Our take on the Gillette ad and why some people are finding it so hard to come to terms with.
It can seem to some that it’s not a new advertising campaign if it doesn’t come with some degree of controversy or something for Piers Morgan to rail against. Three weeks into 2019 and we’ve already had to cope with Twitter in seeming ‘meltdown’ over vegan sausage rolls, which then caused another meltdown because they are rumoured to contain palm oil, and we’d all just realised how hateful that substance was thanks to the pre-Christmas meltdown created by Iceland and their supposedly banned Greenpeace ad. In fact, it’s starting to look like ‘create a social media meltdown’ is becoming a foundational component in the modern ad agencies brief and pitch response.
So, what is so peculiar about Gillette’s ad? Why this one in particular and what pitfalls should brands avoid?
The first thing to say about Gillette’s ad is that, in a certain respect, it’s not aimed at us. And when I say ‘us’ I mean the non-US audience. While of course we have to accept that a campaign like this contains a global component, you will find no link or mention of this campaign on anything other than the US Gillette presence. This is a campaign aimed squarely at liberal, democrat American audiences and therefore, it’s understandable that it can jar somewhat with viewers from other territories.
The next thing that I would say is that this is not an ad aimed at men. It’s an ad that’s aimed at least in part, at women. In fact, Gillette have been targeting women in their ads for quite some time. Take this recent UK example from them that aired in late 2018.
Pay particular attention to Jeff’s opening. “When guys shave, this is what they do to try and get every hair”. Guys know how they shave and what they do to get every hair and it’s not exactly a closely guarded secret. That ad’s opening is written for a man’s female partner. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that their own data is showing how influential women are in razor purchases and that actually more women buy Gillette products than men.
This ad is part of a strategic change and it’s something that Gillette feel that they have to do. Something that is neatly summed up by Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette’s Brand Director, who said “We are taking a realistic look at what’s happening today and aiming to inspire change by acknowledging that the saying ‘boys will be boys’ is not an excuse. We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard and hope all the men we serve will come along on that journey to our ‘best’ together”. That seems laudable, but there’s a corporate driver there also. The men’s grooming market is a far more complex beast than it was 10 years ago, and it wasn’t a beast at all 25 years ago. While in the past Gillette had only Wilkinson Sword to compete with, now they have Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club and more to battle alongside. Their market share has dropped from around 75% to nearer 50% and they’ve failed to convince customers that while their product is the best, it’s worth the pricing premium. 2017 saw them reduce prices significantly to try and keep hold of their share of the market.
Tom Morton’s series of tweets on the market and Gillette’s place therein were very revealing. Some of the gems that I took from his analysis of the situation were that 48% of Gen Z are minorities and 34% identify as less than completely straight. 20% of men experience depression in any year. Suicide is the second biggest cause of death for young men. Traditional displays of masculinity are going to be less relevant to new razor buyers.
And when you top that, beards are now the stylish man’s choice, when it comes to facial management and display.
If Gillette can’t win the price war and the step up in product quality doesn’t matter to the customers entering the market, Gillette’s only available route was value and becoming a brand of substance in a market full of purpose-led competitors. With all of that in mind, this was a natural shift in direction – so why doesn’t it appear to have gone how they expected?
Firstly, let’s talk legacy. Being blunt about it, a lot of what Gillette have pushed in the past followed the tried and tested path of ‘here’s a pretty girl, use our product and she’ll totally fancy you’ and it’s not hard to argue that this type of advertising has contributed to the problems that they’re trying to address. A 180o change of tone is likely to be met with lots of people saying ‘hang on a minute’ but I think that it’s the ad’s tone that really lets it down.
It’s often hard for a brand to step into an issue, especially when you’re viewed as part of the problem in the first place. There’s bravery from Gillette to put significant budget into this. Their choice of director in Kim Gehrig could be seen as bold, but there’s no doubting that Gillette knew exactly who they were hiring, her body of work and the outcome they were likely to get.
What we get, sadly, is something preachy and which makes a massive percentage of the audience feel alienated and attacked. As I write, the YouTube video has reached over 16m views and is running a 2:1 dislikes vs likes on the channel. Love seems to be building for the piece – it started at about 10:1 against when it was first published.
Nike’s ads with Colin Kaepernick show how love for a campaign can grow even in the face of initial negativity – no one was burning their shoes in week 3 of that campaign and the sales figures speak for themselves.
Similarly, Lynx (or Axe if you’re not in the UK) have achieved a similar 180 without the soapbox preaching of Gillette. Gone are (barely) bikini clad stampedes of man hungry zombie women overcome by the Lynx effect. ‘Spray More, Get More’ has been tossed into the trash in favour of a tone that is far more modern and supportive of the new masculinity.
Overall, Gillette’s new ad has to be looked at in context. It’s aimed at American leftwing democrats and their female partners, and when we look at social responses, it’s clearly loved by the people it’s aimed at. As one member of my social network said, their hearts are in the right place, it’s just a shame that they ended up with their foot in their mouth.