Furious conservatives attack #MeToo Gillette

Cutting: “Bullying, […] sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, is this the best a man can get?”

Gillette has released a bold new advert attacking “toxic” masculinity, sparking fierce debate. Some say the ad is insulting and wrong, while others praise its progressive message.

“The best a man can get.” It has been Gillette’s famous slogan for decades.

Not any more. In a controversial new advert, the company sets out a new direction — attempting to promote a new brand of “positive masculinity”.

Directly responding to the #MeToo campaign against sexual abuse, the short film shows scenes depicting “toxic” masculine vices. A boss patronising a female colleague; boys bullying and fighting each other; men laughing at sexual harassment. We keep “making the same old excuses” a voice-over states: boys will be boys.

But then, it shows a change. Men intervene to stop harassment; they teach their children to be confident; they choose peace instead of violence.

According to the new tagline, this is “the best men can be.”

“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture,” said a company statement. “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man.”

But not everyone is on board. In a fierce backlash, critics accused the advert of “feminist propaganda”. It has been down-voted thousands of times on YouTube, with some pledging to boycott Gillette products altogether.

Chief among the critics was journalist Piers Morgan. “What Gillette is now saying, everything we told you to be, men, for the last 30 years is evil,” he said. “I think it’s repulsive.”

But many others have supported the film. “This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity,” wrote Bernice King — daughter of Martin Luther King Jr.

Whatever your opinion, big brands will continue to push political and social messages.

Writing in Vox, Sarah Banet-Weiser has investigated the rise of “commodity activism”. “Branding has extended beyond a business model,” she argues. “Consumers act politically by purchasing particular brands over others […] where specific brands are attached to political aims.”

Gillette is merely the latest example. Think of Nike’s collaboration with the American football star and activist Colin Kaepernick, or even the storm Greggs sparked with its vegan sausage roll.

Sharp words

The row over the advert continues. Is it just anti-male propaganda, and another blow in a deepening culture war? Or is this claim absurd? Does the advert provide productive and positive messages for young men to follow? (Even if its ultimate aim is to sell more razor blades).

Beneath this debate run fundamental questions about the place of advertising in our culture. Some suspect that bosses deliberately make controversial adverts to stoke outrage and shine attention on their brands — no matter the bad publicity. Should adverts avoid politics altogether?

You Decide

  1. Do you think the advert is good or bad?
  2. Should adverts have political messages?

Activities

  1. Think of an item that you use every day. Now design a new advertising campaign for that item which has a political or social message. What is the slogan? What message would the advert have? How would the item link to the political campaign?
  2. Read the Gaby Hinsliff piece in Become An Expert. To analyse it, complete the following tasks. Summarise her main arguments into short bullet points. Find all the examples of language techniques that she uses in the piece. Copy down the five most effective words that she uses. In general, are you convinced by her argument? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century.”

Marshall McLuhan

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Gillette is also taking more action behind the scenes. It has partnered with the Building A Better Man project, which aims to reduce violent behaviour in men. It has also joined with the Boys and Girls Club of America, which helps young men develop social skills. Furthermore, it is donating around £778,000 per year for the next three years to charities aimed at supporting men.
What do we not know?
If the backlash will substantially damage Gillette sales and the brand. Nike sales surged in the days following the Colin Kaepernick advert, in spite of heavy criticism. Vegan sausage rolls also caused a spike in sales for Greggs.

Word Watch

Gillette
Brand producing razors and hygiene products for men and women. It is owned by the multi-national corporation Procter & Gamble (P&G).
#MeToo
A campaign which gained prominence after accusations of sexual assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein were made public in 2017. It encourages people to share personal stories of harassment and abuse.
Martin Luther King Jr
Civil rights leader (1929-1968). He is famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, and is credited with advancing the civil rights cause through nonviolence.
Colin Kaepernick
American football player who protested against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. His actions sparked a nationwide movement, however, he was dropped by his team, the San Francisco 49ers.
Vegan
Food and products which are entirely free from animal products.

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