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Gillette Controversy – Should Brands Take A Stance?

January 17, 2019

Procter & Gamble’s Gillette released a new ad earlier this week. The video called “We Believe” aims to tackle aspects of toxic masculinity, including sexual harassment and bullying. While this video was received positively by many as “powerful” and “an important conversation to have” it has also received a backlash.  

There are many opinions going around but the main two points of controversy I have observed are whether brands are being too political and unacceptance of the concept of “toxic masculinity.” I would like to explore today the idea of brands taking a stand. 

Lately, we have seen some big brands adjusting their business strategies to become advocates for good causes and social issues. This situation has become tricky, as some of these issues, like sexual harassment, are now attached to a political point of view even though it shouldn’t be that way. It should be in everyone’s best interest to solve problems like harassment, homophobia, sexism, bullying, just to name a few. 

Even though brands like Gillette, Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods have been criticized for taking a stance on social issues in their advertising, data shows that consumers are shifting the way they think about this strategy. 

In 2017, two separate reports from American Association of Advertising Agenciesand the American Marketing Association concluded that majority of consumers did not like marketers taking political positions. Fast forward to the following year when another report by Sprout Social held that 66% of consumers believed it was important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues. An even more recent 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study, showed that 64% of consumers worldwide will make a purchasing decision based on a brand’s social or political position. 

Based on this information and the fact that Nike and Dick’s Sporting Goods sales actually grew after their brand activism it makes sense business-wise that brands take a stance. But what about non-monetary benefits? 

The Edelman report also finds the majority of the 8,000 people interviewed also believe brands have more power to both address and solve for social issues than the government. I think it’s easy to agree with that statement if we stop and think about how long the media has been shaping our society. For many decades it has influenced the way we talk, the way we think about gender stereotypes and other social expectations. 

Let’s take the Gentlemen Prefer Hanes” campaign for example. If we take a look at all those ads, we can all agree they are sexist. However, the campaign and tagline were highly successful for almost 10 years. As society evolves, our way of thinking about different issues has also changed. So, isn’t it only obvious that media will reflect that evolution?

I personally believe that Gillette did a great job at addressing some issues that we are trying to tackle as a society. Do I think issues like bullying and sexual harassment are solely a men’s issue? Absolutely not. And contrary to what many people expressed on social media, I don’t think Gillette was trying to say that either. But conversations about these issues are happening all over the country and Gillette decided to take their powerful big-brand megaphone to use their voice and deliver a video of encouragement towards a better world. Procter & Gamble, which acquired Gillette in 2005, has a history of addressing social issues with their advertising to emphasize the company’s principles.

I am not saying all brands need or should stand for a social issue. But I do think companies need to take the time and effort to understand their audience so they can authentically connect with its customer’s values. And if a brand decides to become an advocate for a specific cause, they need to make sure their cause is reflected throughout their company’s policies, communication, and overall values. Otherwise, it’s not authenticity, it’s just a way to sell your product. At the end of the day, as long as brands are true to their core values, their mission, and goals, supporting certain issues should feel like a natural extension of who they are.

Private: Julie Ramirez

Julie Ramirez has a background in creative marketing. She holds a BA in Entertainment and Media Management with a concentration in live performances from Columbia College Chicago.