Gillette #MeToo razors ad on 'toxic masculinity' gets praise – and abuse

Backlash includes call for boycott of P&G, complaining commercial ‘emasculates men’

Shaving company Gillette has been bombarded with both praise and abuse after launching an advertising campaign promoting a new kind of positive masculinity.

Engaging with the #MeToo movement, the company’s new advertising campaign plays on its 30-year tagline “The best a man can get”, replacing it with “The best men can be”.

The advertisement features news clips of reporting on the #MeToo movement, as well as images showing sexism in films, in boardrooms, and of violence between boys, with a voice over saying: “Bullying, the MeToo movement against sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, is this the best a man can get?”

The film, called We Believe: the Best Men Can Be, immediately went viral with more than 4m views on YouTube in 48 hours and generated both lavish praise and angry criticism.

“This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity,” wrote Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights legend Martin Luther King. “And it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions.”

The Emmy-award winning actor and prominent Donald Trump supporter James Woods meanwhile accused Gillette of “jumping on the ‘men are horrible’ campaign” and pledged to boycott its products.

Far-right magazine The New American attacked the advertisement’s message, saying it “reflects many false suppositions”, adding that: “Men are the wilder sex, which accounts for their dangerousness – but also their dynamism.”

But Duncan Fisher, head of policy and innovation for the Family Initiative, welcomed the company’s revolutionary shift in messaging and said it played into a new narrative about positive masculinity. “There are a lot of men who want to stand up for a different type of masculinity, but for many there has not been a way for men to express that, we just need to give them a voice,” he said. “Obviously this is an advert created by an agency to sell razors but it represents an attempt to change the dialogue.”

Others remarked that the intensity of the backlash revealed the necessity for a wider acknowledgement of the damage done to men and women by toxic masculinity.

The comments under the @Gillette toxic masculinity ad is a living document of how desperately society needs things like the Gillette toxic masculinity ad.

Seriously: if your masculinity is THAT threatened by an ad that says we should be nicer then you're doing masculinity wrong.

— Andrew P Street (@AndrewPStreet) January 15, 2019

Among the objections were that the video implied most men were sexual harassers or violent thugs, that it was “virtue-signalling” by a company that doesn’t care about the issue, and that the advertisement was emasculating.

The film’s YouTube page quickly became a cultural battleground, with negative responses outnumbering positive on the platform – which has faced criticism for not doing enough to curtail misogyny in its comments – and many commenters saying they would never buy a Gillette razor again.

I wonder how the "toxic men" who stormed the shores of Normandy to liberate the world from pure evil would feel about the moralizing of @Gillette / @ProcterGamble. The folks who do not understand why people are upset at the obnoxious virtue signalling are blind to the TOXIC

— Gad Saad (@GadSaad) January 15, 2019

The advert threw TV presenter Piers Morgan into an apoplexy, prompting him to declare a boycott of the company and dedicate a column condemning it as part of a “pathetic global assault on masculinity”.

I've used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity.
Let boys be damn boys.
Let men be damn men.

— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 14, 2019

Responding to Morgan’s angry tweets, American broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien simply tweeted: “Oh shut up Piers,” while Canadian comedian Deven Green, as her character Mrs Betty Bowers imagined Gillette’s response to Morgan’s rage, tweeting: “Piers Morgan thinking he is a spokesperson for rampant masculinity is adorable.”

The advertisement shows men intervening to stop fights between boys and calling other men out when they say sexually inappropriate things to women in the streets.

“We believe in the best in men: To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow,” the voiceover says.

PR expert Mark Borkowski called the advert part of a “fantastically well-thought through campaign”, adding that it appealed to a younger generation that were very aware of the power of advertising and marketing on society.

“It is no longer enough for brands to simply sell a product, customers are demanding that they have a purpose – that they stand for something,” he said. “Masculinity is a huge part of Gillette’s brand, and there is a recognition in this ad that the new generation is reworking that concept of masculinity, and it is no longer the cliche is once was.”

Writing in more detail about the thinking of the advert Gillette, which is owned by Procter & Gamble, said the advertisement was part of a broader initiative for the company to promote “positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.

“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture,” it wrote on its website. “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.”

Gillette has also promised to donated $1m a year for three years to non-profit organisations with programs “designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal “best” and become role models for the next generation”.

The ad was directed by Kim Gehrig of the UK-based production agency, Somesuch. Gehrig was behind the 2015 This Girl Can advertising campaign for Sport England and “Viva La Vulva”, an advertisement for Swedish feminine hygiene brand Libresse.

Some people took issue with the advertisement because it was directed by a woman. The Conservative Canadian political commentator Ezra Levant wrote: “A shaving ad written by pink-haired feminist scolds is about as effective as a tampon ad written by middle aged men … Count this 30-year customer out.”

We don’t need politics with our shave gel.

— ART TAVANA (@arttavana) January 14, 2019

But many praised the campaign, including Iceland’s foreign ministry, and the Tyler Clementi Foundation, named after a student who jumped to his death after being outed online as gay.

We believe in the best in men! #TheBestMenCanBe

— MFA Iceland 🇮🇸 (@MFAIceland) January 15, 2019

Thank you @Gillette for reminding us that there can be no going back from how far we as a society have come in confronting the issue of bullying & harassment of others. Help us share this message about the importance of being an Upstander. #TheBestMenCanBe

— Tyler Clementi Foundation (@TylerClementi) January 15, 2019

The campaign follows other campaigns by major international brands that have dealt with social and political issues. In 2018 Nike ran a campaign featuring NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who drew criticism from Donald Trump for kneeling during the national anthem to protest against racism.

Exploitative? Maybe. Brave and timely? Absolutely. Also, I cried. Well done, @Gillette. #foroursons

— Emily Andras (@emtothea) January 15, 2019


Alexandra Topping, Kate Lyons and Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

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