Hell hath no fury like a man who thinks he’s being held accountable.
At least, that appears to be what’s happening for many men in response to a now-viral new ad by Gillette. The 30-second spot (also cut as a one-minute-and-48-second short film) raises questions of accountability, toxic vs. “traditional” masculinity, corporate influence, and pandering in the “culture wars” (as referenced by the Washington Post), the impact of the #MeToo movement. Most significantly, it presents reframing of the well-known tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get.”
“Is this the best a man can get?” the ad, which was released on Sunday, asks. This pointed question is bolstered by, of course, a new and era-appropriate hashtag: #TheBestMenCanBe.
It’s a provocative new spin on the phrase the men’s grooming brand first debuted in their 1989 Super Bowl XXIII ad—though, like me, you may have thought it was even older. (I really can’t remember a time I didn’t know that jingle.) Commemorating both the slogan’s 30th anniversary and the seismically cultural shift that has taken place in the years since—and specifically, in the last year—Gillette gathers men of all ages, playing out masculinist tropes in an attempt to address, in their own words: “Bullying. The #MeToo movement. Toxic masculinity.”
I say “attempt” because while noble, Gillette’s message seems to largely be falling on deaf ears—not surprising, since that’s pretty much the way toxic masculinity and its attendant behaviors function, no? Case in point: As I write this post, Gillette’s short film has garnered over five times as many dislikes as likes on YouTube. The comments are rife with men’s rights activists and apologists, with one commenter accusing the commercial’s female director, Kim Gehrig, of being a known predator of young men without presenting any evidence to the fact. (Our online search turned up nothing to corroborate the claim.)
And unsurprisingly, Piers Morgans, perhaps one of the most proudly toxic and masculinist personalities around, joined the furor against the ad on Twitter, calling it a “global assault on masculinity.” He then doubled down on the claim on Monday’s Good Morning, Britain—and then, tripled down in this morning’s Daily Mail.
Interestingly enough, despite the outcry, Gillette is far from the first brand to broach this conversation, though the Procter and Gamble-owned brand is one of the most prominent. Men’s clothing retailer Bonobos had their own take last year, asking viewers to #EvolveTheDefinition of masculinity for themselves. Similarly, former machismo marketers Axe Body Spray shifted their focus in 2017, experimenting with a traditional masculinity-challenging spot asking “is it okay for guys to be themselves?” and encouraging men watching to “find your magic.”
In fact, Gillette isn’t even the largest brand to take this angle, albeit taking a more direct one. But how quickly we forgot Dove’s Men + Care line’s 2015 “Real Strength” campaign, which ran with the taglines, “What makes a man strong? Showing that he cares” and “Care makes a man stronger.”
And just in case you think the “assault” has only been on masculinity, let me remind you of the 2016 ad push of another P&G brand, feminine product brand Always, whose “Like a Girl” campaign could be perceived as an attack on traditional femininity—that is, if it wasn’t trying to level the playing field. Similarly, in one of its many woman-focused spots, Nike asked international viewers last year, “What are girls made of?” For that, Nike was accused of producing “feminist propaganda.”
Because, how dare we consider being more than sugar and spice?
The point? While the prominence of #MeToo and Time’s Up may compel many major brands to get on board with their mission—while providing easy scapegoats for naysayers—this tonal shift wouldn’t be possible without a broader and swiftly changing culture to support it. If you somehow find Gillette’s fairly benign ad threatening to your (obviously entitled) sense of masculinity, brace yourself, because the threat is real, and likely won’t be abating anytime soon.
Whether or not Gillette’s sales are affected by any supposed backlash remains to be seen, but for the record, the brand claims to be altruistic in their new mission and committed to this cause. For each of the next three years, they’ve vowed to donate $1 million to U.S. nonprofits “designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best’ and become role models for the next generation.” The first recipient will be the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, according to Adweek.
Gillette’s site reads, in part:
Thirty years ago, we launched our The Best A Man Can Get tagline.
Since then, it has been an aspirational statement, reflecting standards that many men strive to achieve.
But turn on the news today and it’s easy to believe that men are not at their best. Many find themselves at a crossroads, caught between the past and a new era of masculinity. While it is clear that changes are needed, where and how we can start to effect that change is less obvious for many. And when the changes needed seem so monumental, it can feel daunting to begin. So, let’s do it together.
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. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.
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.
. . .
We’ve all got work to do. And it starts today.
At the very least, Gillette has got us talking. But what’s really telling is how adverse some men are—not only to the ad, but to doing that aforementioned work. It was a fact not lost on many on social media.
Because truly, the point of Gillette’s spot could likely be summed up in their use of a seconds-long excerpt of Terry Crews’ 2018 appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the “Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights.”
“Men need to hold other men accountable,” he implores.
It’s that simple. And yet, clearly too much to ask for many who think that all masculinity must be equated to the toxic type (spoiler alert: It’s not). But the beat goes on... and so does big business. And you can trust and believe Gillette didn’t take this risk without doing their research.