Gillette marketer on #MeToo ad furore: ‘People will always try to exploit your message’

For 30 years, Gillette has promised its razors are ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ but the P&G brand caused division this week after reframing the classic slogan as one that explores toxic masculinity in the #MeToo era. Its message to consumers amid the furore? “We just wanted to start a positive debate on what it means to be a man.”

For Elena Valbonesi, Gillette and Venus’ shave care director for Europe – who oversees the brand’s marketing in the region – the divisive US campaign marked “another step” for Gillette in its global mission to help men work towards their personal ‘best’.

It followed a series of UK ads last year which also encouraged men to look inward, portraying them in different roles instead of defaulting to what Valbonesi described as the model of the past: “a working man with a housewife looking after the kids.”

She told The Drum: “This release in the US is just another step, it’s a bolder step because we want to make a statement. When we look at the younger generations they ask more of brands than just selling them a product… they appreciate Gillette meaning something to them. That’s exactly what we wanted to do and keep doing in the future.”

'This is part of the game'

Despite being a stateside campaign, the ad exploded in the UK yesterday after it triggered Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan to lambast it as “absurd virtue-signalling PC guff” on both TV and Twitter.

“Let men by damn men,” he added.

Hundreds of others online were perturbed by the creative which featured news clips reporting on the #MeToo movement, tackled sexual harassment, bullying and said the excuse ‘boys will be boys’ could no longer wash as an excuse for toxic masculinity. Some threatened to boycott Gillette, saying the ad implied all men to be sexually aggressive or violent. Others simply expressed cynicism about what they perceived as the #MeToo movement being co-opted to sell razors.

When asked if the brand was surprised by Morgan wading in and igniting a debate (as he did with Greggs’ vegan sausage role earlier this month), Valbonesi was coy in her response.

“There’s things you don’t plan, but you plan in the end… of course when there are important statements, we do expect a strong reaction and in that that context, yes we expected a strong one [around this campaign].”

“We're positive about the level engagement and conversation that’s been created because we believe it’s something very important.”

On the question of whether the risky ad could have a negative impact on sales and hurt the razor brand's dominant market share, Valbonesi said: "We watch closely anything that’s impacting the brand.But what is important is that we are true to ourselves and in the eyes and minds of consumers across generations."

She stressed that what was more important was the brand being authentic to its own "equity and intent".

"You’ll always have people who try to exploit your message or use it in a different way, this is part of the game and we are ready to take on the good principles of what being a man means today in 2019," she added.

'We respect everyone's opinion'

But for all the criticism, the spot has also been widely lauded. Duncan Fisher, head of policy and innovation for the Family Initiative, said the twist on the famous slogan was a good platform to spark a conversation around what it means to be a man.

“There are a lot of men who want to stand up for a different type of masculinity, but for many there has not been a way for men to express that, we just need to give them a voice,” he said. “Obviously this is an ad created by an agency to sell razors but it represents an attempt to change the dialogue.”

Valbonesi conceded that she was aware not everyone was going to have the same point of view on the spot, "we respect everyone’s [opinion],” she said, adding that she thought the campaign was “a very positive start to the conversation” about defining masculinity.

“It’s something that’s relevant for society and we are happy to [have launched a platform] for men to debate on what being a man means today. That isn’t to say men were [better] in the past or that we are defining [anything], we just wanted to start a positive debate on the meaning of being a man – in both a positive sense and a negative one.”

Valbonesi was speaking ahead of the launch of the brand's SkinGuard Sensitive razor in the UK, for which it is poised to launch a cross-platform campaign on TV, OOH, Facebook, and more.

Rather than being purpose driven, the marketing push will champion the technology and design of the product and 'taking the pressure' out of shaving.

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