I’m sure you’ve seen all the brouhaha by now about the new advert for men’s razors Gillette, which hitches a ride on the #MeToo movement to riff on its ‘the best a man can get’ tagline in a bid to tackle toxic masculinity.
Just search Gillette on Twitter if not – it’s divided between those praising the long-form ad for putting a positive spin on masculinity, and the massive backlash from those bristling that it puts all men in a bad light, to the extent they’re now pledging to boycott any products from makers Procter & Gamble.
Piers Morgan has been one of the most vocal critics so far, Tweeting: “I’ve used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men.”
One of the most high profile defenders of the spot meanwhile has been Bernice King, daughter of late civil rights activist Martin Luther King. She Tweeted: “This commercial isn’t anti-male. It’s pro-humanity. And it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions.”
In case you haven’t seen it, the ad called ‘We Believe: The Best A Man Can Be’ starts with news clips referencing the #MeToo movement, toxic masculinity and sexual harassment, before moving on to bullying, sexism on TV, fighting between boys and mansplaining in the boardroom while a voice intones: “Is this the best a man can get?”
Still that ancient binary
The overall message the ad gives out that being the best a man can be is about respecting others is actually a really good one. And I admire Gillette taking a stand on this. But the ad fails because it is still using outdated, old-fashioned tropes about what being a man is as well as demonstrating a very heterosexual male, middle-class view of what respect should mean. It’s saying that men have a certain amount of power over women and they should just use it more respectfully. This only further emphasises the ancient binary that it’s Men Versus Women.
It’s saying you must be soft and gentle to respect others – to ‘feminise’ what being respectful means via the ancient lens of gender stereotypes. They’ve failed to keep up with the times and have fallen back onto an old, typical vocabulary that masculinity is x,y and z and therefore wrong. They’re trying to resolve current gender issues by using the same old metaphors and cliches that created the inequality in the first place. You should use a new language to move this conversation along.
Don’t you lecture me!
The lecturing tone is all wrong too which is particularly disingenuous when it comes from P&G, who’ve spent decades marketing cleaning products specifically to women or saying women have to look a certain way with their beauty products, while flogging their pink Venus women’s razor range for more money than their men’s.
But then, by and large, advertisers are massively behind the times, and they often trip themselves when they try to tackle (or benefit from) societal issues – just look at the disastrous Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad from a couple of years back which tried to piggyback on #BlackLivesMatter.
The advertising industry has huge power to contribute to societal change, but it still doesn’t seem to have the language to describe the new normal. TV soaps on the other hand have historically been far better at challenging stereotypes about gender and sexuality, from the first gay soap kiss in 1987 on EastEnders, to the first transgender character in Coronation Street in 1998, who was the world’s first permanent transgender character in a serialised drama. Even more recently, look at the amazing way EastEnders tackled rape and issues around consent at the end of last year.
The big missed opportunity
Gillette missed a trick – they could have done it so well to bring the gender equality conversation bang up to date. As a brand, they have a right to re-evaluate what masculinity means in the modern age. But not in this way. The real opportunity for Gillette would have been that, as a brand that makes both men and women’s products, to announce that they’re making their products gender neutral. That would make a true statement about respect and equality.
Or at the very least, before putting this ad together, they could have taken some inspiration from British soap operas to see out how it can be done when it comes to tackling current social issues on our screens.
Author: Wybe Magermans – Managing Director
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