Its latest advertisement calling out toxic masculinity has set social media frothing like an enthusiastically poured lager on down-down night, with frat boys James Woods and Piers Morgan chanting encouragement on Twitter.
Has Gillette done the marketing equivalent of arriving at the rugby club braai with some veggie patties and non-alcoholic beer and fêted its long-standing line, ‘The best a man can get’, to ridicule and wedgies?
Or has it done something very brave?
Being sort of marketing people, or at least the people who get asked to help clear up the mess when the ‘real’ marketers get it wrong, we had a chat about it in the office.
Time for a disclaimer: None of us have ever worked for Gillette or its parent P&G, so we have no idea who its target audiences are or what its brand strategy is. So, we’ve made some assumptions. We suppose that’s OK because so have plenty of the people on social media calling for a boycott of Gillette products.
We didn’t come up with definitive answers – how can you when you’re making assumptions? Instead we arrived at three questions: Does Gillette understand its audiences? Is social media a reasonable reflection of customer sentiment? Will Gillette blink?
If the answer to the first question is that Gillette’s traditional market is shrinking, and it is trying to attract more millennials and women, then this may be an effective campaign.
Of course, the other edge to this sword is that, if you believe social media, 621 000 of its existing customers (at last count) will look like Gandalf by next Christmas.
Gillette may hope that positive brand sentiment amongst new audiences may more than offset the few customers who actually do more than rant on social media and buy a Schick.
The trick will be to convert these new audiences into customers. To do that the advertising needs to be supplemented with promotions, activations and public relations.
The other answer to this question may be that Gillette doesn’t know and understand its audiences. If this is true then, not only is the campaign a disaster, but it may also result in a backlash from #metoo supporters who could see it as a cynical attempt to hijack a social movement for commercial gain.
The social media question boils down to how seriously marketers should take social media sentiment. We know that people like to shout on social media and if they’re loud enough it generates echoes.
Sure, there are more dislikes than likes on YouTube, but depressingly we’re more conditioned to complain than praise, something that the anonymity of social media amplifies.
What Gillette needs to gauge is whether all the shouting on social media really is representative of universal sentiment and to what extent it negatively impacts its brand. Who would want James Woods and Piers Morgan as brand ambassadors anyway? (Actually, don’t answer that.)
There’s also the value of the outrage dividend to consider. How many Gillette ads in the past decade do you recall?
It also needs to consider what President Nixon, unfortunately, called the silent majority – people who like the ad and abhor the behaviour it eschews, but choose not to take to social media to say so.
The question about whether Gillette will blink is crucial. When Nike used #TakeAKnee protester Colin Kaepernick in an ad, conservatives began burning their Nikes and posting the images and videos on social media. The company responded by posting an instructional video on the best (and safest) way to burn your takkies. (Yes, someone did try to burn his while wearing them.) Essentially it was saying: “You may wear our product, but you don’t represent our values. If you feel that strongly about it feel free to burn your Nikes – but don’t be an idiot when you do it.” It called them out.
It was brave and unequivocal and recognised that brand strategy isn’t about here and now but must constantly evolve to appeal to new markets.
All the research we’ve read says millennials care about values, principles and doing the right thing and are far more likely to be attracted to a brand that actively disassociates itself from populism, racism and misogyny.
The success or failure of Gillette’s campaign against toxic masculinity depends on what it does next.
Stephen is a director of Meropa Communications.