There is a lot of energetic discussion around the new Gillette Boys Will Be Boys TV spot, which, according to Gillette, “takes on toxic masculinity.”

More than a few men, including some famous ones, are insulted that Gillette seems to be tarring all men with the #MeToo brush. The #BoycottGillette hashtag is trending on Twitter. Negative reactions on YouTube are outpacing positive reactions by 10 to 1.

Taking Sides in the Culture Wars

So why would Gillette risk alienating men by calling out the entire gender? Let’s consider the context. Gillette’s market share has fallen from 70% to 50% since 2008 as Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s, and Schick have gained, mostly among younger consumers who are more likely to purchase online. Gillette recently cut the price of its razors by 15% in an effort to staunch the bleeding.

Is it wise, in this market and at this moment, for Gillette to wade into the social justice conversation with an ad that seems to hold all men accountable for toxic masculinity?

Recent Precedent: Nike

This kind of thing has happened before. A dominant brand loses market share and creates advertising to reset its image among younger users.

Nike made a big stir this past autumn by featuring kneeling quarterback Colin Kaepernick in new ads built around the line Dream Crazy. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” says Kaepernick.

At the time, Nike was criticized by people who saw Kaepernick as disrespecting the flag and angry at Nike for promoting him. At the same time, Nike got a lot of media attention, its market value jumped 7% in two weeks, and its share slide to Adidas and younger competitors briefly turned around. Some in the media were quick to praise Nike’s bold stance.

Nike’s story since then is not quite so rosy. Their share price has fallen 10% from its October high. It’s possible those put off by the Kaepernick ad have longer memories than those turned on by it.

Maybe It’s About Women

Beyond appealing to young, woke men, Gillette may be intentionally playing to women. Women’s products make up 13% of their business, and some women are no doubt making purchase decisions for men’s products. In the Trump era, perhaps Gillette is making a strategic play to position themselves as the brand that cares about women.

Is Gillette Living in a Bubble?

Writing from Boston, where Gillette is based, and having worked at ad agencies in New York, where Gillette’s agency Grey is from, I wonder how sensitive Gillette’s decision makers are to the concerns of people who live outside the Northeast. Of course they have smart market researchers and strategists who pay attention to the whole market. At the end of the day, would the decision to run this ad have come from people in the midwest? What do the P&G owners of Gillette, in Cincinnati, think of this?

The Power of Values-Based Messaging

From VW’s Think Small to Apple’s Think Different to Nike’s Just Do It campaigns, creating marketing messages based upon core values has been proven over and over to be at the foundation of category leadership.

Values-based messaging can be attention-getting and motivating, connecting an audience with a brand more powerfully than simple product-based marketing can do.

Inspiration vs. Condemnation

But some men think Gillette has overstepped, seeming to blame all men for the bad behavior of some. When values-based messaging turns away from inspiring your users and instead sounds like a scolding to half your audience, it may be time to rethink your relationship with your customers. 

This may be a campaign Gillette comes to regret. 

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