Gillette’s toxic masculinity ad an act of brand suicide

The new global world that the internet has unlocked has generally been seen by businesses as a fantastic way to reach more customers and build more effective customer relationships. Not only can you have a social media team connecting directly with your consumer base, but you can also gain massive brand recognition by virtue of the sheer amount of information presented to potential consumers on a daily basis.

Branding is becoming more and more important in the business world, meaning companies must carefully position their brand in a way that best serves their customers and themselves.

Enter Gillette. They’ve recently come under massive scrutiny for its recent advertisement in which they advocate for combatting “toxic masculinity.”

According to the internet, toxic masculinity refers to characteristics associated with male cultural norms that can be harmful to society, such as competition, self-reliance, and dominance. The advertisement in question features a wide range of instances of men acting in typically male fashion, from bullying and fighting, to the more recent entity of “mansplaining.”

While this campaign has seen some celebration by left-leaning individuals as being progressive and “woke,” right-wing individuals have instead viewed it as an attack on many of the attractive virtues valued in men. There are two sides to this argument: the left advocates for a more sensitive and emotional definition of man, while the right advocates for the more rugged masculinity that has traditionally defined the male side of society. I could discuss the political and cultural ramifications of this conflict at length, I would prefer instead to focus on why I think Gillette has made a grave error.

This error characterizes my thesis: businesses need to stay out of public politics.

If I was in charge of Gillette after this advertisement had gone out, I would have walked into the marketing department and fired every single person who thought that this was a good idea. What Gillette has just done is effectively insulted 90 per cent of its customer base. Now, some men will agree with Gillette’s perspective, and they’ll continue to buy Gillette products. I’ll be generous to Gillette and assume that makes up half of their male base. Now, what happens to the other half of Gillette’s male base that viewed the ad as a criticism of their masculinity? They’re gone. They’ve taken their business to Dollar Shave Club and they’re not coming back.

While many firms can and do recognize the need to have a human face to their organization that recognizes social issues, it’s brand suicide to pick a social issue that polarises your client base. If Gillette had gone out and made a campaign saying that they were planting trees in Brazil, most people would have been on board without much controversy. Instead, they decided to alienate at least 45 per cent of their clientele by focusing on a current socio-political issue rather than something universally agreed upon.

This phenomenon has reared its head both historically and contemporarily. The clothing brand Benetton famously used to focus on social virtue signalling in its advertising, to the point that they ran into several financial and political pitfalls that seriously damaged the firm’s brand and development.

We saw a similar issue with Nike when they featured the controversial Colin Kaepernick in their advertising campaign. While Nike gained a short term boost of sales, they suffered a calamitous 34 per cent drop in brand favourability.

Ignoring the politics of the issue, a loss in brand is never worth the small boost in profit. It’s like getting caught up in a tax scandal. Your firm will gain money in the short run, but who’s going to do business with you after you’ve fiddled the government? The same logic applies to the relationship between the brand and the consumer.

Firms in the business world need to understand that average consumers aren’t going to care if a firm is participating in “social justice.” They just need to not do anything immoral and have at least some offering of social corporate responsibility. Big businesses need to start paying attention to the polarised political climate and sell to both sides without comment. Right-wing money is as good as left-wing money, and vice-versa.

And if the current reaction is as telling as I suspect, right-wing money isn’t going back to Gillette any time soon.


  1. It insulted those who are a detriment to society, anybody insulted by such an ad is no man. You say 90% of their base, more likely <10%. As they say, "if the shoe fits…"

    1. To add to the business side of things, it is so refreshing when a brand uses their name and base in order to try and make society better. Goes to show that money isn’t everything.

      1. Tuck your Vagina back in John.
        It may be difficult but comprehend this commercial with gender reversal. Or make it about homosexuals or the mentally challenged.
        Heterosexual and some homosexual men are finally drawing a line in the sand is all. The increasing and seemingly culturally indefensible attack on maledom is over mate.

    2. Bulshit, the add is assuming that all men are bullies, sexists and misogynist. Nothing could be further from the truth, its an ideological stunt to confuse the all with the few, but we are not collective beings in nature! I will never see myself bying Gillette, Im done with Gillette for good!

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