Gillette advertisement aims to cut into toxic masculinity

Tyler Wann

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Gillette’s new advertisement has left its consumer base divided, and some local experts are saying its too soon to tell whether the commercial was a good move or if it will leave the company burned.

The commercial “Best Men Can Be,” which was released on Monday, addresses issues related to toxic masculinity, such as bullying and harassment towards women. Some have reacted to the ad with threats to boycott the company entirely. But for lifelong buyer Jake McDonough, music industry senior, the commercial only gives him another reason to love the brand.

The 21-year-old college student said that he’s glad the company is addressing issues that often get swept under the rug.

“It is an issue of toxic masculinity, where you’re supposed to beat on your chest and ‘be a man,’” he said. “That’s embarrassing behavior, and this is finally bringing light to that and saying ‘this is not ok.’”

McDonough said he thinks that the commercial acts as a mirror, and that those who are critical of it don’t like what they see.

“If you are somebody who feels offended by that video and you take it personally, then you are the one who Gillette is talking to,” he said.

Rae Taylor, Loyola sociology professor, agrees with McDonough.

“The people who are upset about movements to end violence against women and movements toward equality are people who feel they have something to lose,” she said.

According to Taylor, much of the backlash towards the commercial comes from people who fear losing “the freedom they have to abuse others.”

“People who are decent do not have a problem because they do not view themselves as entitled to power and control over other people,” she said.

However, Mel Feit, the director for the National Center for Men, said he thinks that the commercial may be doing more to hurt gender relations than to ease them.

“I think it’s hate speech,” said Feit. “To say that any group is toxic, to single out any group of human beings and to say that they’re somehow morally inferior to any other group of human beings is bigotry.”

Feit said he thinks that the commercial goes against the principle that all people are created equal, and that singling out men in particular is going to foster resentment.

“We can all do better. Men can do better, women can do better. We all have problems,” he said. “But the minute you put that burden onto one group, it becomes counterproductive.”

Feit doesn’t agree with the commercial’s implication that the issues being addressed in the ad are more attributable to men than women.

“Men and women love each other equally and they hurt each other equally,” he said. “There’s just a difference between encouraging people to be better and saying any one group of people are more responsible than another for being bad.”

Though Feit doesn’t agree with the message, he said that it’s their first amendment right to say it, and it’s the right of the consumer to decide not to buy their products.

Though Adam Mills, Loyola marketing professor, said that it’s still too early to tell whether the commercial will boost or hurt sales overall, the commercial did succeed in building Gillette’s brand.

“A brand is a story, a reputation, a perspective on the world, that we’ve attached to a product or service,” said Mills.

While some critics have accused Gillette of using a social issue to boost sales, Mills thinks that, even if that is the case, their intentions seem genuine.

“My own perspective is that Gillette has done a fantastic job of authentically joining and bringing attention to an important social conversation, and the public reaction is evidence that they’ve catalyzed the conversation they intended,” he said.

Mills said he thinks that their efforts have been made easier by the strong associations between Gillette’s products and the issues being addressed.

“Part of growing from a boy to a man is starting to shave,” he said. “Gillette is a brand associated with this rite of passage and this deeply personal ritual, and they are leveraging this metaphor to speak to something bigger, which is learning how to be, and what it means to be, a man.”

At the time of writing, Gillette has yet to comment on how the ad has affected business, though Mills predicts a brief flurry of abnormal sales activity followed by a return to stable sales volumes in the long term.

“It takes courage for a brand to do this, because it’s easier and safer to remain socially neutral,” said Mills.

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