Gillette is facing aftershocks from its brand campaign launched last week to usher in a new era of masculinity. With a spot called, “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be,” the Procter & Gamble brand took a firm stance on the need for a modern definition of what it means to be a man. Not surprisingly, it made a big impact. Yet not all of it was positive. This audience response underscores the challenge for brands to effectively link their messages with a growing zeitgeist in an increasingly viral and polarized ad environment.
In many ways the campaign mirrors Nike’s 2018 “Dream Crazy” effort, which featured Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem to protest “[the oppression] of black people and people of color.” Each spot had a similar initial reaction but ultimately a different result. By comparing the two campaigns, we can learn from their similarities and differences.
Similar reactions, different outcomes
Once launched, Gillette’s spot drew more than one million dislikes on the brand’s official YouTube channel. Social media commentary about the spot shows 36 percent negative reactions versus 16 percent positive, per an Ipsos sentiment analysis in the days after the debut. Among the detractors’ comments, they feel Gillette is capitalizing on the #MeToo movement to boost sales and should “stick to razors.” Those defending the ad say that it is simply calling for men to be better human beings.
One question is whether the commercial could still reap rewards for the brand, long after the negative social media backlash has passed. The spot resonates well to address themes that matter personally to consumers, and pull at the heart strings, according to Ipsos ad testing.
As a result, it shows strong desire for the brand; and viral content. Test respondents also rate their agreement with the social message, on aggregate, as a 7.5 out of 10. The ad certainly isn’t perfect – it is considered confusing to some, and the brand linkage to Gillette seems low. Many viewers question what the ad has to do with Gillette, or shaving.
At the same time, negative reactions also show up in the testing, echoing the backlash seen in social media. A significant minority find the ad offensive and strongly disagree with the social message. Men on average rate the ad’s offensiveness 13 points higher than that of women. Older and Republican audiences also tend to disagree with the messaging.
Interestingly, ad testing of the Nike video also shows similar positive results to the ’We Believe’ ad. Nike’s ad rates a bit higher overall, driven by better branding. It has a natural fit with Nike positioning, and better integration of Nike equipment, sportswear, and brand ambassadors. Time and the markets have shown Nike’s campaign to be a success, despite the early criticism. For Gillette, it’s too early to say that its campaign will ultimately succeed after the initial negativity dies down.
Why tribalism and brand trust matter
One of the challenges that the Gillette ad faces is that public trust of any large entity is at a low in the last four to five decades, says Chris Jackson, vice president of public polling for Ipsos.
Instead, people are becoming increasingly tribal where they trust the members of their tribe and not anyone outside of it. Jackson contends that while the Gillette ad is making a strong statement it doesn’t have a credible messenger carrying that along.
“The difference with Nike is that Kaepernick attached his reputation to the Nike ad and he was the voice and face of it,” says Jackson. “It wasn’t about Nike anymore; it was about him and people have a clear and strong feeling about him. There’s no counterpart to Gillette. You don’t have the avatar providing a trusted voice.”
The important part is to appeal to, rather than repel your tribe. Jackson says that Nike’s approach resonated with its customers and the backlash, for the most part, seemed to occur with people who weren’t Nike’s customers. This is a classic risk-reward decision brands face when they choose messages to appeal to their tribe over the masses.
Gillette’s ad, assuming its target was indeed men, caused a negative reaction with its base. That means that a boycott or change in product preference could have a lasting impact.
One thing is clear: Gillette must ensure that its call for men to “be the best they can be” strikes the right tone with consumers and is not seen as just a cynical piece of marketing. Now that the brand has garnered a reaction, in the end, the success of this campaign will come down to how well Gillette connects its brand, and products, with its stated ideal.
Gillette’s commitment to donating millions to non-profits is a start, but that could equally be seen as a mere gesture. Decisions like these, at the intersection of brand purpose and business strategy, offer ways to really “walk the walk” and amplify the stance that Gillette is taking.
What does this mean for brands?
As more brands take on social issues, short-term backlash will be par for the course, particularly in fast-reacting social media. It’s a new reality for brands operating in a world that’s becoming more polarized and as shoppers most-opposed to any given cause have both the potential and ability to make the most noise. Marketers opting to take on a mantle for social change will need strong commitment to their strategic objectives, and a longer-term perspective than the immediate noise generated on social media.
Tyler Colligan, director, Creative Excellence and Brand Tracking for Ipsos U.S., contributed to this report.