It’s tough to remain completely unmoved by the intriguing new ad by Gillette, beseeching men to do better and be better. In the roughly 100 seconds of its screen time, the ad touches on sticky, polarising subjects like the #MeToo movement; the epidemic of mansplaining that all women, everywhere, have to grit their teeth and endure; cyberbullying, hazing, catcalling; the sexual objectification of women in pop culture; and the vapid ‘boys will be boys’ excuse that is bandied about to absolve men of all guilt and every transgression — minor or life-destroying. The politics of gender has always been a sensitive topic, now more than ever, given how men around the world are sweating bullets over the rapidly changing rules of what constitutes acceptable behaviour, while sulking about why they no longer have a carte blanche to treat women like dirt.
So naturally, when a brand attempts to engage with its audience with the help of a powerful social message during such a bewildering time for men, it is bound to incense them and stir up trouble for everyone involved. Boys will be boys, after all, and have a meltdown of epic proportions at the merest suggestion that there might be an actual need to rethink and reexamine their behaviour and beliefs. This troop of touchy men will be led by Piers Morgan of course, the man who has turned sulking and whatabouttery into an art form, while manically chanting "Not All Men" as he jams pins into the voodoo dolls of all the “radical feminists” he hates on Twitter.
Snide digs and violent eye-rolling at the ridiculously over-the-top reaction of men who are calling for a Gillette boycott for hurting their feelings (ironically proving Gillette’s point) notwithstanding, the ad is a great example of clever, well-timed rebranding, and powerful story-telling. Within hours of its release, the video went viral, firmly inserting Gillette into news cycles, heated internet debates, and conversations on social media. It’s the kind of PR that money cannot buy. It polarised public opinion enough for people to organically huddle into two groups: those that love the ad and will now happily part with their money to buy Gillette’s overpriced razors because buying brands that echo our values makes us feel better about our otherwise mostly passive activism; and those that have been so riled up by the message that they’ve sworn off the brand.
But let’s not pretend, even for one minute, that stripped of its lofty ideals it is still an ad, as in an audio-video production created for the primary purpose of coaxing people to buy more.
And this is why we need to pause and distill our thoughts before jumping on to either bandwagon. Because when brands find ways to monetise social causes, they are also monetising injustices, and it’s worth our while as consumers of said brands to at least try to understand what is it that we’re actually throwing our money at. Which is why, no matter how much one might like the Gillette ad conceptually, it should also make us suspicious.
For starters, Gillette is a brand that has built its fortune perpetuating the traditional-bordering-on-regressive ideas of masculinity it is now so enthusiastically trying to make us believe it wants to dismantle. No matter how much of a long leash you want to give to brands who have suddenly whipped up a social conscience, it is galling when a brand that was central to the problem it now wants to address suddenly pivots, as if violent virtue signalling can erase its dubious track record. The message might be great, and the increasingly urgent music might arouse emotion in the most cynical of hearts, but the bald truth remains that unless Gillette acknowledges the part it played in strengthening the hold of toxic masculinity in society through its advertising, the ad will remain more about yet another brand hijacking a cause for profit, and less about actual growth or change in the values that drive the brand.
Gillette has tried to explain its sudden feminist position on TheBestaManCanBe.org, with, “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” But that’s a half acknowledgement. A more honest one would go something like this, “Brands, like ours, have influenced culture in the past, and that influence has often been shitty. We’re sorry, we’ll do better.” Hey, if they’re going to make their next billion off the unpaid labour of (mostly) women who did the complicated, messy, exhausting work of making a cause mainstream enough for a brand to spend ad dollars on it, the least they can do is say sorry.
And then there is the elephant in the room: inspiring ads are all well and good, but what is Gillette going to do about its long, documented history of exploiting women (simply because everyone else was doing it, so why not?). Gillette’s feel-good ad doesn’t feel good at all when seen alongside its glorious tradition of gendered pricing. Does Gillette get to call itself a feminist ally while peddling the very product it shamelessly charges women more for just because it can? I think not.
It’s always a good thing when social causes gain so much momentum that even traditional brands are forced to either find a way to participate in the conversation or become obsolete and fade away. We can all agree that a brand’s deep pockets are much better utilised in teaching men decency instead of how to become a chick magnet. God knows that with all the years of crappy messaging, brands like Gillette almost owe it to society to undo some of the damage they’ve done. A sincere apology is a good place to start, even though the advertising dollars are always welcome.
Updated Date: Jan 19, 2019 15:55:07 IST