—Karen Howe wonders why some causes are more socially acceptable than others—
First they burned their Nikes, and now they’re trashing their Gillette razors. Some find it preachy. Others complain that it is flagrantly opportunistic.
One thing not up for debate: Gillette’s new short film has put many millions of knickers in a twist around the globe. It has fuelled enraged debates about whether or not it has the right to champion the cause of eradicating toxic masculinity.
While I am fascinated by the global blowback, I am not surprised. And that’s precisely why Gillette’s “We Believe” is so necessary.
Toxic masculinity is what gave birth to the #MeToo Movement. So how can a campaign that promotes helping men be better men possibly be on the wrong side of the argument?
Toxic masculinity has been a problem for a very long time. Ask any woman. We’ve all been on the receiving end of at least one of those unfortunate male archetypes depicted in the ad. Age, title, wisdom and wallet allowed me to deal with them effectively. Not every woman has that arsenal. But the bigger question is, why do they have to? Toxic behaviour was so endemic, so ingrained, it rarely afforded a second glance—until #MeToo.
In advertising we don’t just hold up a mirror to culture, we are part of it. In fact, we often nudge it along and help shape it. When culture shifts, advertising shifts with it.
Studies show that 30% of us will align ourselves with brands that share our beliefs and values. Other research has shown that 90% of millennials will actually switch to brands that support a cause they believe in, and social good is at the top of the list. That social ethos has given rise to companies like Warby Parker, Patagonia and Tom’s Shoes—all of which support worthy causes. Brands must stand for more than just profit. Brands must be more than just the bottom line.
Yes, some brands have a long history of being about profit above all else, but are we to condemn them for evolving, for becoming more socially aware and putting their considerable weight behind important causes? I don’t see anyone tossing their PCs off a bridge over Microsoft’s announcement about investing $500 million in affordable housing. So why are some causes more socially acceptable than others?
Besides, Gillette actually does have some history of cultural awareness. You may recall their touching Handle with Care campaign showcasing Gillette’s first assisted shaving razor. It looked at the challenges of an aging parent. The social conscience behind the new “We believe” ad did not arrive from nowhere.
“We Believe” taps into a cultural tipping point. It offers several meaningful beats: It takes an unflinching look at bullying, sexual harassment, and gender stereotyping—important because toxicity disguises itself in more than one suit of clothes. It doesn’t suggest that all men have behaved badly, but it does acknowledge the room for continued improvement. It challenges men to own the issue, to continue what has already begun.
As a construct, “We Believe” shines a light on the issue and serves up teachable moments, then puts $3 million towards further supporting the cause over the next three years. That’s far from an empty gesture. And with more than 30 years of supporting “The best a man can get” Gillette has the credibility to be in that space.
A global powerhouse like P&G getting behind such an important cause is to be applauded. They have picked the right battle. Because judging by the fury unleashed by “We Believe,” it is apparent the war on toxic masculinity is far from won.
Karen Howe is a globally-awarded creative director, writer and speaker, a member of the Cannes Lions Advisory Board, and founder of creative consultancy The Township.