Gillette has hit a nerve.
On Monday, the P&G brand released an update to its 30-year-old “The Best a Man Can Get” campaign, and the work held a mirror to our politically polarized culture. The old ad was a universally upbeat portrayal of men doing things like attending a wedding, playing sports, working a trade desk, flirting with a woman and teaching their sons how to shave.
The new spot is something very different. It features a series of men looking at themselves both literally and metaphorically and calls upon men to help stop behaviors like bullying, harassment and misogyny while asking themselves whether they are truly the best they can be.
While many viewers saw the ad as a positive reflection of the changes in how brands address male consumers, others read it as the latest affront to men for being men. For its part, P&G seems satisfied with the campaign’s results so far.
“Our intent was to create a debate on the positive role that men can have,” a company spokesperson said. “I think its fair to say that debate is in full effect.”
P&G has no plans to pull the ad, which is currently running online. “Sparking debate is the goal, and we think debate is healthy,” the spokesperson added. Gillette’s creative agency of record, Grey New York, declined to comment on the ad.
And Gillette is hardly the first brand to pivot when it comes to shifting perceptions of gender in modern society. Here are four others that adapted or completely abandoned their longtime strategies, along with the responses those efforts received:
From 2005 to 2012, the domain registrar was all but synonymous with raunchy Super Bowl ads.
In 2013, however, the brand very publicly announced it was done with the sleaze, hired a new agency and ran two new, more restrained Super Bowl ads. Since then, GoDaddy has tried several times to reinvent itself, most famously pulling a controversial ad about a lost puppy and replacing it with this nondescript effort that featured a man at his desk working into the night on his small business rather than watching the Big Game.
In 2017, GoDaddy repositioned itself again with a Super Bowl ad by Bullish focused on all things internet.
Unlike Gillette, the brand has not pushed primarily male audiences to ask difficult questions about their own identities. But it’s no longer associated with unlikely kisses from models, either.
For years, Carl’s Jr. spoke to young men even more explicitly via the blunt force of sex appeal as if they couldn’t understand anything else. C-list stars from Paris Hilton to Kim Kardashian appeared on behalf of the burger chain before its marketing team eventually realized that “young hungry guys aren’t as affected by the racy ads with swimsuit models because you can get a lot of that on the internet now,” according to now-former CEO Andrew Puzder.
Here’s an example of the type of ad the brand was putting out there in 2013:
So what did the brand do to change? First, agency of record 72andSunny parted ways with the creative leads on the account. Then Carl’s Jr. flipped the old script and quite literally blew it up, creating a narrative in which fictional patriarch Carl Hardee Sr. blamed his son for all the bikini-heavy spots and promised a return to “food, not boobs.”
Eighteen months and one agency review later, the brand took things a step further, recruiting satirist Celeste Barber to overtly mock its own “classic” ads from the Paris Hilton era.
Did the new approach work? Try and think about when you last heard about a controversy over Carl’s Jr.’s advertising to answer that one.
Ah, teenage boys.
Unilever’s Axe has long appealed to that core demo with a single message: Use our products and more women will pay attention to you. Who can forget the not-exactly-nuanced “Nothing Beats an Astronaut” series?
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