By T. H. Saturday August 24 2019

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.

A 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 showcases the brand’s SkinGuard range, highlighting the issue of sensitive skin for men who shave every day — including firefighters, who are required to be clean-shaven as it enables a proper seal for their breathing mask.

“We have a very clear strategy when it comes to how we authentically connect with our consumers,” says Manu Airan, associate brand director for Gillette, in a press release.

We will continue to talk about what is important to Gillette and that is representing men at their best and helping men do their best. That is not changing. We will continue to do that and demonstrate it in different ways.”

Parent company P&G last month took a nearly $8 billion (link) writedown in the value of the 118-year-old shaving business it purchased in 2005 for $57 billion.

While the company blamed the writedown primarily on a strengthening US dollar, it said the non-cash impairment charge was also due to increased competition and a “shrinking market for razors as men shave less frequently”.

Mr Airan said while shaving frequency had been reducing, ‘for us it’s an opportunity’. “Despite shaving frequency decreasing our sales have increased (thanks to) the innovation we are bringing to consumers’ unmet needs,” he said.

Critics were quick to connect the writedown to the brand’s recent push into progressive social issues, which rival Schick has pointedly mocked with a series of lighthearted ads taglined ‘The Man I Am’.

Advertising is increasingly the battleground of the culture wars, with big brands like Target, Nike and Starbucks copping backlash, and praise, for taking sides in divisive social and political issues like race, gender and sexuality.

But by alienating roughly 50 per cent of potential customers, many brands end up taking a hit to their bottom line — ‘Get woke, go broke’.

In January, Gillette sparked an online firestorm and boycott threats with an ad about the #MeToo movement challenging men to “shave their toxic masculinity”. The ad, which depicted various scenes of men bullying and catcalling women, asked, “Is this the best a man can get? Is it?”

The ‘We Believe’ ad was labelled by some in the media as an “attack on men”, but others praised the brand for starting a “conversation”.

In May, Gillette followed up with an ad featuring a father teaching his transgender son how to shave for the first time.

While the ‘First Shave” ad was generally well received, it was widely seen as Gillette doubling down on its push into social issues.

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