Holzer: The Best a Man Can Get

Controversy swarms Gillette’s newest advertisement.

by Emory Holzer | 1/24/19 2:10am


Earlier this month, I received an email from my mom instructing me to watch the new Gillette commercial, which she declared “was so good it made me cry.” Despite her strong emotional response, my expectations were not particularly high — commercials are known to elicit tearful reactions from my mother. But regardless, I clicked the link and watched the two-minute video. The seemingly well-meaning ad harkens on bullying, the #MeToo movement, toxic masculinity and violence against women to argue that the behavior of men must change. The ad did not provoke the same emotional response from me as it did for my mother, but it struck me as relevant and interesting. By the day’s end, though, the commercial had left my thoughts. 

A week later, the advertisement reappeared in my conscious, spurred by mounting controversy surrounding Gillette and the campaign. Like many public uproars today, the response was swift and coordinated from both supporters and the opposition. Yet what makes this response different is that the grievances are not sorted into just two camps. The issues surrounding the advertisement, much like those in the campaign itself, are much more complex, with multiple camps of opposition that don’t fall into traditional partisan lines. Conservatives and liberals share in championing the ad as well as opposing it, albeit for different reasons. 

Some argue that the advertisement is unfair to men. They claim the campaign uses broad strokes to paint men in a harsh negative light. If Gillette’s goal is to increase sales, the opposition argues, why do they take such an accusatory tone? Problems of bullying and harassment are not limited to just men. Rather, many feel that these impact society as a whole. Some men felt attacked by the advertisement, accused of behaviors in which they feel they do not engage. 

However, the advertisement makes it clear that not all men engage in damaging behavior. In fact, the ad explicitly says “some men already are… act[ing] the right way.” Further, although problems of damaging behavior are not exclusive to men, Gillette understands that its consumer base is men — Gillette’s women’s shaving products are marketed separately through the Venus brand. For Gillette, a razor and shaving products company, to make a plea to women would defy reason and engrain the message as disingenuous. 

Many others claim that Gillette sought to profit off of the suffering of victims and the arduous work of many women to bolster the #MeToo movement. They argue that the motivation driving the commercial was purely profit, and it is insincere for Gillette, who had little involvement with the movement, to gain recognition and sales by associating itself with it now. 

Ultimately, Gillette, a profit-motivated corporation, published the ad campaign with the intention of increasing sales. However, if the result is positive, does the intention ultimately matter? If more companies create advertisements like these, holding men accountable for their behavior, encouraging men to act morally and exposing children to positive behaviors, maybe this world could be a little better. Maybe fewer children would face cyberbullying. Maybe there would be less sexual assault on college campuses. 

There are also those who argue that corporations must only engage in charitable actions that pertain to their sector. Many think Gillette’s engagement with #MeToo in this advertisement is ingenuine, as the movement has little to do with shaving. Instead, they argue, Gillette should focus its charitable efforts on causes more related to their business.

This, though, could not be further from the truth. Gillette’s products relate only to men’s grooming in a literal sense. But shaving, for many men, represents an evolution into adulthood, a bearing of greater responsibility and a higher moral code. Gillette seemingly seeks to incentivize positive behavior to accompany this evolution. Not only does their commercial attempt to change the behavior of men today, but it also drives positive behavior in the men of tomorrow.

And finally, there are many who do support the campaign as an especially poignant and moving plea for changes in men’s behavior. However, all of this controversy has clouded the intended message of the advertisement. The commercial encourages men to act positively. The ad that made my mom cry doesn’t argue that all men are bad nor that problems in society only exist because of men. 

Society should move past debating the merits and failures of the advertisement. With such outrage stemming from the advertisement — highlighted by overwhelming calls for a boycott and dislikes nearly doubling likes on YouTube — more controversy will only hinder future advocacy. It will only ensure that fewer companies, fewer public figures and fewer politicians will take a stand against toxic masculinity. Instead, this advertisement should be seen as an opportunity to raise the next generation in a better light. The conversation around Gillette’s advertisement should center around means to create change. “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow,” and creating the change to build this tomorrow starts today.