Did Gillette get it right with ‘First Shave’?

Late last week, P&G quietly posted a new ad for shaving brand Gillette to Facebook. The ad reinforces the brand’s stated commitment to “redefining masculinity.”

The spot from Grey Canada shows a young trans man from Toronto preparing to shave for the first time. “I’m at the point in my manhood where I’m actually happy,” says the young man, Samson Bonkeabantu Brown, of his transition. The video comes a few months after P&G first planted a flag on this issue with “We Believe”—an unapologetic, unambiguous call to action for men to stop behaviours that have been tolerated for too long as “boys just being boys.” (See it below if you need a reminder.) “This is not a product ad, this is a point of view ad,” said P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard at the time.

That video got a lot of attention, but many also questioned the fit for the brand and the authenticity of the message. In that light, we asked a handful of Canadian industry professionals to share their thoughts on how well, or not, the new work represents P&G’s point of view.

“The spot is a beautiful, emotional piece of storytelling. But I’m already cringing anticipating the fervent reactions the strategy is going to get. The rise in purpose-based marketing has been nothing if not controversial. Most recently, Nike’s “Dream Crazier” spot led to revelations about ethical gaps in the company’s treatment of pregnant female athletes, and Gillette received its own share of criticism for the “We Believe” spot. With an annual investment of $1 million in the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Gillette seems to be righting some of its past missteps. But is it “enough”? Probably not. They’ll likely be criticized, and if history is any indication, some of this dissent will come from the industry itself. This debate is ultimately what interests me the most. The brands that leverage purpose-based strategies should be held accountable for their actions. But shouldn’t we all?” —Sarah Phillips, senior strategist, The Garden. 

“As Pride month approaches, we see more products and ads aimed toward the LGBTQ+ community: bottles wrapped in bright rainbows or shirtless muscular men. This Gillette ad doesn’t lean on any of those tropes, and instead puts forward the narrative of Samson, a trans person of colour. The spot ends with “…It’s everybody around me transitioning.” This is powerful, as it truly takes a community to make change happen. As an individual who identifies as queer, it gets exhausting to see corporations chase the “Pink Dollar,” but overall this was executed well and representation like this—from a giant multinational marketer—is so very important.” Marvin Veloso, junior art director, The Hive. 

“I refuse to be cynical about brands taking positions on social issues. As long as there is positive intent, why not put a great message out into the world? Consumers are smart enough to decide for themselves if it’s authentic or not. So, I personally have no issue with Gillette taking on the issue of toxic masculinity. As part of the LGBTQ community, I really think Gillette hit the sweet spot. It tells a powerful story of courage and acceptance through the eyes of a father and son that would have had to grapple with the impacts of toxic masculinity as Samson matured and transitioned. To be blunt, I wasn’t a fan of the original global launch film. I felt the tone resorted to a lecture and it oversimplified the problem of toxic masculinity. This is a social issue that results from millions of social inputs from a myriad of different sources. Parents, peers, educators, social media, pop culture etc. etc.  And you can’t solve a problem this huge by telling men to be better. It’s why we tackled the same problem through an educational lens in our film  “Boys Don’t Cry” for White Ribbon. Our goal was to help boys and young men understand, recognize and reject the cues that society gives them that narrowly defines their masculinity. And in its own unique way, that’s exactly what this new Gillette ad does.” —Joseph Bonnici, partner and executive creative director, Bensimon Byrne.

“This touching commercial is much more inclusive, positive and powerful than the previous Gillette ad that took on toxic masculinity and challenged men to be more respectful of women. But many people will remain skeptical and dismiss it as opportunism because Gillette isn’t really walking the walk; now that Samson will be purchasing men’s razors and shaving cream, he will be paying less than Gillette charges women for virtually the same products.”—Brian Murray, chief creative officer, Ogilvy.

“I loved this ad. I love that Gillette embraced a very marginalized form of masculinity and let a true story speak for itself. It avoided sensationalism and created a positive relationship with Samson well before the viewer learns they’re trans at the 16-second mark. I think this was a powerful choice. A story like this has the potential to go wrong in so many ways, but they avoided all of them by simply treating Samson’s story with respect. It left me feeling more hopeful about masculinity and about advertising in general. I definitely called bullshit on Gillette’s “We Believe” ad. It was cool that they went there, but it felt opportunistic and I just didn’t believe them. But this ad changed my thinking completely… I can guarantee there will be people who will have negative reactions to this ad, and that Gillette was willing to take this risk shows that their values are authentic. I commend them for their bravery and for handling this sensitive subject with respect.” —Owen Millburn, senior writer, Publicis.

David Brown