that; it’s the way it is. As a result, and likely because men have more testosterone and other androgens, I also think that tends to make men greater risk takers and exhibit more physicality than women.

Certainly there is a component of that that has been societally imposed, but that doesn’t mean that traditional masculinity should be suppressed (nor am I suggesting that you’re saying that). Ultimately, I fully agree with your concluding thoughts that these are questions that won’t be easily or quickly answered, and Gillette would do better by sticking to what it does best: sell razors.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Just to keep the facts as straight as they can be, the APA defined, “traditional masculinity” as ” … a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”

Rich Duprey
Guest

Ryan, as if “achievement,””adventure,” and “risk” are inherently bad things.

I find their definition problematic, particularly because they believe a “standard” of masculinity is “violence.” Men may be more violent than women, but it’s absolutely nothing anyone strives for as a moral guidepost. So to conflate what it means to “be a man” with, of necessity, being violent, is wrong. Strong, stoic, etc., sure we can debate whether that’s right or needs nuance, but to classify such traits as “harmful” is a whole other level of vilification of men.

Rick Moss
Staff

We’re not that far apart on this, Rich, but I think the danger in your thinking is that such broad assumptions give men the excuse to behave badly — that since we’re “wired differently” we somehow have a right to, say, speak over a woman in a meeting because we are instinctively more aggressive and therefore make better leaders. (I know you don’t mean that, but other men I’m sure feel that way.)

I think it’s a bad practice for you or anyone to assume they “know it when they see it” because the “it” (masculinity) has been defined only through stereotypes, many of which are not constructive to moving forward on this issue. And so I would suggest the best way to broaden our views is to reject the notion of “traditional masculinity” and instead just focus on being good people.

Karen McNeely
Guest

Rich, this is where you lost me. “Yet when does our culture actually encourage bullying, harassment, etc? It does not, and never has. In fact, it has always done the opposite.” Our culture has certainly tolerated both bullying and harassment for a very long time and I think that is the point of the ad. If nearly one in five (likely a low number) of women have been sexually assaulted (note: assaulted, not harassed, so the percent harassed is considerably higher) how can you say that our society has done the opposite of condoning it? I’m not sure if they are getting more positive or negative feedback for creating this ad, but kudos to them for taking a stance for supporting basic good morals. I don’t see how that can be a bad thing.

Rich Duprey
Guest

Hi Karen. I think the fact that an offensive act occurs and whether a society encourages it or even condones it are two different things. Murder happens; society doesn’t condone it. Gillette telling men to “be better” is not supporting good morals as much as it is disparaging men, and the ad’s implication is most men.

Would you be just as supportive of a woman’s product company encouraging women not to make false rape charges? After all, it’s just supporting basic good morals. I’d be just as bothered by that ad as I am about Gillette’s because it would suggest that more women than not make such false allegations. Same here. This ad is suggesting that men need to be told not to be creepy, rapey people as if most men don’t already behave that way and that’s why it’s offensive.

ROBERT SHAW
Guest
It’s funny when people applaud “the courage and authenticity” of a topic about a cohort (men) that is the safest to call out and stereotype — in this precise moment. Gillette didn’t start this conversation. They limped in after losing lots of market share. It’s like the 2019 version of saying “Yep, I’m against crack!” If they ran a better ad 10 years ago, that would actually have been courageous. Obviously, the point itself is not a bad one — it’s just too comically scolding and broad sweeping in covering bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying, little boys fighting, workplace sexism, etc. in one big montage of bad, bad, bad men. They could serve this agenda much better if they showed the smaller moments that maybe some men don’t even “get” that they’re being boorish or dismissive. The moment where the older boss interrupts to say “I think what she’s trying to say…” is probably the most resonant in the whole sideshow. Showing men how they unintentionally set bad examples with their sons and daughters would be powerful.… Read more »
Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

I agree with the consensus opinion in this string that the ad will draw attention to the Gillette brand, both positive and negative, and that Gillette wins in the short term by stimulating this attention.

I am a bit curious if the execs at Gillette truly care about this issue or just pursued their own version of a Nike copy-cat campaign to draw attention. Some insight on brand transparency would be nice to know.

Regardless of the answer, the core message I got from the ad is an encouragement to pursue a higher level of “ourselves.” Striving to improve and raise our game in all parts of our lives is a worthy goal. What’s wrong with that?

Joel Goldstein
BrainTrust

The issue with the advertisement is that people are imprinting their views on top of it. The media in itself is not controversial, however the conversation around it is. They did an excellent job sparking the controversy and developing the discussion as it does build discussion around their brand name.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"There will be those that hate and those that applaud the ad. And from a business perspective it will do what Nike’s Kapernnick ad did, bring attention to the brand."
"No matter what you say or do, some people will love you and some people won’t. I like that Gillette is reminding us all to be just a little bit better."
"The biggest victim might be the idea that social media monitoring of sentiment matters!"

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