Sean Boyle: Why the new Gillette commercial is likely to be nothing more than a flash in the pan

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By Sean Boyle, the host of the podcast A Pint With Seaniebee. Six years ago, he was the global head of strategy for Gillette based at BBDO New York.


It is with a tinge of jealousy I write this.
I arose this morning in Dublin to the new "woke" Gillette ad blowing the bloody doors off the Internet with its "right-on-ness". 
It's very good.
I wish I'd made it.
I congratulate the agency and especially the clients at P&G who green-lit it.

That said, I sadly worry that it won't become the pioneering new direction that Gillette so badly needs.

Here's why.
Gillette has been arguably the most benignly misogynistic advertiser in the world for the past 50 years. Generally their campaigns (when stripped of the CGI close up bollocks of the inner workings of a razor) all basically revolve around the premise: you shave...you get the girl.  That's all.  Well, that and "ooh look, this sportsman uses Gillette...you too can be cool like him".  Women in the typical Gillette spot appear as nothing more than smooth-face-stroking objects.  Minor sops to 'new age men' usually only stretch to wanky, soft-focus images of clean-shaven bellends gently clutching a tiny, hairless baby to their (also) hairless chests. The brand's advertising has always been lazy, dumbed down, lowest common denominator stuff that is both insulting to the intelligence of men and somewhat belittling to women (not that anyone pays it much attention, anyway).

Ironically, the reason Gillette's advertising has been so tragically terrible down the years, is because of P&G's general lack of balls.  They are addicted to research. (Whilst rumours continue that this may be changing), historically nothing of significance comes out of the ad factory for any of their brands unless it has first passed pretesting - an expensive, entirely artificial and in my opinion utterly egregious attempt at trying to establish whether an ad will "sell", by first asking a huge number of dumb "consumers" what they think of it in laboratory conditions.  

P&G brands have never had the courage of their convictions.  Not really.  Not in, say, the way Dove authentically grasped the female empowerment nettle. P&G brands never show the fuck-you-if-you-don't-like-us leadership of a Nike.  They eschew the less-is-more approach of an Apple.  Those brief glimmers of hope such as the Old Spice rebirth, are black swans.  Old Spice was dying. It was revived by a sublime advertising campaign.  And once healthy, it again succumbed to the evil machinations of P&G marketing "best practice".  

With Gillette, they make blancmange: garishly lit 'supermarkety' ads, crammed with irrelevant, selly bullshit.   The vast majority of their ads show men shaving...despite the fact that most men already know how to do that.  The brand bangs on about being "The best a man can get" - a solid enough and memorable tagline that has evolved to become insipid, wallpapery drivel because it has never truly been allowed to breathe and mean something relevant.

This is a brand that should know better.
Close to a billion men use Gillette every day.   During my time working on it, we banged our heads against walls trying to get our client to let it modernize and stand for something.  Bring something extra to the bunfight.  Inspire men to greatness...
that sort of thing...

We failed.
I got fired.

And now this...

The first thing to say is (and I admit I am somewhat guessing here) I don't believe this is anything more than a strictly tactical flash in the pan.  Although it has a full programme built in behind it (a rather vague $3m committed to charities designed to help men become better role models); it is nevertheless unlikely to mark any radical departure in the day-to-day way this brand talks to men going forward. 

With the Super Bowl just around the corner, the work feels suspiciously like something that also has one eye on that particular shop window.  Clients in general tend to relax the rules a bit in an effort to produce something standout for game-day and this film has the whiff of that off it.  (Nothing wrong with this btw).

However, the issue is that nearly all "Super Bowl work" wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting past any sort of rigorous pretesting.  For example, most Gillette ads that don't show men shaving, tend to fail the pretest. This new work wouldn't have passed either.  My gut tells me that in the week after the Kansas City Chiefs (another guess) become "World" Champions, Gillette will revert to type with its advertising messaging and this thing will tip away in the background as a bit of icing on their communications cake.  And I believe that would be a huge mistake.

Put simply, the work is great because it takes a position.
Gillette has never been brave enough to do that.
It's terrified of causing conflict.
Alienating potential customers.

Already, in the first days of its virality, it has caused an absolute shit-storm.
Many more 'dislikes' than 'likes'.
Fuckwits like Piers Morgan and Ricky Gervais are having a pop and swearing a boycott.
We hear it is "belittling" to men.
"Not all men" are like this.
#GetWokeGoBroke is trending on twitter.

And the trouble doesn't end there, folks.

Those on the rabid side of feminism are losing their dungarees claiming it has hijacked the #metoo movement and is yet another example of the patriarchy at work, trying to put men front and centre of a thing owned by women (!?)

Both sides are also doing there narr-narr over the fact that the film was directed by a woman.

This is the direction our outrage-driven society is currently moving.
You are kinda damned if you do...and damned if you don't.

The online reaction is likely to send P&G (certainly the company that I knew) into a tail-spin.  There are probably swathes of hand-wringing marketeers already running scared in Boston.  Petrified at what they consider to be a misstep.
It's too controversial.
It's too provocative.
Kill it.

And yet to me this is precisely THE breakthrough Gillette has been crying out for, for decades.  The absolutely correct course of action is to lean in and stick with it.
Make the film the very centerpiece for the brand going forward.
Bravely present and own an interpretation of what it means to be a "Best Man" in 2019 and beyond.  Become a brand that is a genuinely inspirational beacon for young boys.

No man who is sound, decent, honourable, comfortable in his sexuality, utterly respectful of women and supportive of the movement they have so heroically driven this past several years would have any issue whatsoever with this commercial.

The men that are howling right now are not real men. They are the incels...those that would have Trump or Petersen as their King.  Men who are at best weak and fragile, insincere and mean-spirited and at worst predatory and somewhat sinister in how they interact with women.

Who wants them?
Most of them probably can't grow facial hair anyway...

It's time to do the right thing, Gillette.


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Sean Boyle (right) is the host of the podcast A Pint With Seaniebee. Six years ago, he was the global head of strategy for Gillette at BBDO (New York). He has written this article exclusively for Campaign Brief.

30 Comments

Spot on said:

Great ad, great article.

Observtion bias said:

This is an idea born of the media industry bubble.

It's bold, it's brave, I quite like it.

However, it misses the mark with the majority of the populace.

Men are increasingly feeling disaffected by society. The ultimate measure of that being the suicide rate, but there are many more.

They don't want to be told that they are broken. Nobody does.

Rightly or wrongly, they want to be who they feel it is natural for them to be.

That does not align with what Gillette have told them they should be with this message.

The author falls foul of the same failure to appreciate what the middle of bell curve think and feel. 'not real men'... 'incels'... 'weak and fragile'... 'most of them can't grow facial hair anyway'...

The intent is always 'lead people to a better position', but it comes across as 'you are broken and need to be fixed'.

The vitriol in the author's closing statements towards the majority of the male populace (like it or not) make this contempt clear.

Learn the problems that the 50% of men who are sitting in the middle of the bell-curve are feeling. Don't tell them that they are wrong or broken.

Badly done said:

Is this a public service announcement, or a commercial?

I found it patronising towards men and I'm a chick. "Then something changed"
Not really... Maybe in New York and LA, but in the rest of America? They are still voting Trump. This is too heavy handed and isolating.

Terrible commercial.

About time said:

Strangely enough, "Badly Done" "the rest of America is not the rest of the world.

The commercial is challenging men to show leadership... to step up to the plate and SHOW that #notallmen.
Because most men are decent, and at a time when we have Trump and Bolsonaro as leaders, inspiring good men to show leadership in raising boys to be strong and kind and respectful, this message is on point (if a little on the nose).

If the toxic masculinity doesn't apply to you, then great... continue being a decent human and good role model for boys. But if you find it a bit triggering then perhaps it's because you saw yourself in the wrong parts of this ad.

Great article.

Collin said:

Agreed top to bottom. Good POV Seaniebee.

KGB said:

Dove a good example? Piss off. As part of the Unilever stable, Dove was a cynical attempt to flog more products while they were using Axe / Lynx to perpetuate the exact issue they were allegedly trying to address (unrealistic expectations placed on female beauty). Axe was all fake boobs and bikinis at the same time Dove ‘ Real Beauty’ was at its peak.

I agree with your sentiments on Gillette. They are not pioneers, nor leaders. Not even brave. They waited until the #metoo movement was ‘safe’ ground for them to now jump aboard to sell more products.

Shit, no wonder the world hates advertising.

Truth in advertising. said:

It would have been a much braver and more effective ad if it took on toxic feminism.

Instead, they've embraced it.

Great read said:

Fantastic piece Sean. "Losing their dungarees." Perfect.

Wrong conclusion said:

Well done, great article.

But wrong conclusion - the author gives himself away with his Trump/Peterson comments at the end.

Yes, be creative and break the mould but pandering to lefty political correctness isn’t brave nor creative - having Harvey Weinstein have a shave and the actresses all come flocking - that would be!

Brave decision.. said:

..as Sir Humphrey Appleby would say, or how to alienate half your global target market, worth billions: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/15/gillette-metoo-ad-on-toxic-masculinity-cuts-deep-with-mens-rights-activists

PR disaster of epic proprtions said:

Over 7 million views already on YouTube with 440,000 comments, mostly negative.

Have to Agree said:

It's insincere bandwagon jumping... but it's advertising.

Agree with the author... it's a positive message, and certainly a step up from their usual tripe.

2019's worst marketing move said:

Mark Ritson: Gillette’s new ad will trash its sales and be the year’s worst marketing move: https://www.marketingweek.com/2019/01/15/mark-ritson-gillette-ad-toxic-masculinity/

A disastrous 20% approval rating analysing YouTube comments.

Here we go said:

OF COURSE AUSSIE AD PEOPLE HATE THIS and are showing references of 'similar it was done 10 years ago' ideas.

This is well crafted and beautiful and spoken about. Not one client or agency locally will ever be this brave. It's what they do next with this idea that counts now that people are talking about it.

m said:

men who don't like it - incels
women who don't like it - dungaree wearing rabid feminists

The author here reveals more about his own narrow-minded prejudices than he does about the ad. Can completely see why h likes this ad. It fits well into his binary echo chamber. Ignore critical analysis and just stick your fingers in your ears wile shouting "Trump"

For me, the ad was shit. Cynical, exploitative, adds nothing new to the conversation. From a craft perspective I thought it was clumsy.

But then I am obviously a Jordan Petersen- reading incel, so what do I know.

@m said said:

always remove emotion before posting. You come across irrational and nonsensical.

@About time said:

This is an American ad mate. So yeah. We aren't talking the world. We are talking America.

And did you forget this is about an item used to shave a face? Not a campaign for the New York times. Calm down. Its not about equality.

Its about a product. And its preachy as f*ck

DazzRat said:

Toxic masculinity? Give me a fugging break. "Part of the problem"? I reject the premise on its very face. The real problem is the insane up-is-down good-is-evil contingent of ungodly subversion that's attempting to incite an ongoing war against masculinity, uprightness, and Christian males.

Keep playing obtuse -- but this grotesque Orwellian pandering ain't going over well.

"Part of the problem"? What problem is that? Individuality? Robustness? Critical thinking?

But but but... said:

They are just telling men to be normal!

If not being a dick is 'the best a man can be' as a man I'm just going to feel very... I'm not sure what the word is.

Butthurt?

All the shit in this ad is the stuff men learn by the time you're 3-4 years old.

Don't they? Shit I'm ignorant.

qt3.14 said:

Could everyone please look up the definition of 'feminism' before using the word again.

It seems like lots of people need a refresher.

Globalism said:

So basically Sean was global head of strategy for six years and, by his own admission, failed at his job?

What’s the point if you can’t make a difference?

This doesn’t mean I agree with the morons who have made comments earlier.

But if the whole purpose of your job is to be clever and convince the client to be clever, and you don’t do it, you are a failure.


@"@About time" said:

Yah... The discussion is on the internet though... Guess what "www" stands for, fuckwit. It doesn't matter where it's broadcast, it was made as part of a massive campaign, designed to provoke (including negative reaction)... We're all talking about it.
Who actually watches ads on TV anymore?

You're surprisingly defensive for someone who uses the word "mate" in a sentence, ironic because 1) I'm not your mate and 2) it indicates that it's unlikely you're American.

Calm down, you seem hysterical.

@@About time said:

Tells woman to stop being hysterical, whilst definding the success of a commercial about avoiding toxic masculinity. Now I’ve seen it all. These comments are gold.

Oh M said:

Hey @M


Try not to feel so victimised.

At it's worst, the commercial has great, positive intentions.
Why tear slabs off something that tries to do that?
And, how can you see this as exploitive?

The positioning of the brand was begging for something like( this strategy ) to be activated, given the current climate. I see it as being brave and responisible.

Good article here, too.

Nasim Aghdam said:

Men standing up for hating on men is so 2019. Congrats to the author.

Summersoul said:

"Bravely present and own an interpretation of what it means to be a "Best Man" in 2019 and beyond. Become a brand that is a genuinely inspirational beacon for young boys."

Wholly agree. No beef with this ad at all - I like it - if it's bandwagon-jumping, the only one that loses out will be Gillette, but it's still a positive message in the world and in their market. If it's not, and they are sincere, all the better! They stand to win in that case. In either case, the world is a better place.

General Lack of Facts said:

“P&G’s general lack of balls”?
Funny. I thought they did “Like a Girl” and "Strong is Beautiful".

BABY OUT WITH BATH WATER said:

It’s always interesting to read p.o.v from people who’ve previously been at a client’s coalface, as they know all the inside dramas of getting campaigns up and running.

Amongst all Sean’s discussions showing knowledge of the inside track, I do find this a telling point to keep in mind for the results of the ad:
“ ...most Gillette ads that don't show men shaving, tend to fail the pretest. “!
The most fundamental product purpose has proved to be its core cut- through and now has been dropped.
What a huge risk factor, and wihat will be its impact?

Chocolate brands know if they don’t show the “money-shot” of a swirling, pouring stream of deliciousness- recall goes down.

The fact it’s received a nice swag of publicity will probably take it to increased sales. But could be at the expense of actually adding much to brand performance. And the next creative team will have to peddle fast and furious to add a strong brand credibility.

It’s best to try and make ads that stick, rather than rise then fall away without doing much for the brand.


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