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Sean Boyle: Why The New Gillette Commercial is Likely to be Nothing More Than a Flash in The Pan

Trends and Insight 377 Add to collection

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.

Sean Boyle: Why The New Gillette Commercial is Likely to be Nothing More Than a Flash in The Pan
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 get the girl.  That's all.  Well, that and "ooh look, this sportsman uses 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.

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.

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Campaign Brief, Wed, 16 Jan 2019 04:46:14 GMT