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The Real Problem with Gillette’s New Toxic Masculinity Commercial

The internet is aflame with criticisms of Gillette’s new commercial.

Here’s one you won’t read elsewhere: It’s old-fashioned. It’s retrograde, in fact.

The commercial itself is dressed up as something new. It overtly shifts the high-end blade-crazed brand’s attention from the quality of the product to the quality — or lack thereof — of the audience. It takes on “toxic masculinity” through more than a minute of fast cuts that at times are hard to follow, culminating in a glimmer of hope that men can be better and a vague promise to support related charities.

Posters, commentators, pundits and, presumably, Russian bots have complained variously that the commercial is condescending, arrogant, paints an unfairly negative portrait of modern manhood, is sloppy, has nothing to do with razors, and undeservedly appropriates the #metoo movement to cynically hawk razors.

I view it through the lens of a brand and business-building professional, and through my discipline of behavior change marketing, and what I see is just another outdated attempt to associate a commodity with an unrelated value that the audience might care about.

This is, in fact, what advertising was about for much of the late 20th century. Using “reach” and “frequency” — large media budgets — in mass media to induce a mass market to associate a commodity with a value.

Thus, Coke was refreshment. Pepsi was the choice of a new generation. They were both brown, bubbly, caffeinated sugar-water. They were commodities. The advertising is what made them different.

In razors, it worked like this. Bic and Schick were cheap and ready. And Gillette was high-quality and reassuringly expensive. The man you wish your man looked like seemed to feel really confident using them in the commercials.

That old model of associating commodities with values through advertising may still be rolling, but it started running out of gas more than a decade ago. The internet and social media made it possible for people to access the opinions and experiences of others. Review sites multiplied like rabbits.

Associating commodities with values through advertising was supplanted by a new model real innovation in the service of real purpose.

In razors, we got Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. Suddenly, high-quality, affordable and convenient could go together. Funny and relatable (Dollar Shave Club) and stylish and contemporary (Harry’s) where just icing on the cake. The cake itself was true innovation a better experience for the target audience.

It’s hard to overstate how much Gillette has been hurt by these upstarts. They lowered prices. Ended a multi-decade agency relationship and campaign. Started touting their Boston factory and it’s American workers in their commercials. But again, late to the purpose party. And where is the innovation beyond adding yet another blade “Six blades? Why not ten???!!!”

For now, Gillette owns some real estate in retail, and that’s an asset of declining value in a world in which the competition forms direct relationships with their customers (or club members).

P&G owns Gillette. P&G competitor Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club, reportedly for a billion dollars.

Many commentators smelled desperation. Now you know why.

So, in summary: Men behaving well = good. #Metoo = good. Retrograde advertising model = ineffective. Gillette = desperate.