Opinion

I look forward to feeling proud to be a man in marketing

In the wake of Gillette's ad controversy, Rob Cain is feeling positive about what it all means for the future of marketing to men.

Gillette started off 2019 with a bang when it released its two-minute video, ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’, launching a campaign tackling toxic masculinity, violence against women and bullying in a world where, in the wake of the #metoo movement, discussions around gender are thankfully being brought to the fore.

The brand has inverted their traditional tagline ‘the best a man can get’ to provide a clarion call to its male audience, challenging men to be their best selves and stop excusing bad behaviour with the toxic ‘boys will be boys’ sentiment. It’s also a call to a male dominated marketing industry.

Although some critics claim Gillette is simply jumping on a trending topic, the brand is putting its money where its mouth is, vowing to donate $1 million a year for three years to non-profit organisations with programs “designed to inspire, educate and help men of all ages achieve their personal ‘best’ and become role models for the next generation.”

As a male who has been in the retail and marketing sectors for more than 20 years, I’m cognisant of how much the industry has contributed to the toxic messages that reinforce gendered stereotypes. So I wholly applaud Gillette for being one of the first high-profile male-oriented brands to step into the advocacy space to overturn some of these damaging messages. It’s disruptive, it’s controversial, and it’s about time. As Bec Brideson asserts, Gillette has heeded the call of campaigns such as Always’ “Like a Girl”, and is challenging its consumers and its competitors to enter a conversation that can no longer be ignored.

Despite the backlash from both marketers and men’s rights activists, Gillette has helped to pave the way for more nuanced messaging from other brands to encourage social conscience in men. From the creative perspective, Bec Brideson writes, it represents a shift from a male-dominated lens to a more connective, people-oriented female lens. This is a strategy that will be as good for our culture as for brands’ longevity.

Companies can have a point of view without the constraints that seem to hinder our politicians. In fact, Gillette could have gone much further. As long as women are still afraid to walk home at night in a society that is one of the richest in the world, any message that might contribute to the prevention of another senseless tragedy like those that befell Aiia Maasaarwe, Eurydice Dixon, Jill Meagher and too many more is a positive one.

These campaigns might challenge our own perceptions, but that’s the point. We’ve already seen the power of a brand stepping above pure product marketing via Nike’s polarising yet wildly successful ‘Believe in something’ campaign spearheaded by Colin Kaepernick.

And like Always, many female-oriented brands have created brilliant issues-focused campaigns that expand the traditional representation of women in media.

Take Dove’s campaign for ‘Real Beauty’, which featured women of all shapes and sizes posing in their underwear. The brand aimed to challenge and redefine traditional beauty standards, urging women everywhere to embrace what makes them unique.

Or sports apparel brand Under Armour’s global women’s campaign called ‘I Will What I Want’, which featured American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland who was rejected by a top ballet academy at age 13 for having the ‘wrong body for ballet.’ Rather than fetishising physical beauty, the campaign encouraged women to find their inner strength.

Meanwhile, much of male-oriented marketing has lagged behind. One notable exception is US-based men’s clothing brand Bonobos, which responded to the #metoo movement with its #EvolveTheDefinition campaign. The campaign included a video made up of 172 interviews about how respondents define masculinity, aiming to expand that definition to become more inclusive.

For Simon Grew, founder of Grew & Co—a luxury artisan jewellery brand beloved by both men and women, this shift in the conversation is well overdue.

Male-oriented marketing has been two-dimensional and long missed an under-represented sector of the market—sensitive men who invest in grooming and self care, many of whom also buy jewellery. “There is such a lively male customer base in the fashion and beauty sectors, yet mainstream advertising has a constant spotlight on women’s fascination with and desire for style, and a man’s slightly vague need for simplicity,” says Grew, who is thankful to see the focus broaden, particularly in the wake of the YES vote here in Australia.

Gillette’s campaign is challenging men to be their diverse selves, and calling on men like me to encourage the conversation around what ‘being a man’ truly means. I look forward to feeling proud to be a man in marketing, and my sons and daughter living in a safer, more inclusive and fair world. Here’s to stronger positions on this topic being taken in 2019 and beyond.

Rob Cain is managing director, Sydney, for Overdose.Digital.

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