In any industry, we strive to be the best, get the best feedback, attention and praise and hopefully some pretty money too. Brands want their corporate activity to reflect into being featured in the best PR campaigns lists for that year, that’s what they aim for: having the most impact because who doesn’t want global visibility and a pretty annual report?
Should brands take a stand for social issues? The answer, in my opinion, lies in the execution of their campaigns and advertisements. Not all ads are made equal, not all ads become viral sensations. Just like not all brands out there can hire a top advertising agency. Still, if one has the budget to, say Nike and Gillette, it doesn’t mean you are protected from public backlash.
The Gillette ‘We Believe’ ad was created by New York based ad agency GREY, who were founded in 1917, the same agency who made Carlsberg’s ‘Adopt a Keg’. But going back to 2019 when Gillette’s ad aired, it had both public’s love combined with tears and backlash. Reactions came from tv and film personalities like Jessica Chastain, who lauded the ad for ‘’this reminder of the beauty of men’’ on Twitter, whilst other users tweeted that the ad brought tears in their eyes, and called the ad fantastic.
The ad, at the time when NPR wrote their article, had amassed over 14m views, now (in 2021 when this blog was in its writing process) has over 37m views. Gillette and Grey thought they nailed it. They researched widely prior to getting the ad done; they had an amazing concept/idea calling out toxic masculinity and behaviors but it fell short with a lot of us. Why?
After watching the ad several times, came to the conclusion that the backlash is largely due to the poor execution of the ad and Alan Abitbol (who is a Comms Assistant Professor at University of Dayton) had the same point of view, adding his own primary research into the matter, quoted by Inc., stated: ’’The problem, in short, is that razors never make an appearance. Viewers might be questioning the company’s motives because the ad doesn’t directly tie the cause to what the brand is known for: shaving and grooming. In a study I conducted about how consumers perceive messages of female empowerment, showcasing the product–and tying the product to the message–seemed to resonate best”, yet Wired argued that most of the ad reactions were mostly positive as a lot of ‘’media and ad experts(..) agreed the commercial was clever and as emotionally moving as an ad can really ever hope to be’’.
Yes, brands should take a stand for social issues, but it is more important to choose an issue relevant to the brand and to mesh the issue into solutions, otherwise what point are they going to make? Ads should be made to help change public’s perceptions on a particular issue and offer solutions to truly have a long-lasting effect. Like Alan pointed out, a product tied-in with the social issue would have been better suited for the brand.
I want to think that sustainability is on Gillette’s board as an urgent matter because users threw their razors in the toilet to protest their ad, we can agree that these aren’t flushable items, some other users threw their razors in the trash. Safety razors have plastic components and a plastic packaging which need to be redone in a more sustainable way.
Dreyfuss, E., 2019. Gillette’s Ad Proves the Definition of a Good Man Has Changed. Wired. Viewed [11/2/2021]. Available from: https://www.wired.com/story/gillette-we-believe-ad-men-backlash/
Smith, T., 2019. Backlash Erupts After Gillette Launches A New #MeToo-Inspired Ad Campaign. NPR.org. Viewed [11/2/2021]. Available from: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/17/685976624/backlash-erupts-after-gillette-launches-a-new-metoo-inspired-ad-campaign?t=1635850768268
Stillman, J., 2019. Yes, Consumers Want Brands to Take a Stand, but That Gillette Ad Got the Execution Wrong. Inc.com. Viewed [11/2/2021]. Available from: https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/yes-consumers-want-brands-to-take-a-stand-but-that-gillette-ad-got-execution-wrong.html