Early consumer reaction numbers look good for Gillette

Early last week, P&G posted a wildly controversial Gillette ad containing an important message: Toxic masculinity exists, and men need to speak out against it whenever it appears.

It was a bold stance for a product whose customer base is between 60-70% male. Not surprisingly, it elicited a strident response from some segments of the population, who promptly binned their Gillette products and dismissed the ad as “man-trashing.

Lost in the uproar was the fact this is a powerful spot that says nothing about razors and everything about how many marketers believe they should build their brands in this divided political era—one in which traits like compassion and sensitivity have become linked with “snowflakes,” and “winning,” whatever the cost, is celebrated. The election of Donald Trump wasn’t just about him or America: It was the loudest signal of a growing global divide about the evolution of society: Right path, wrong path?

Like it or not, brand-builders increasingly feel they’re being forced to choose a side. It’s why we’ve heard so much about “brand purpose” in the past two years, starting with the 2017 Super Bowl—remember this , this and this. As Karen Howe noted in her recent column for The Message, its says a lot about Gillette’s message that the ensuing outrage seems much louder than for other purpose-driven marketing.

The key question, of course, is does this type of values-driven communication alienate more than it inspires? Do people want a razor brand telling them how to behave? Are YouTube likes and angry comments evidence of anything meaningful? Even if someone says they prefer brands that believe men should not harass women, will those people actually buy Gillette products when standing in the razor aisle?

This last question will only be answered when the sales numbers start rolling in over the coming weeks and months. But since this is P&G, they likely subjected the marketing approach to all manner of testing before going to market.

However, the very first consumer reaction polls from quick-moving market researchers are in, and the numbers from Morning Consult tell a mostly positive story for P&G:

  • Before seeing the ad, 42% of respondents said Gillette “shared their values.” After seeing the ad, it jumped to 71%;
  • The percentage of consumers who said Gillette is “socially responsible” jumped from 45% to 72%;
  • 61% said they felt very positively about the ad, 23% were neutral, and 17% gave it the lowest marks (between 1-3 out of 10);
  • While it seemed like the entire marketing world was discussing and debating the ad, just 8% of consumers said they’d “seen, read, or heard” something negative about Gillette;
  • Among Dollar Shave and Harry’s customers, 56% said they were more likely to buy Gillette after seeing the spot. Just 18% said they were less likely. BUT…;
  • …Morning Consult also noted a slight downward movement on key metrics like consideration. In the two weeks before the ad, 69% of Americans said they would consider buying Gillette; in the two days after the ad debuted, it was 65%. While the slight drop could raise concerns, Morning Consult notes that 65% is “well within the bounds of Gillette’s normal purchasing consideration range.”

Finally, Morning Consult’s dial test video showing Democrat, Republican and Independent reaction to the spot is fascinating. Initially, Republican response drops, likely at the moment they realize what the ad was about. In relative terms, however, their reactions throughout the rest of the ad—which move upwards—closely mirror those of  Independents and Democrats. Proof perhaps, that the difference between the two camps is actually razor thin.

—David Brown

David Brown