Only two weeks in to 2019 and we have our first major controversy; not counting the US Government shutdown of course (which began in 2018, so technically not this year). On January 13th, Gillette released an ad with a strong commentary relating to the MeToo movement and toxic masculinity. This ad was met with strong criticism (mostly by men) and the internet has been buzzing since.
I’m not going to offer commentary on the ad itself because I don’t think it really matters but I do think there’s a lot to be learned from this ad.
First thing’s first, let’s take a moment and realize that the internet is going crazy over an advertisement. Going viral is literally the best thing that can happen to any company, and Gillette somehow managed to do it with an advertisement. The commercial designed specifically to sell their product went viral. Most people go viral for eating tide pods or something equally embarrassing, but Gillette managed to do it with a video specifically designed to sell. Whether you agree with the message or not, I think it would be a mistake not to look at this objectively and try to ascertain what exactly just happened.
A little while ago, Nike came out in support of American football players that were kneeling for the national anthem and the reaction was somewhat along the same lines. This was one of the first times that I’d seen a brand take a strong political stance, so I read quite a bit about it.
As it turns out, Nike’s core business is urban young people. With that being said, what group of people feels most impacted by police brutality? Forget whether it’s an issue or not because that’s not important. What’s important is what people feel. As a white guy that grew up in a pretty good neighborhood in Canada, I can say with certainty that I have no fear of police brutality. However, I can absolutely appreciate that an African American kid that lives in New York might have a real distrust of police.
I’m willing to bet that I’m not Nike’s target audience for that stance which is fair, because I don’t wear Nike.
It’s pandering, plain and simple. Nike was aiming for a specific crowd, so they chose to follow a set of actions that their target audience identified strongly with.
Another example – Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, he ran the marketing for his campaign brilliantly and Clinton fed right into it. Forget the moral implications of what he said, he won because he pandered to people much more effectively than Clinton did. Trump identified a strong, passionate group of people that vote regularly and targeted them with messaging about draining the swamp, low skill jobs, walls, and elitism – so much so that everyone somehow forgot he was about as elite as it can get it America.
What would have been truly interesting in that election is if Sanders was up against trump because Sanders did the exact same thing to the left; which is why we briefly saw emboldened millennials during the primaries.
The point isn’t who’s right, the point is that they spoke directly to a certain type of person and alienated everyone else.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s exactly what Gillette just did.
I currently live alone, but that doesn’t stop my girlfriend from telling me how things will be different when she does the grocery shopping. Now I tried to find studies to support my theory that women are more likely to be the primary drivers behind grocery shopping but a quick google search revealed studies that say women take the lead, others that say men take the lead, and others still that say it’s perfectly even.
If my girlfriend is buying my razors for me, she’s more likely to buy Gillette now. Plain and simple. It may be a subtle cue that she doesn’t realize, but all things equal between two razor brands, she’s going to choose Gillette after this ad campaign.
If I’m the driving force behind my grocery shopping, chances are I’m purchasing from brands that I’ve a) had good experiences with and b) tend to agree or identify with. If I’m a man that believes the MeToo movement is important, would I not be more likely to skew towards purchasing Gillette?
I tried to put together a more nuanced view on this, complete with statistics outlining the exact demograph of people that Gillette was after but I’m not spending hours researching a 1,000 word article. I’ve look for correlations between political ideology and facial hair but didn’t come up with much.
My other theory was that people in cities are more likely to shave and also more likely to be liberal; with the liberal ideology more supportive of the MeToo movement and more aware of traditional masculine traits that are now recognized as toxic. I’m likely not far off because the marketing department at Proctor & Gamble spends over $7 billion each year on advertising and I’m willing to bet that this ad was at least $250,000 to produce; so, chances are that they did their homework and knew exactly who they were targeting.
So what can we learn from this? I think we’re coming up to the era where a lot of brands will be polarizing themselves along ideologies. I think that the world is going to watch over the next 6 months while major brands like Gillette and Nike embrace it. Starting in the second half of 2019, I think we’re going to start seeing a lot more brands identify their consumers much stronger through causes and beliefs. I think all of this is the 21st century equivalent of Apple’s ‘Think Different’ campaign that identified itself as a brand for artists and thinkers – an image that still persists to this day.
I think this can be an effective marketing tactic if your company executes it in isolation but if you’re going to identify your brand along strong, hard lines like this, do it before it looks like bandwagonning. If you decide to polarize yourself after it’s already popular, you’ll lose all of the benefits of earned media coverage and the viral aspects that Nike and Gillette enjoyed.
All the same, there’s nothing saying that you need to follow this trend at all. If strong political ideology isn’t you, don’t jump on a trend just because it looks like a good marketing tactic today.