It is a commercial that has been making headlines all over the world for the past week. Gillette’s new communication, ‘The Best Men Can Be’. It is intended to be a clarion call for men to improve themselves by standing up against bullying, sexism and harassment. The two-minute film, created by Grey New York, is a montage of clips showcasing the worst of male behaviour, while a voice-over says: “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it. It’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off. Making the same old excuses.” The new ad has been created by Patrick Conlon and Joe Mongognia, and directed by Kim Gehrig through Somesuch.
Engaging with, and in a way empathizing with, the #MeToo movement, the company’s new campaign plays on its 30-year tagline “The best a man can get”, replacing it with “The best men can be”. The ad features news clips of reporting on the #MeToo movement, as well as images showing sexism in films, in boardrooms, and of violence between boys, with a voice over saying: “Bullying, the MeToo movement against sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, is this the best a man can get?” The film, called We Believe: the Best Men Can Be, immediately went viral with more than 4 million views on YouTube in 48 hours and generated both lavish praise and angry criticism for and against the brand. By mid last week, the ad had more than 12 million views on YouTube, and #GilletteAd was trending on Twitter worldwide. Parents across Facebook shared the YouTube link in droves, many mentioning how the ad brought them to tears. It was as if the social media had gone into delirium.
The Gillette film shows clips of sexist and entitled behaviour. It puts on screen examples of men challenging their peers and exhibiting progressive values. The voiceover continues: “But something finally changed. And there will be no going back, because we, we believe in the best in men. To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.” It closes with the on-screen text: “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best. We are taking action at thebestamancanbe.org. Join us.”
The website, thebestamancanbe.org, features a mission statement containing the pledge: “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.” It also outlines plans to donate USD 1 million a year for the next three years to youth organization, Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
Bouquets and brickbats followed the release. “This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity,” wrote Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights legend Martin Luther King. “And it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions.” Objections have however been voiced that the video implies that most men are sexual harassers or violent thugs, that it was ‘virtue-signalling’ by a company that doesn’t care about the issue, and that the advertisement was ‘emasculating’.
My view is that it is no longer enough for brands to simply sell a product, customers are demanding that brands have a ‘purpose’ – that they stand for something. Masculinity is central to Gillette’s brand, and there is a recognition in this ad that the new generation of men is reworking that concept of masculinity. The ad though may have gone a bit too far by taking far too much of an anti-men stance which has obviously ruffled a lot of feathers all around.
Controversy also got fuelled because the ad was directed by Kim Gehrig of UK-based production agency, Somesuch. Gehrig was behind the 2015 This Girl Can advertising campaign for Sport England and ‘Viva La Vulva’ for Swedish feminine hygiene brand Libresse. Criticism was rabid: “A shaving ad written by a pink-haired feminist is about as effective as a tampon ad written by middle aged men…” For Gillette, the ad is a mega success, having garnered global attention, controversy and criticism notwithstanding. I am sure in 2019 we are going to see more such grand-standing by more brands.
(The writer is an advertising veteran)