It was inevitable that a brand built on a vision of American masculinity would weigh into the #MeToo debate. Gillette’s “toxic masculinity” ad is a glossy, if preachy, effort to assert the company’s moral position on a topic that has swept like wildfire through social media and our culture at large.
Gillette’s painfully awkward moment reminds me of the infamous 2017 Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner, in which the beverage company exhorts us to “live bolder, live louder.” It was a sanctimonious shit-show from a company that peddles sugary drinks to a pathologically obese nation. But they saw their moment to look “woke” in the era of grassroots activism—and they went for broke. Boy, did they get schooled on over-reaching.
It’s important to remember that big corporations get involved with these issues to align themselves with prevailing consumer sentiments—to safeguard their brands and revenue streams. The problem is that very few—if any—brands have cultural permission to preach to us about moral rectitude. Gillette’s well-intended but hopelessly righteous ad comes across as an admonishment to all men—rather than those who misbehave. “Come on guys,” the ad seems to say, “stop being dickheads.” And that, my friends, is how they pulled “a Pepsi.” I may use a Gillette Sensor to scrape stubble off my chin, but I look elsewhere, thank you very much, for guidance on how to behave as a man.
My advice to huge brands? Lead by action and not by advertisements. Leave the preaching to those with moral legitimacy. After all, a massive market presence doesn’t equate to a pulpit—even if it looks that way in the boardroom.
For further reading on the Gillette debate, check out this excellent article from Forbes.