The lesson companies should learn from Gillette is to avoid cynically jumping on bandwagons with fake, preachy and out-of-touch content, says Andrew Teacher.

There’s that age-old adage that all publicity is good publicity. But unless your chief marketing officer is a total moron, ending up with such comments and a BBC headline bellowing “Gillette faces backlash and boycott over ‘#MeToo advert’” isn’t good for business.

No reasonable person could disagree that men need to be better people. (Along with some women and probably some children, too.) But the lather bubbling around Procter and Gamble (P&G) this past week has been less about betterment and more its cynical hijacking of the #metoo debate to flog razors when, let’s be honest, Gillette adverts were about as progressive as an issue of Nuts, the now defunct lads mag.

 

I have less of a problem with the ad lumping all men together than I do with the cynical tone of the advert and the shallowness of its content. The visual identity of Ralph Lauren models, fresh from the sailing club, makes the brand look far removed from the customer base it’s desperately trying to reach; the one being eroded by social media right now. It’s the poor execution that offends me the most and this is why everyone’s shrugging and saying, “it’s just not a very good ad”, rather than debating the far more important issues around #metoo.

Like many men whose days in skinny Levis peaked a decade ago, my bearded mug means I no longer require pricey packets of Mach 3 razors every month. But if I did shave every day. I’d use Machs. Probably. Not because I aspired to be one of Gillette’s glistening catalogue models fresh from a Diet Coke break – but because they worked pretty well.

And the problem with this new Gillette commercial is that it is similarly out of touch. But where the old “Best a man can get” ads could be laughed off as ‘just being American’ and it didn’t matter, the preachy tone of this new one – combined with the obvious opportunism at play – have really undermined the objective.

In trying to “do a Nike”, Gillette’s marketing bods have failed to grasp that with a major global brand, you cannot fake anything. Blogging about Nike’s PR gamble last September, I noted how the firm had a long track record in sponsoring a diverse array of athletes, who often had contrary views to the mainstream. Gillette has no such record.

 

The company has seen its market share sliced from 70 percent a decade ago to less than 50 percent with a rise of direct-to-consumer brands selling products via the internet or through subscriptions, which P&G has sought to replicate. While Nike – and other major brands like Adidas and McDonald’s – have maintained their values in the face of opposition, as a sector, consumer goods is under pressure. Much of the “value” is pure marketing and when you strip away the perceived “brand value” – as has been done by the likes of Dollar Shave Club and its cheap alternatives – what you’re left with is a few pricey strips of metal attached to a vibrating handle.

Shifts in global manufacturing – and the rise of an entire generation that will not have grown up watching conventional TV complete with all the household brands’ commercials we know and love – mean more insurgent brands are likely to rise. And this poses some existential challenges for the likes of P&G and Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Dettol.

If you destroy the brand or alienate your customers, people start to wonder why they’re paying £23 for 10 razor refills.

 

It’s somewhat ironic that P&G, Gillette’s owner, actually has form for doing this sort of thing well. An Ariel washing powder campaign from 2015, “Share the Load”, featuring a TV advert aimed at changing gender stereotypes around housewives, featured a granddad writing a letter to his daughter apologising on behalf of every day for “setting the wrong example”. The advert saw the company’s market share soar across the Indian subcontinent, while the commercial won awards left, right and centre. Maybe the marketing bods from Ariel should ‘shave the day’ and share a few P&G tips before Gillette’s market share gets shredded some more?

As a woman, there are elements about both Gillette and #metoo I agree with and find embarrassing, says Blackstock Consulting director Laura Gibson

I’m torn between admiration and admonition for Gillette’s use of #metoo to sell products. The firm clearly sought to hijack the viral nature of the campaign to create debate and boost its own profile. Clearly the message and values at the heart of it are things we should be talking about anyway, so does the brand’s intention matter? 

Even though it feels like it’s just the cynic in me that wants me to not like it, the answer for many people is yes, it does matter. It’s a rather shameful and clumsy marketing campaign that deviously tries to surf an emotional tide many women have swum against for years. Whether you are a vehement #metoo supporter or not, Gillette’s audacity is startling.

However, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as some of those Fusion magazine ads. Not least because I’m also torn over #metoo.

As a woman, there are elements about #metoo I agree with and elements I find embarrassing. For example, not all women feel the same way about things; we’re not a homogenous group. To assume so, would promote gender inequality even more. Some women can stand up for themselves and others cannot. I wouldn’t tolerate having someone stand over me with their hand on my shoulder telling people what I meant to say in a meeting (as per one of the scenes in Gillette’s commercial). But then again, I’m lucky to be in a position of security and seniority giving me the confidence other women may not possess. The men I’ve worked alongside during 15 years in property have, for the most part, been supportive and treated me as an equal, much to the contrary of how real estate is often perceived.

Clearly though, no female or male, should be in a board room if they cannot make their point succinctly and without causing offence. Nothing is straightforward.

There will be some women who are totally happy to get ahead by using their femininity. This could be harmless flirting to seal a sale or deal (which I’m sure most of us have done). But in some cases – as in Hollywood – it may well have amounted to sexual favours in some cases. For me, anyone following that path who may have willingly been happy to participate in sexual activity in exchange for fame and riches is no different to people who kiss and tell in the tabloids. They are not victims and, for me, are also guilty of the crimes that the #metoo movement stands against as the male perpetrators they, and indeed Gillette, are trying to cut down to size.

So, nice try Gillette – the message and values are undoubtedly honourable, we just don’t believe the intention and objectives were.