Is it possible for a men’s shaving company to court controversy? We now know the answer is: yes, but only if it’s implied that men could perhaps, sometimes, maybe in a contemplative moment such as while grooming their facescapes, work on being better.
The video ad campaign from Gillette, which since it was published on Sunday has received well over three million views on YouTube, features footage from old Gillette ads, sexist media depictions, and men staring in mirrors as if considering their impact on other people. The language used in the voiceover is unmistakably a cooptation of empowerment slogans, though remixed here for men. Playing off the brand’s catchphrase “The best a man can get,” the ad asks “Is this the best a man can get?” Woah. The video continues “We? We believe in the best in men,” and encourages men to check their friends’ sexism, associating doing the right thing with personal strength. The ad also explicitly references the MeToo movement, including a clip of Terry Crews’s 2018 Senate testimony on sexual assault, as well “toxic” masculinity, and school bullying.
Basically, this message was delivered in as ego-delicate a manner as possible, but of course the malignantly masculine personalities, both public and private, that grow mad at anything possible, piled on to this highly visible expression of, well, brand solidarity. Piers Morgan, for instance, doesn’t like the ad and neither does James Woods. CNBC points out that hundreds of thousands of people have disliked the YouTube video. Their arguments are pastiches of the typical MRA word-slop that maintains any criticism of men as a group has already gone too far.
In response to the backlash, Gillette told CNBC in an email on Tuesday:
“We expected debate—discussion is necessary. For every negative reaction we’ve seen many positive reactions, people calling the effort courageous, timely, smart, and much-needed. At the end of the day, sparking conversation is what matters. This gets people to pay attention to the topic and encourages them to consider taking action to make a difference.”
The Guardian reported on Tuesday that the ad was directed by Kim Gehrig, who works for the UK-based production agency Somesuch and also helmed the This Girl Can advertising campaign for Sport England, as well as Libresse’s “Viva La Vulva,” an advertisement used to sell Swedish feminine hygiene products.
To get at just how low the ad’s detractors will go, some have even resorted to attacking the video because a woman directed it. Ezra Levant, a Conservative Canadian political commentator wrote, according to The Guardian, “A shaving ad written by pink-haired feminist scolds is about as effective as a tampon ad written by middle aged men… count this 30-year customer out.” First of all, I’m sure men write tampon ads (many fail to be good and yet, since pads and tampons continue unjustly to cost money, the expenditures continue). Second, if men stop shaving out of protest of whatever will they at least admit they stole that idea from feminism?