‘Culture doesn’t wait for your brand to catch up’: Grey Group’s Jason Kahner on that Gillette ad

Jason Kahner, Grey Group global president of health and wellness, has spoken out about the brand’s controversial ‘Best a man can be’ campaign, which attempted to tackle toxic masculinity, and turned its traditional ‘Best a man can get’ positioning on its head.

Kahner said the #MeToo movement highlighted the fact that men around the world weren’t, in fact, being the best they could be. Gillette saw this as an opportunity to communicate its purpose to the standard men should set for the next generation.

“Last year, it was hard to argue that men were acting at their finest. Women had rightfully brought to the attention of the #MeToo movement to the scene, at a time where men were actually being quite silent. And interestingly, this coincided with the 30th anniversary of Gillette’s tagline, the iconic tagline, ‘The best a man can get’, and you can argue that this really wasn’t at this point in time,” Kahner said.

“This piece, that everyone has now seen, was designed to instil a sense of empowerment. To instil a positive message out there, one of inspiration and aspiration for men everywhere… This brand is about ‘grooming the next generation of men’. So this is about getting men to do the right thing.”

Cultural moments, he said, will pass brands by if they’re not ready to act.

“Culture doesn’t wait for your brand to catch up. You know when you have a brand like Gillette that literally has already established its purpose of ‘grooming the next generation of men’, and you have a cultural opportunity that this provided, it was time to pounce. And it wasn’t doing it gratuitously. It earned its right to have this type of conversation,” Kahner said.

Kahner speaking at Mumbrella’s Health Marketing Summit about building brand purpose

A common mistake that many brands make when looking to establish purpose is not fully committing to the cause, he said.

“Consumers are too savvy now. They’re going to smell a fake, and you were going to do a lot more damage to your brand if you put a message out there that you, as a company, do not live by, and cannot abide by, and cannot support,” Kahner said.

Therefore, Kahner said, it is the creative agency’s and the marketers’ responsibility to have honest conversations about the role the company really wants its brand purpose to play.

“That’s a point in time where you need to ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ You know, if I want to go forth with a big brand purpose thing, why do I think I need to do ‘X’? And, if you’re choosing something that is so far away from what you believe you should either rethink what you believe or just abandon doing it,” he explained.

Brands can also fall short when companies expect instant results from the first steps made towards brand purpose, whereas, Kahner said “the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.”

The problem, Kahner believes, is that companies look straight to social impact to develop brand purpose, instead of building it slowly with a variety of marketing strategies.

Kahner used the analogy of a spider’s web to describe how marketing strategies come together to build brand purpose.

“I actually liken it to a spider web, which I’ll call the ‘Value Web’ in this, because quite frankly each value is a thread and those strings are delicate. And they can break. And if one is sitting on a surface that’s too precarious, it will break it. When one gets too heavy, it will break. And we need to think about purpose for all of those glistening threads that come together to spin this web,” he explained.

“There are six components that I think brands can do to create a really meaningful web of value and that can be delivered through innovation, activation, experience, brand perspective, strategic partnerships, as well as social impact.

“The problem we’re having now, is that a disproportionate number of brands are going straight to social impact,” Kahner said.

Kahner concluded that brands need to find a balance between selling their product and selling their purpose, and that this is unique to each organisation.

“One cannot outweigh the other one has to support the other… Every brand’s eco system, or in this case spider web, it’s kind of like a snowflake. Each one is unique. You have to find your right balance there.

“It’s not about abandoning selling your products for the purpose of pushing your purpose. It’s actually finding the right mix where they work in harmony with each other. That’s where it’s really going to click.”

At Mumbrella’s conference for public relations and communications professionals earlier this year, however, Russ Tucker, creative director of Eleven and TBWA Sydney said the campaign was unsuccessful because the approach didn’t match the brand values.

“Gillette is ‘the best a man can get’ and it’s always been that. It’s always been like seven razor blades and chiselled dudes,” he said in March.

“So I think it’s really interesting that they sort of looked at the trend of going ‘right, we should realign to a better cultural value’, which is absolutely the right thing to do, it’s just the execution of it was so … in your face and on the nose and polarising.

“I don’t think it was a failure, by the way. I think it was a really good, brave attempt and I kind of applaud them for having a crack. But they tried to do a hand brake turn versus a slight correction.”


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