Gillette's ad on toxic masculinity: A social and marketing disaster

I've been involved in marketing for decades: in copywriting and sales, plus audio-visual, television, and radio production, along with more than 20 years of researching, studying, and teaching as a marketing professor.  I've reviewed advertising going back a century or more.

I have never – never! – seen a more socially and commercially destructive advertisement than the new Gillette "We believe: The best men can be" video.  My posted comment on Gillette's You Tube site: "What are you people thinking?"

From a social standpoint, the ad deals in hyped stereotypes: every man a smoke-eating barbeque dude, along with the implication of every man putting down, leering at, and wolf-whistling women.  Speaking of stereotypes, there is some positive behavior portrayed, but only among men of color.  All the real bad guys, you see, are white. 

The social message of the ad is clear: clean up your act, men.  All of you (in your #MeToo glory) are bad, destructive, and degenerate because...because, well, because you are male.

True, one can watch the ad and, from the standpoint of behavior, say the ad promotes good things among men.  But against the backdrop of strident feminism, the mocking and marginalizing of men in media, academia, and government, the subtext is clear: you guys are just rotten; listen to us, and we'll show you what to do.

From a commercial standpoint, the rationale of the ad – such as it is – is insane.  Men are the biggest purchaser of razors, and Gillette, which has had its share of competitive problems lately, has gone out of its way to insult its primary customers.  Unlike the thrust of some other ads, the customers or prospects are being insulted not because they might have scraggly beards, have sloppy shaves, or are using a different product.  The foundation of the ad is that the target audience is insulted just for being.   

Marketers make mistakes.  Coca-Cola made a bad decision in the 1980s regarding its flagship product, thinking consumers wanted a taste closer to Pepsi's.  The resulting backlash caused Coke to reverse its course.  However, unlike Gillette, Coca-Cola never insulted its customers; it just erred about consumer preference regarding the taste of its iconic product.

The response against the Gillette ad has been loud and the company is defending the ad as being a conversation we all must have.  Or something.

It's difficult to see how Gillette's parent, Procter & Gamble, a long established powerhouse in marketing, allowed such an ad to escape into public scrutiny.  To score politically correct brownie points?  Perhaps.  Because they believe that this is how "everybody" thinks?  Hard to swallow, but again, perhaps.

To sell razor blades to men?  With growing talks of boycotts against Gillette and P&G, that's not likely...unless, in recognizing growing suicide rates among the hated males, Gillette is hoping to provide them with more products for slitting their wrists.

A retired business professor, Mike Landry is a freelance writer in Northwest Arkansas.  He can be reached at

Image: Tools of Men via Flickr.