In January, Gillette jumped into the culture war with both feet when it produced a “short film” taking on toxic masculinity. That advertisement was seen by millions of people and made international news but it wasn’t well-received. Many observers just didn’t appreciate the political lecture from a razor company. The day after the ad was published on YouTube it had far more dislikes than likes. Even today, the ad has about 800k likes and 1.5 million dislikes. In May, Gillette doubled down with another ad about a dad teaching his trans daughter to shave.
Last month the company’s corporate parent, Proctor and Gamble, announced an $8 billion write-down of Gillette’s value. P&G blamed the change on two factors: Currency devaluations and continuing competition from lower-cost rivals like Harry’s. Today, News Corp in Australia reports the company has (coincidentally?) shifted its marketing scheme. This week Gillette rolled out a new advertisement featuring the most traditionally masculine man imaginable: a firefighter.
Razor brand Gillette says it is “shifting the spotlight from social issues to local heroes” after an ad delving into “toxic masculinity” caused a customer backlash.
The new ad, which launched last week, stars Australian firefighter and personal trainer Ben Ziekenheiner. “I’ve been a firefighter for 19 years,” Mr Ziekenheiner says in the ad.
“People sometimes ask if it’s scary. It can be, but like anyone who has a job to do, you prepare — not just in terms of your equipment but also mentally and physically.”
The ad is definitely a shift in tone from toxic masculinity. If the toxic masculinity ad contained a woke lecture, this one presents a much more traditional aspiration for manhood. Ben Ziekenheiner is good looking, fit, and has a job that involves personal courage and saving lives. Let’s face it, this is a guy that probably never had trouble finding a date.
But Gillette is still opting for the softest possible approach with this ad. Yes, there are scenes of firefighters in a burning house, but there are no screaming sirens or men issuing orders or scenes of manly men high-fiving at the firehouse. Instead, the ad is focused on Ziekenheiner’s home and in particular his young daughter. The ad ends with a slo-mo shot of him hugging her before he heads out to work. So I’d say Gillette is trying to straddle a line here between a full-on manly-man approach and the woke messaging we saw earlier this year.
I think I understand why Gillette went with the woke ads in the first place. They are facing pressure from low-cost competitors and they need to appeal to young people who might be willing to pay a premium price for a brand that embraces their values. Maybe they’ve decided that didn’t work as well as expected. Or maybe it even backfired a bit. Whatever the reason, Gillette has gone from castigating ‘toxic masculinity’ to lionizing heroic masculinity in a matter of months.
For comparison purposes, here’s the toxic masculinity ad from January: