Let’s cut to the chase: Gillette’s controversial ad is a close shave away from becoming one of the most discussed commercials in the 21st century – for better or for worse. The razor product company recently aired a short video dubbed “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be,” which primarily targets its younger male demographic. There’s little doubt that product advertisements do have a certain degree of influence on their consumer base(s), and Gillette is no different. In short, the ad attempted to show toxic male behaviours that are considered inappropriate and unwanted in the progressive stream of our society. The trait that Gillette is trying to promote, in that respect, is for young men to adopt a more civil and respectful nature. This understanding of the ad could be attributed to the 700 000 likes on Youtube.
As it stands, the advertisement has well over one million dislikes from those who vehemently disagree with the above understanding. The company bore the brunt of this disagreement in the comment section, as well as on various social media sites, with remarks such as “I’m not buying Gillette razors anymore”, “I doubt any real man would buy Gillette…,” and “It’s OK to be a man.” While I maintain that everyone is entitled to their opinion, I will suggest that there has been a certain degree of hyperbole and over-dramatization among these remarks (which are still available on YouTube).
Some commenters believe that the ad is an attack on masculinity and traditional male values. Consider the use of the term “boys will be boys” in the ad – it is used to figuratively excuse the behaviour of the two young boys scuffling in the yard. Supposedly, men are only accountable to their hormonal nature – Gillette suggests that this is inexcusable. Another clip shows a male executive belittling a female colleague during a meeting saying, “What I think she’s trying to say is…,” which would be an example of the colloquial term ‘mansplaining’.
To consolidate a wider understanding on the effect advertisements have in a local sense (i.e., the Trent community), I reached out to a few group representatives that spoke on behalf of their members.
Brandon Remmelgas spoke on behalf of the TCSA, citing the advertisement as having a positive impact, adding that “it furthers the need to challenge the assumptions and stereotypes of masculinity and create a culture that supports men in navigating their emotions in a safe and supportive way.”
Zoe Litow-Daye, the president of the Trent World Action Council, offered her group’s collective commentary on the ad as well, noting the ad “does a wonderful job of encouraging men to break this cycle of hegemony and reflect on their own actions. It also represents a picture of healthy masculinity in the media, something we don’t always see.”
In addition, Litow-Daye offers a response to the men supposedly feeling like they are targeted: “What these men fail to see is that when they are neutral in situations of injustice, they have chosen the side of the oppressor. For example when you watch someone harass a woman you are just as bad as the perpetrator because you are allowing the bad behavior to happen.”
I also reached out to Sheldon Rooney, the president of the Trent Green Party, who said that the ad “shows and exemplifies how men already know what to do and how to respect others. It simply shows that men need to show the courage to stand up for what they believe is right.” As a final note, he added that men need to “put an end to toxic masculinity damaging women, men, and our society.”
In the case of the “boys will be boys” topic, Gillette felt that inaction would assist in perpetuating toxic cycles of abuse and violence, and therefore used their platform to make a statement. I would argue that it is ironic how the men calling for boycotts, making degrading comments towards Gillette and Procter & Gamble co., and suggesting that ‘men are turning into sissies’ are themselves acting overly sensitive. Only they are acting as such towards progressive ideas and overall notions of civility in masculinity.
At the end of the day Gillette is still just trying to sell a product. It could very well be possible that Gillette was using a marketing scheme that would stimulate attention to its brand by creating controversy.
TCSA President Remmelgas attests to this in his statement: “…we should always be critical of corporations who get involved in hot-button political issues. This issue is echoed by Bell and their #BellLetsTalk campaign and raises the question of if these companies have a genuine interest in fostering positive change, or if they are interested in sensationalizing issues as a clever marketing ploy.”
This is important to consider when looking at intersections of social justice and corporations. However, it should be noted that both #BellLetsTalk and Gillette’s ad have more than this in common — whatever the intentions of both companies, these campaigns have created an opportunity for discourse around important topics.