SALT LAKE CITY — A video ad released Monday by razor brand Gillette that takes on "toxic masculinity" is being called "brave and timely" by some and "an assault on men" by others.
The ad — or rather, social messaging statement, since it doesn't actually include razors — starts with a series of images depicting boys and men bullying, fighting and disrespecting women. A man on a TV set makes lewd gestures towards a woman, and a man in a corporate board room starts "mansplaining" on behalf of a female associate. A line of men standing with their arms crossed behind a row of grills chant, "Boys will be boys."
Then the tone shifts. The ad shows men breaking up fights, intervening to stop harassment of women and speaking kindly. It ends with a message: "It's only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best."
The YouTube video has more than 4 million views. But it has nearly 400,000 dislikes compared with 110,000 likes, and some viewers — including many Gillette customers — are criticizing the ad for depicting men in a negative light and drawing on #MeToo era ideas that masculinity can be "toxic."
The term "toxic masculinity," an oft-repeated phrase of the #MeToo era, refers to the idea that some men are socialized to be violent, to demean women and to be ashamed of expressing their feelings — but not necessarily that maleness is inherently bad, according to feminists such as Colleen Clemmens, director of women's and gender studies at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania.
Still, some have taken offense at Gillette's approach, including journalist and TV personality Piers Morgan.
*NEW: Gillette, having spent 30yrs telling men to celebrate masculinity, now wants us to feel ashamed of it.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) January 15, 2019
What a bunch of pathetic PC-crazed virtue-signalling hypocrites. https://t.co/oxerBIkI23 pic.twitter.com/2WQgQAKAAI
Gillette's move echoes Nike's 2018 ad featuring former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick, who famously sat down and later took a knee during the national anthem in order to protest police killings and racial injustice. Following the ad — which included the tagline, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” — consumers who found Kaepernick's form of protest disrespectful and unpatriotic publicly vowed to destroy their Nike gear. But Nike stock "soared," according to The Washington Post, offering some insight into why a company might make such a controversial move.
Robert Kozinets, a scholar of marketing and consumer culture at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told The Washington Post that fierce reactions to the Gillette ad may bode well for the success of the message.
“Advertisers, when they’re lucky and smart, are able to tap into something that’s part of the popular consciousness,” Kozinets told The Washington Post. Procter & Gamble, which owns Gillette, is taking advantage of the #MeToo movement and rebranding to fit a “moral narrative with a lot of energy behind it,” he said.
Procter and Gamble shares were up slightly early Tuesday, according to MarketWatch. Its stock is down about 0.8 percent so far in January, but up over 1 percent for the past year, the financial outlet reported.
But on YouTube, reviews of the ad are mixed.
"My son got the mach 3 free razor in the mail for his 18th birthday. I saw this YouTube last night. I threw the razor away. No need to let him even try it," one Youtube commenter wrote.
Another said, "You are marketing to men with radical feminist misandry? What's next? An Afro hair product ad that goes on about the crime stats? Never buying Gillette again."
Actress and director Hazel Hayes also weighed in:
Okay, this #Gillette ad is a little bit schmaltzy and overwrought, but the replies from men who are clearly angry, fragile, and terrified of being criticised or losing their right to live in the past, are proof of how much we need campaigns like this. https://t.co/fSXJkjSgB1— Hazel Hayes (@TheHazelHayes) January 15, 2019
An unnamed spokesperson for Gillette told CNBC the company expected debate and disagreement.
“For every negative reaction we’ve seen many positive reactions, people calling the effort courageous, timely, smart and much-needed,” the spokesperson said. “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.”
It's not the first time a brand has tried to spark discussion of controversial or trendy topics. The 2004 Dove Campaign for Real Beauty promoted body positivity by showing beauty comes in different forms. Heineken’s 2017 Worlds Apart campaign aimed to bring people with different worldviews together. But sometimes this strategy doesn't go as planned. In 2017, Pepsi pulled an ad with Kendall Jenner that was sharply criticized for seeming to make light of serious protest movements, such as Black Lives Matter.
On Monday, Gillette posted on its website, "It's time to acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture."
The message continued, "And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man."
Others thought Gillette's move was hypocritical.
If @Gillette really want to make a change perhaps they could start by looking at their pink ‘Venus’ range for women that includes names like Passion and Embrace and costs more than the men’s ranges for the same thing. Thanks.— Caroline Hirons (@CarolineHirons) January 15, 2019
And many responded with their intentions to start supporting Gillette's competitors, like Bic or the Dollar Shave Club.
Gillette - the best promotion a competing company can get https://t.co/89qyFtK9Gu— Chris (@kingbootrollsu) January 14, 2019
Also on its website, Gillette announced Monday the company will continue to challenge stereotypes of what it means to be a man in ads and images posted on social media. The company will also donate $1 million to nonprofit organizations that help men "be their best" and "become role models for the next generation."