New Gillette Ad Invites Controversy While Elevating Brand Purpose

Jan 22, 2019

Gillette knew exactly what it was doing.

When the razor company released a new ad condemning toxic masculinity and phrases like “boys will be boys” as an excuse for bad behavior, the brand knew it was igniting controversy. Some celebrities praised the ad. Others were predictably outraged on social media. Tweets were tweeted. Boycotts were threatened. Buzz was built.

But the ultimate marketing strategy behind the Gillette commercial goes beyond just stirring the pot. The ad is an effort to connect Gillette’s brand purpose to something beyond products, features and benefits. It’s a page out of campaigns touting purpose-driven companies like Nike’s “Dream Crazy” and “Real Beauty” from Dove. Gillette is working to create an emotional connection to something deeper with its customers.

Gillette North American Brand Director Pankaj Bhalla says the Gillette ad is about pushing men to become the best version of themselves. The brand backed up the campaign with a $3 million donation to The Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

An updated brand purpose

The Gillette razors product line ad origins date back 30 years to its first “The Best a Man Can Get” commercial during the 1989 Super Bowl.


With 2019’s ad, Gillette has updated the slogan for the #metoo movement to “The Best a Man Can Be.” This time around, the brand is getting Super-Bowl levels of attention for an ad without paying for Super Bowl airtime.

Pushing your brand to stand for something greater or taking a stand on a politicized issue is a calculated choice. It comes with murkier metrics and a unique set of risks. It paid off for Nike – sales jumped 31 percent after the Colin Kaepernick ads. For other brands, the marketing efforts have backfired. Think #deleteuber or read up on this really interesting case in the UK involving Brewdog’s Pink IPA.

Research is crucial

Before launching the campaign, Gillette did a lot of research. It held focus groups with men and women to ensure a positive reaction from its target audiences. As consumer culture historian Lisa Jacobson points out, the ad is likely going after market share of younger men. It’s also probably targeting women buying razors for themselves and the men in their households.

So far, consumer sentiment seems to be tipping Gillette’s way. Between January 14 and 16, nearly two thirds of the 645,000 tweets about Gillette were positive. Ninety-four percent of the 246,000 tweets with the hashtag #TheBestMenCanBe have been positive, according to Fast Company.

Long story short: Elevating your brand purpose is a risk with razor-thin margins. But with the right research and message, it can pay off in increased awareness and loyalty from the customers who matter most.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alex Irwin.

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