The Gillette controversy could be good for sales – if it holds its nerve

While the Gillette ad certainly created column inches, will it actually translate into cold, hard cash? Pure Public Relations' Phoebe Netto attempts to cut through the noise.

Gillette’s ad has cut deep and touched a nerve. That is what the brand wanted. In a more crowded market that is diluting its market share, Gillette needed to cut through the noise with a razor blade.

And cut it did.

Huge brand exposure, talkability, media coverage, and influence. Never before have feelings about a shaving brand been so strong.

Yes, Gillette went out of its way to be provocative and knew that despite having the narrator say that “some” men “act the right way”, that its ad would be polarising.

But whenever a brand chooses to be polarising, they really mean that they are fine with not being popular with everyone but they want most people to like them. In this case both the women who buy Gillette for men, and the men who buy razors.

And the test to see if Gillette have succeeded in doing this won’t so much be in immediate changes to sales, but in how they proceed from here. This ad was a big move, and you don’t get many chances to do that again and maintain attention and interest. So they need to leverage this voice and build on the conversation.

Gillette have subtly acknowledged that they need to change their own marketing if they are to “act the right way” that is promoted in this ad, so now they need to see it through.

The campaign wins on the relevance test, which is (just) one of the reasons why Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner attempt at commodity activism failed (hard).

Where this will fall down is the authenticity test. Without genuine commitment to change beyond a donation, this will struggle to move beyond hype to a lasting brand association.

When a brand takes the moral high ground (especially when, if we’re being honest, the ultimate goal here is to boost sales), you open yourself to scrutiny. And when a brand’s critical assessment of people’s behaviour touches a nerve (however necessary that is), you should expect that all future campaigns, brand positioning, and business actions will be judged.

Whether it is talk about pink tax, Gillette’s board and employee gender balance, or their 1960s Mad Men-style ad copy used to market to women. Those criticisms will always be louder than any recognition at the previous attempts at moral high ground, like its old Use Your And ad.

Another example of this was Google and Facebook taking a public stand against a proposed executive order in the U.S. to ban immigrants from a number of Muslim-majority countries. Their strong comments condemning the order were followed by news reports that Google and Facebook had accepted millions in anti-immigration ad dollars. Goodbye goodwill and any perception of being leaders for positive change.

Harsh? The heavy scrutiny would be reduced if there was more ‘carrot’ and less ‘stick’ in the message. For example, if the Gillette ad focused more heavily on celebrating the commendable actions of men (like they show at the end of the ad), and if future campaigns challenge toxic behaviours that are not limited to one gender, that would be more palatable and wouldn’t invite as much criticism. But it would also be less attention-grabbing and sticky.

Gillette included a carrot and a stick, and the result was huge noise all pointing to them. This could work in its favour if they don’t see this as a flash in the pan message. They need to own this now and be thoughtful in using their platform to do good, including to communicate the same message in different ways.

Gillette have had the luxury of quietly correcting their PR mistakes in the past (think Tiger Woods, or their Get Closer to Your Man campaign that told women that body hair is what is stopping men from having a close relationship with them).

Source: Independent

But going forward, if something about Gillette’s brand attracts criticism or falls in to their much publicised definition of ‘toxic masculinity’, then silence is not an option.

Otherwise the talkability will make the huge amount of ‘free’ media, costly.

Controversy can boost sales, and it can hurt sales in a way that is hard to recover from. When brands court controversy by being provocative, they better make sure that they are authentic. It makes sense and when done well it makes dollars too.

Phoebe Netto is the founder of Pure Public Relations.


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