Gillette’s Close Shave: New Ad Debuts a Brand Voice For Modern Times

Gillette has made stalwart shaving products for more than a century. For 30 years, its tagline, "The Best a Man Can Get," has also made its line of men's razors, trimmers, creams and balms synonymous with masculinity. Since 1990, the Proctor & Gamble-owned brand has also sent young men (and the occasional woman) a razor on their 18th birthday, using introductory marketing to solidify the razor's reputation as a right of passage.

This week Gillette launched an ad campaign, "We Believe," a timely screed against toxic masculinity like bullying and sexual harassment. It also updates the decades-old tagline to "The Best Men Can Be." After scenes of bullying and male intimidation, the old line is repurposed as a question: "Is this the best a man can get?" As of this writing, the ad has been viewed more than 4 million times.

The campaign already has audiences divided on whether or not it is a genuine effort for social good, an opportunistic rebranding, or both.

Contrasted with Nike's calculated risk in bringing on Colin Kaepernick as a spokesperson, Gillette's move seems much bolder and braver. Though both Nike and Gillette have tackled topical, controversial issues in their campaigns, Gillette's making commitments with its new campaign that will forever alter the core of its brand voice.

Gillette also launched a website for the campaign. It includes a mission statement and identifies the organizations Gillette is partnering with on its social work (The Boys and Girls Club of America and Build A Better Man Project, for starters). The site also includes social media accounts that highlight the work the brand and its partners will be undertaking.

Its mission statement explains how the original tagline was aspirational, "reflecting the standards that many men strive to achieve." It then notes that today's news suggests many men are not actually at their best.

"It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture," the statement continues. "And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better."

The statement ends with a "pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more."

Suffice to say, the campaign has been a close shave for Gillette. An institution tethered to male identity in the minds of millions has triggered many detractors. It's not a surprise that many of them have Twitter accounts.

Other detractors pointed out that Proctor & Gamble made a deliberate decision to engage a socially conscious consumer demo based on data.

In addition to gathering data on how shavers would respond, Gillette also conducted a national study of U.S. men and women to understand  attributes of a man “at his best.” It found traits that define a “great man” for those surveyed in all genders were: practicing honesty (64%) and moral integrity (51%) and being hard-working (43%) and respectful to others (41%).

The Ketchum-conducted survey also found that men and women universally agreed being a good father was one of the most important things a great man can do (95%), along with setting a good example for others (96% agreed) and stepping in and taking action when he sees someone in need (95% find this important).

Along with this pre-campaign survey, communicators should consider the motivation behind Gillette rebranding in an era when it has many disruptive brand challengers  (Harry's, Dollar Shave Club etc.). Coupled with the fact that growing out your facial hair is in style, a slipping relevance in the market might also be reasons enough for a timely rebrand.

Some disagree with this take. "Given its market leadership and loyal consumer base, Gillette is one of a handful of companies in a unique position to address a number of societal issues while encouraging men to be their best," says Eric Kraus, a member of APCO Worldwide's International Advisory Council and a former VP of external relations at P&G.

Kraus argues that consumers, "especially millennials and the younger male population," expect "their brands to take a stand and mean more than just the product offering." He says that Gillette is  "using its size and voice to help educate and motivate its consumers regarding significant societal issues."

As it stands, the positive change that Gillette wants to create involves bolstering its long-held image, and catch phrase, with a modern context that uses its old brand identity as a springboard for a new one. Whether or not the campaign works with its organizational partners to report results of consequence, or is a hollow feat of identity/culture marketing, remains to be seen.

Follow Justin: @Joffaloff