As America gears up for another Super Bowl — its most testosterone-fueled holiday — shaving giant Gillette has cut deep into the ironically sensitive soul of the American Man. A full three weeks ahead of time, Gillette released an extended version of their ad to be featured during the February 3rd broadcast. Since being published on YouTube three days ago, the spot has nearly 15 million views and more than 200,000 comments. If the goal was to create buzz, Mission More Than Accomplished. Or is it?
Gillette’s “We Believe” is a seemingly earnest attempt at addressing sexual harassment, bullying, and toxic masculinity as a whole. The Proctor & Gamble company debuted it’s “A Best A Man Can Get” tagline 30 years ago (during a Super Bowl commercial, no less), and are taking the opportunity this year to examine men, the #MeToo movement, and how we can all do better as a gender. It’s a noble effort, but not surprisingly being met with an avalanche of backlash.
I’ll spare you links or examples, as they are both soul-crushing and enraging. The comments are hate-filled, misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, and unendingly whiny.
The negative reaction isn’t surprising, but is nonetheless disheartening. It’s also been more than a little educational. Amidst the (almost) impressive array of passive-aggressive insults is the frequent use of the term “My wife’s boyfriend.” This appears to be the new “cuck,” and is often paired with additional snarky descriptors.
“My wife’s non-binary genderfluid soy boy black boyfriend really liked the ad.”
Another exasperating (but again, not unexpected) trend in the reactions to the ad were how many claimed it was “racist” against white men. Viewers were tallying up how many white men were shown doing something negative versus how many black and latino men were depicted in positive, aspirational scenes. From there they extrapolated it was all just a virtue signaling act of reverse racism and sexism against men.
Personally, I thought it was beautiful that each example of real footage used in the ad was of black men saying and doing life-affirming things. I’m secure enough in my manhood and my caucasity that I can handle people of color being shown in a positive light. White folks, I think we’ll be okay.
Points for Bravery?
The few positive comments I’ve read include praise for Gillette’s bravery. While it’s certainly a new direction for the company, they’re essentially following a path recently blazed by the likes of Just for Men, Axe and Schick. Dove Men + Care has been featuring thoughtful, sensitive, affectionate men and fathers for years, and are still going strong.
While Gillette’s ad lacks the subtlety, style and humor of these others, that’s never really been their brand. I get why it pisses off so many — it’s ham-handed and preachy and has no direct (or indirect) references to their product. But I appreciate the in-your-face message of men taking responsibility for themselves and for one another. I applaud the admonishment for men to use their power and privilege to uplift and empower others less powerful or privileged.
Men of Action
If I were to have one complaint, it would be for the lack of a call to action. Gillette’s web site says they’ll be donating $1 million to various nonprofits over the next three years, but that seems rather ineffectual considering the size and audience of a market-leading brand. If P&G and Gillette want to affect real change and get real men to get involved, there should be a way for viewers and consumers to get involved. How about a list of resources for men (and women) on how to combat the problems presented in the spot? Or links to organizations that anyone can learn about and support?
While I’m offering suggestions/fantasizing, you know what would be really awesome? If Gillette’s competitors showed solidarity with the ad’s message. Imagine if Schick, Harry’s, Dove Men + Care, Axe, Old Spice, Just for Men, Rogaine and Trojan all came out in public support of this concept of respect, responsibility and action. It would send a clear message to the seeming horde of online detractors that if they’re boycotting Gillette, they’ll have to keep looking for somewhere else to spend their money.
Wouldn’t that be something? A corporate-level equivalent of and men — and men-dominated businesses — holding each other accountable.
Facing Facts, Facing the Future
Unfortunately, we’ll never know the full intentions of Gillette’s decision-makers and creative team. Were they sincere in their desire to change the company’s message/affect change? Were they jumping on a long-overdue bandwagon or trying to play catch up with brands that don’t have over a century of machismo to undo? Or were they just hoping to create pre-Super Bowl buzz, knowing full well they won’t be held accountable once the game is over? The only thing I can do is take Gillette and it’s ad at face value. I appreciate the effort. I agree with and support the message. I’d like to see more follow-through and action items. And I’ll be watching to see where they — and we — go from here.
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Further perspective from a few of my dad blogging pals:
A Call to be Better Men – ThirstyDaddy.com
Gillette’s new ad asks us to redefine ‘best’ for our boys. – Whit Honea, The Washington Post
Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” Strikes A Nerve – The Modern Father
Gillette — The Best A Man Can Get – Jim Joseph
The Power of Brands Who Pick Sides – Social Dad
Progressed a man can get – Caleb Gardner