How Gillette’s New Ad Flipped a Narrative and Challenged Men to Live Up to Different Standards

Something that women have dealt with seemingly since the dawn of advertising

Gillette's newest ad was a deviation from past ads, which centered around masculinity. Gillette
Headshot of Alaina Shearer

Internet, you need to chill out about the Gillette “We Believe” ad. Take a deep breath. Another one, perhaps, and let’s take a moment to reflect on the irony here.

Women have been defined by men through advertising, entertainment, movies, television and radio for centuries. From ads selling us products to attain more voluptuous breasts in the 19th century to those reminding us of our place in the home throughout the 20th century to today’s ads that are reminders of who we should be, what we should look like and what roles we should fill in life, at work or at play. Women are constantly defined, redefined and sculpted by advertisers.

And now it appears the tables are turning, with the Gillette ad being the latest in a manhood-defining trend by advertisers we’ve seen emerging in recent years.

It should not come as a surprise that some men, not as accustomed to such blatant definition, are reacting negatively to the Gillette ad, which expressly tells them how to behave. Not even to mention the fact that it is fair to presume men need changing in the first place and that men and their rampant toxic masculinity are the root cause of sexual harassment, bullying and street heckling.

While women have been told by the ad industry to be better at cleaning, cooking and mothering and have been held to nearly impossible beauty standards, men have traditionally been told to be as masculine as possible. And now the dialogue is shifting.

Men, welcome to our club of gender stereotypes. And remember, while here, you need to be all the things a man should be—except a bully, a sexual harasser, an objectifier or—the worst of all and the one that really pulled at our heartstrings—a bad example for your sons.

Time will tell how well this ad and others can reverse decades of putting women at home, as beautiful as possible while happily cleaning and caring for children.

Gillette’s ad also isn’t a surprise. From Old Spice and the man your man could smell like the 2017 Axe body spray campaigns featuring men of all sizes, shapes and races, the evolution of advertising to men has been in our midst for years. Advertisers are testing the limits and pushing the boundaries of stereotypes as far as they can, but I would argue more so in the favor of men.

For example, the Old Spice ad is humorous, jesting at the stereotypical man’s man and almost making him seem ridiculous, while the Axe body spray campaigns show more real, authentic men than I’ve ever seen the likes of in any ad targeting women.

Maybe I don’t watch enough commercials, but show me one where women are incredibly vulnerable about our true fears and not wearing an ounce of makeup. And when will see an ad featuring a mom who has decided her husband will be doing 50 percent of the housework from this day forward? When will see men making up 50 percent of commercials featuring anything centered around household duties?

Perhaps the ad industry should stop reinforcing countless gender stereotypes to both women and men on almost every medium. Instead, let’s be realistic and take some baby steps first. The Gillette ad is one small step for men and one giant leap for the ad industry.

While the Gillette ad is unfairly stereotypical and presumes most men need to change, it’s also a tremendous rally cry for the guys who are doing the right thing, the guys who often feel singled out or fearful of doing what’s right by the women in their workplaces or even at home.

Is the ad capitalizing on an incredibly important historical moment for profit? Yes. That’s what the best ads do. Advertisements have always and always will be a mirror of what’s happening in our lives, reflecting back a more positive, idealistic image of ourselves. And ideally, those ads persuade us to find affinity with a brand and buy the brand’s product. There’s a trust built between brands and consumers that, if done correctly, is impossible to break. In the case of Gillette and Procter and Gamble, time will tell how well this ad and others can reverse decades of putting women at home, as beautiful as possible while happily cleaning and caring for children.

And while it is effectively catching our attention, will the Gillette ad actually make a difference? Will men change their behavior and drop their errant ways after a few views? Highly doubtful. As any woman on the receiving end of gender discrimination or offensive behavior from men can tell you, the worst offenders are going to need far more than a commercial for a razor to change their behavior. But, hey, maybe they’ll buy a razor.

I commend the creative team at Grey New York and P&G. This ad is a big and beautiful step in the right direction. What I love the most about this ad is this that you’re aware and you’re talking. I can tell you as a woman fighting every day for change, awareness from men is important. Not just important, but paramount in order for any real change to begin. Guys, we do need you. The culture needs you as well to keep on as our watchdogs, to bravely go where no advertisers have gone before and to keep pushing the envelope in order to reverse all of the damage your predecessors have wrought.


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@alainashearer Alaina Shearer is the founder of Together Digital and host of the You Rock podcast.
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