The Best a Brand Can Get: The Bottom Line of Taking a Stand
By Rachel Fox
How does a 120-year-old razor company change their narrative and compete with digitally-native brands who are gnawing away at the lion’s share of the millennial market? They take a stand — and they do it in an authentic way that speaks to the values of today’s consumers. Normally-neutral shaving titan Gillette entered the era of woke advertising with their ad, “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.”
The two-minute cinematic commercial, which first aired on YouTube before spreading to practically every other social media channel, calls for an end to toxic masculinity and the old “boys will be boys” mentality. It opens on the introspective faces of Gillette’s primary customer base, baby boomer men, and covers everything from bullying and sexual harassment, to mansplaining and the media’s role in objectifying women.
Midway through the ad, a group of teenage boys literally break through a video wall that is playing an old — and possibly sexist — Gillette commercial, a male narrator asks if this is “the best a man can get.” In questioning their 30-year-old slogan and past marketing practices of catering to a narrow interpretation of masculinity, Gillette is joining a conversation around an enormous societal shift. More than that, Gillette is redefining the type of customer they seek to attract to their products. Gillette is actively reframing the hero of their story — and encouraging its historical customer to change with the brand, or look elsewhere.
Dating back to the 1940’s, shaving brands such as Barbasol have positioned their product’s primary benefit as increased sex appeal for heterosexual men. This singular concept of masculinity has surfaced in nearly every men’s grooming ad in the decades since: Use these products and become the dashing, square-jawed leading man who wins the prize of a woman’s affection. Gillette is challenging whether these values are still relevant to their audience.
After completing an emotional reprimand on the past behavior of men and boys, the narrator in the Gillette ad changes tone, and reminds the audience that the brand “believes in the best in men.” After this tonal shift, scenes depict how men can, and in some cases, are acting in a way that exhibits a more contemporary, broader view of masculinity: shaking hands instead of fighting, fathers teaching their young daughters about their own strength, and teaching young boys how to treat each other with kindness and respect.
Gillette’s stance in this ad campaign reflects a new standard of business. It’s not enough for brands to simply provide products and services — their values need to align with their customers’. These values shape a company’s story and differentiate them from competitors. If authentic in delivery; values, mission, and story, can become a true north star for any company, big or small.
In the first three weeks since the Gillette ad’s release, it garnered more than 29 million views on YouTube alone. For perspective, Gillette’s second most-watched ad on the video platform, on the topic of manscaping, has eight million views — in nine years! And, of Gillette’s dozens of ads on YouTube, most have between just 20 and 30 thousand views. This massive social media engagement (on a single channel) begs the question: Is speaking to a new audience good for business?
Gillette’s historic business model has been to rely on drugstore retail presence, which is ideal for the customers that have embraced Gillette for decades. Although they have adapted in order to compete with cheap, subscription model competitors with Gillette on Demand, they still weren’t resonating with vital 18-34-year-olds customers. The “We Believe” campaign is Gillette’s acceptance that competing on features and benefits simply isn’t enough, and an understanding that winning new audiences means aligning with young people’s values.
According to Radhika Duggal, Head of Student Marketing at Chase, these new audiences maturing into the market want to give their money to companies who champion the causes they care about: “This means that socially conscious brands have the opportunity to capture the hearts, minds and wallets of that elusive millennial demographic by building a values-based brand: a brand that spends its marketing dollars developing programs that advance their customers’ lives as well as their communities — outside of the products and services they provide.” Millennials are the largest demographic in the United States, accounting for 80 million consumers — and the only new customers a shaving brand can acquire in the short-term.
Gillette’s shift away from traditional masculinity is part of an industry-wide transformation. Harry’s runs campaigns supporting Gay Pride Month, and proclaims their brand’s social purpose includes “challeng[ing] stereotypes around masculinity.” Dollar Shave Club publishes MEL Magazine, a website devoted to questioning the face of modern masculinity. With the “We Believe” campaign, Gillette is showing that matching the model of these upstarts isn’t enough, but that changing times require reshaping their brand narrative.
This new brand narrative goes beyond changing attitudes of their legacy customers’ sons. Gillette is also speaking to women more explicitly, and for good reason. The campaign references the #MeToo movement, catcalling, objectifying, inequality, and other negative interpretations of masculinity. Women dominate the conversations about shaving online, which is 62 percent female — 75 percent of whom are under the age of 35. Of the women engaged in the conversation about the Gillette’s ad, 51 percent expressed joy. Women make up about 30 to 40 percent of Gillette’s customer base, and that doesn’t even take into account the ones who influence the purchasing decision for the men in their lives.
In contemporary culture, consumers demand the companies and brands they use stand for something. Brands aren’t able to hide behind anonymity, and consumers recognize their brand choices communicate their own values publicly. A company must clearly define their brand story and align their cultural stances behind that, and trust their authenticity will shine through to customers.
To Gillette’s credit, they have embraced a level of transparency and leadership about their role in the conversation around masculinity, and how it connects with their brand’s values and story. They explain their stance further on Gillette’s website, saying:
“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”
As for taking their stand, Gillette has sparked some serious brand awareness. People are sharing, commenting, and writing their own reactions to the ad all over social media, a textbook example of how empowering customers as the center of brand story encourages them to add their own verse to the tale, and activates them as evangelists who see the brand story as inextricable from their own. It can be terrifying for a brand to take a stance, but when it comes from an authentic place, it’s a boon to (Gillette’s) bottom line.
Rachel Fox is an associate at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, Woden can help. Read our extensive guide on how to craft your organization’s narrative, or send us an email at email@example.com to discuss how we can help tell your story.