‘Toxic Masculinity’: Why Gillette Is Taking a Stance on Harassment With Its Controversial Ad

March 13, 2019

Given the rise of the #MeToo movement and the sustained headlines about inappropriate workplace behavior, companies everywhere have been looking for tactics to fight workplace harassment.

Procter & Gamble was the first one that thought the answer was sparking an internet firestorm, which they did with a commercial that addresses “toxic masculinity”:

The Cincinnati-based consumer products giant created the video for its Gillette razor products and, since its release in mid-January on YouTube, the ad has been seen nearly 30 million times. It’s also been liked 779,000 times, disliked 1.4 million times, and has prompted more than 419,000 comments.

Reactions have ranged from actress Jessica Chastain tweeting, “Thank you for this reminder of the beauty of men,” to infuriated calls for a boycott of Gillette and all other P&G products. “First time I have seen a razor company cut their own wrist,” suggested one YouTube poster. Fox News commentator Todd Starnes asked: “Does Gillette want men to start shaving their legs too?”

Regardless of whether you like the commercial or not, there’s no denying it was a bold move — one that Gillette felt they needed to make to align their brand with their company values and show their commitment to gender equality. Here’s more:

Gillette’s goal was to provoke a discussion — and underscore its company brand

Marketing for men’s shaving products has not typically been the place to find feminist-friendly messages. In the 1960s and ’70s, for example, Noxzema shaving cream had a former Miss Sweden imploring men to “take it off, take it all off” as the David Rose Orchestra played “The Stripper” in the background. Subtle it was not.

In a quick nod to its own less-enlightened past, the new Gillette video includes a brief shot from an old ad of a woman nuzzling the freshly shaved face of a Gillette user — then the image is broken by a boy being chased by bullies and we’re onto the present.

So why the sudden shift? And why now?

Upstarts like the Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s have attracted younger customers with savvy online marketing and subscription service, and have changed the face of the $4 billion U.S. shaving goods market.

“Successful brands today have to be relevant and engage consumers in topics that matter to them,” a P&G spokesperson told NPR. “This is especially true when it comes to younger consumers — a key demographic for us.”

Gillette has said its goal was to begin a discussion. “If we get people to pause, reflect, and to challenge themselves and others to ensure that their actions reflect who they really are,” the spokesperson said, “then this campaign will be a success.” In terms of starting conversations, the ad has been a huge success, even if most of the response has been more flamethrowing than thoughtful discourse.

P&G was undoubtedly also thinking about its company brand when it launched this campaign. The company has invested a lot of time and money in a Gender Equality initiative. Its goal? To achieve 50-50 representation of women and men in all parts of the company.

P&G’s 2018 Citizenship Report noted that is has increased representation for women so that they are now 46% of the company’s managers around the world. Our recent Global Talent Trends 2019 report notes that the majority of female talent professionals sees increasing the gender diversity of a company’s leadership team as critical to combating harassment.

In many ways, the ad is remarkably on trend. When we surveyed 5,000 HR and talent professionals for Global Talent Trends, they named anti-harassment as one of the top four trends that will impact talent acquisition this year. When asked if they had seen any changes on this issue over the last two years, they told us that employees have become more vocal about harassment and less tolerant of bad behavior — two of the practices that the Gillette ad endorses.

Companies like P&G are sending unequivocal signals to current and future employees about where they want to be seen lining up on this issue. Creating a safe, respectful culture in 2019 is a way to attract talent and improve engagement.

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