Is this really the best a man can get? The real problem with Gillette’s ‘We Believe’ ad campaign
Unlike many of its critics, I actually watched Gillette’s new ‘We Believe’ ad before deciding it was shite. Whether it was designed as such I’m not so sure, but you can’t argue with the noisy and universal debate it’s generated.
By now, you’ve most likely heard about Gillette’s effort to capitalise on the #MeToo movement with their new brand ad titled ‘We Believe’. In it, they challenge Menkind to be the best that they can be by association with the blades that are supposedly the best a man can get.
The ad has prompted ridicule and even threats of embargo by thousands of men offended by the simplistic and even patronising way in which the ad pigeonholes our sex as a universally imbecilic, incapable of acting in a manner acceptable in the modern age. Conversely, others have praised a brand of Gillette’s stature (and by association parent company P&G) for outing the outdated behaviours of men and challenging us testicle wielding sapiens to dump our historical whimsy and find our spiritual home in the modern age.
An early critique was Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, a man whose opinion I hold in such disdain that I automatically disagreed with his flabby-jowled derision before I’d even seen it. Realising that I was at risk of doing exactly what everyone else had done by making up my mind without reviewing a shred of evidence, I watched the ad to make up my own mind.
And by god – Morgan was right – it’s catastrophically bad - but not for the knee jerk reasons every shouty Twitter critic is lambasting it for.
In the 1 minute 48 second full version, director Kim Gehrig of UK production house Somesuch takes a big bag of derogatory clichés and hurls them like errant darts in the general direction of the male razor buying public in an effort to shame us, collectively and unequivocally, into changing the bad things that we as a sex are all, every one of us, apparently guilty of.
It’s entirely irrelevant that Gehrig is a woman – she’s a proven talent with a showreel of influential, empowering and wonderful advertising that includes ‘This Girl Can’ for Sport England and ‘Viva La Vulva’ for Libresse. She’s earned her stripes in empowering advertising which is exactly why P&G hired her – to drag Gillette’s tired brand out of the 80’s and into the disruptive environment razors are sold in today.
P&G spent over $7.2 billion on marketing and advertising in 2017 with over a billion Dollars going to Gillette. This is a product vertical with an astronomical margin attached and until recently very little in the way of global competition. That said, P&G’s shareholders demand incremental returns which new product innovations such as multiple blade facias and vibrating handles only go so far in satiating. In order to stay ahead of younger upstarts like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, the Gillette brand needs to be omnipresent and, they’ve now realised, current – thus their new, brave brand direction.
The ad was viewed over nine million times on Gillette’s own You Tube channel in its first two days on air and ten times that on other news channels bleating about its toxic masculinity. If you remove any of the subjective opinion about its content and compare it to one of Gillette’s saccharine mini-soap opera efforts of yesteryear, then its nothing but an incomparable marketing success story that happens to have a contentious, even controversial effort at social justice at its heart.
My personal opinion is that it’s a trope-laden cocktail of ill-conceived and misdirected cliché, but so what? I hate most advertising and if that affected my purchasing behaviour I’d starve in a week. You don’t spend Gillette’s level of money without some considerable due diligence. They knew what fuse they were lighting and gave Ms. Gehrig the matches. She knew she was blowing up the right bridge because a million dollars in focus groups told her so. Yes, it's brave to zag when others zig - it's also brave to accept your Oscar whilst taking a dump on stage - still not a particularly good idea though...
The worst accusation I can level at the ad is that’s it’s a pretty poor piece of cliché-riddled film making with stock video from a 1998 male clothing catalogue shoot - but as a piece of noise generating advertising, it’s annoyingly brilliant. I still won’t be buying their products but only because they’re thirteen quid a pack, not because I’m irredeemably upset at their advertising.