The Best the Gillette Brand Can Be?

About a decade ago, just as social media was exploding across the consciousness of major brands, I invited a well-known expert in this young field of social media marketing to speak at a conference I ran at the time.

He talked about the many brands that were racing to win “friends” on Facebook and he lasered in on one bank that was trying to do the same - at the height of the global financial crisis no less. “Why would I want a bank to be my friend?” the speaker asked with a dollop of incredulity. “I’d much prefer they focus on doing a better job of looking after my money!”

I was reminded of these words during the recent furore over Gillette’s new “We Believe” pre-Super Bowl digital advertising campaign that has polarised social media opinion over whether a humble razor brand should be taking a stand on sexism or “toxic masculinity” as it has been termed.

Gillette, of course, is the just the latest brand to “take a stand” on social and environmental issues. It’s not hard to see why. Countless studies show that the new generation of Gen Z and Millennial consumers expects brands to do just that. Given that those same brands have spent a decade trying to be friends with this social media generation it’s no surprise that consumers want them to emulate their ethical values.

So you can see why Gillette sees the urgency and opportunity to align its brand with the #MeToo movement and the larger fight for gender equality. Certainly the ad was a bold statement. So far it has received more than 25 million views on YouTube and has stirred up debate over the issue of toxic male behaviour towards women. But by being so bold Gillette will need to deliver more than just a provocative ad campaign if it is to win the trust of like-minded consumers. It will have to show that its commitment to inspriing a new generation of men to respect women is fully embedded in the brand. 

So far, Gillette is taking baby steps by committing $1 million a year over the next three years to charities that combat sexism. Parent company, P&G, also has joined the Unstereotype Alliance, which aims to fight stereotyping in advertising. However, $1 million a year feels like small change for a brand that has made such a big statement. 

If Gillette really wants to win respect through its laudable stand on sexism then it need look no further than its sister brand, Always and its Like a Girl campaign to tackle young female self-esteem issues. As we document in our Trust in Marketing learning and development work, the reason Like a Girl was so successful was because the brand had been investing in and running young female health and wellness education programs for decades in Africa. Most people who saw the original Like a Girl ad would have had no idea about Always' CSR work but, when challenged about what it stood for, Always could demonstrate its commitment and authenticity.

Admittedly it's too early to judge Gillette's own authenticity on fighting sexism. Indeed, it should be celebrated for attempting to shift the conversation and influence a new generation of more inclusive behaviour. That said, having set the bar so high in terms of a brand promise, Gillette will need to keep showing, not telling, how it is acting authentically on this issue. By doing so Gillette (along with all the other brands that are starting to take a stand) can drive real change and cement the trust of its social media “friends”.

- Matthew Yeomans, Editor

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