Elle Nina Love
Gillette sparked conversation about masculinity after releasing the commercial “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.” The advertisement touches on subjects including sexual harassment, bullying, the infamous “boys will be boys” line, gender equality, and more.
The commercial received mixed messages. Some praised the company for tackling tough issues, while others criticized them for alienating their demographic. Many University of Nebraska at Omaha advertising professors like Hugh Reilly believe Gillette is addressing issues of toxic masculinity.
“I think that it’s interesting for a shaving razor company to take that approach for a very masculine product,” Reilly said. “The message was like ‘yes, you can still be masculine, but you can be other things too.’”
Dr. Andrea Weare said Gillette’s parent company, Proctor and Gamble, has a history of producing socially conscious advertising.
“They’re trying to get into this corporate social responsibility push to tie your product with a cause that is on the conscience of society,” Weare said. Weare said one of the biggest causes on our conscience are movements relating to the “Times Up” and “#MeToo” movement.
Melodae Morris, UNO advertising professor, said Gillette is using cause marketing to attach their brand to a cause with issues that relate to the #MeToo movement. “Gillette is trying to attach themselves to what they believe is a compilation of issues in this area,” Morris said.
Morris said when companies look for causes that they support, they should demonstrate their support by opening online forums and interacting with their consumers on social media for input.
“In these cases, they can have reputation management, which is their brand leader or CEOs talk about why they think this is an important issue rather than depending on advertisement,” Morris said.
It is important for advertisers to understand the power they have in the work they create, Weare said.
“If you’re a creator, a producer, a director, your voice has power and it matters so you need to understand what kind of messages I want to be creating,” Weare said. “That’s something that the creators will need to think about, and I think younger creators are thinking a lot about that.”
Trivializing social issues with selling a product can backfire on the company if they do not do research on the subject. The Pepsi advertisement on #BlackLivesMatter is an example of what not to do when addressing social issues, Reilly said.
“It was insulting because all you have to do to solve the world’s problems is to offer somebody a Pepsi, which it’s so ridiculous,” Reilly said. “You’re insulting the social problem by minimizing it like it’s no big deal.”
Gillette took the issue seriously by getting people to think about it, where Pepsi failed to deliver, Reilly said. He believes ads should be ran through control groups to test how it will play out to their audience.
Both Weare and Reilly agree advertisements can take stances on social issues, depending on the product. Reilly said cause-related advertisements can be effective when it ties what you’re selling to a social issue the audience cares about, which may be successful.
Weare said she believes corporate and brand responsibility is real with the set of professional ethics that advertising, and the public relations industry follow.
“If that is part of you maintaining your ethics by bringing up situations that are perhaps connected to your product or your advertisement, then that’s part of your ethics,” Weare said.
Weare said it’s a call you need to make as a producer and as an ad agency. “Always go back to your code of ethics,” Weare said. “Every industry has one and that should be connected to you as a professional and as a person who is just as much implicated in social issues as the person next door.”