In our day and age, consumers often wander the aisles of a grocery store concerned with a bit more than the product. Rather, consumers focus on the company itself. In an era of building social momentum and uprooting of discrimination, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a matter that companies now must consider more heavily.
Gillette’s newest advertisement, which focuses on issues such as sexual harassment, toxic masculinity and the “#MeToo” movement, has stirred up conversation about the line which a company must walk between its responsibility as a company with a large platform and its use of social movements as an excuse to brand.
During the 1989 Super Bowl, Gillette rolled out its tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get.” Since then, the company has maintained its tagline as the best quality razor, and other hygiene products, that a man can buy in store. However, with its most recent advertisement, the tagline has been slightly modified to read “The Best a Man Can Be.”
This turn in branding could be explained by Gillette’s rising competition from less expensive shave products such as Dollar Shave Club, Harry’s and Schick. According to Forbes, Gillette’s market share has dropped from 70% to 50%, and the company has had to drop its razor prices by about 15% over the past years. It’s under this pressure that Gillette’s advertisement is making waves.
The advertisement has received very polarized feedback. Those who like the ad really love it. They praise its treatment of toxic masculinity and its call to men to hold each other accountable. However, those who do not like the advertisement are much more vocal about their troubles with the campaign. Gillette’s own YouTube channel comment section is running a ten to one margin with negative comments, according to Forbes. Those who dislike the ad are threatening a tactic we have seen in practice after other controversial advertisements such as Nike’s 2018 ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick: boycotting the product entirely.
Other complaints are from consumers criticizing Gillette for over-stepping their boundaries as a company and trying to tell consumers how to act or how to raise their children.
The line between CSR and profit-motivation is thin. Often, consumers are skeptical of a company’s true motivations behind incorporating social movements into its brand. Therefore, companies should consider their true motivation, as well as the intellect and opinions of their consumers, before rolling out a socially poignant or potentially divisive advertisement. Consumers can usually tell when a company’s motivations aren’t genuine. In the end, an attempt at social activism can end up hurting the company rather than boosting its public image.
“Commodity activism,” a term coined by authors Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet-Weiser, is the incorporation of social action and relevancy into merchandising practices. This practice is nothing new.
Last year, we discussed the RAM truck commercial which used a sermon by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to sell trucks. The backlash was immediate, and consumers were extremely vocal about their disappointment with the use of the sermon. It was evident that consumers saw right through the thinly veiled attempt by RAM to be socially relevant.
However, there have been advertisements by major companies which tackle social issues and do so in a coherent and well-intended manor. Mentioned earlier, Nike’s Colin Kaepernick advertisement did face criticism, but the company’s efforts and follow-through were successful in proving that their motivations were genuine. Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, one which focuses on female empowerment, has been popular and has received positive feedback from consumers.
One thing to pay attention to about these campaigns is that along with rolling out advertisements, these companies also continue to engage in the social issues outside of the immediate public eye. Dove’s “Self-Esteem Project” partners with leading experts in body image to develop tools for self-esteem education to share with parents, teachers and youth leaders. Nike is partnered with more than 60 organizations to, “create positive impact in communities around the world”, according to their website.
An important aspect of creating a socially driven campaign such as Gillette has done, is the consideration of following through. Big-name companies cannot capitalize on the moving social current. If a company is going to take a stance through its ad campaigns, it cannot do so at the expense of our consumerism and social environment. It must do so with thoughtful intention and commitment to act upon its stance.
The Carrier’s editorial opinion represents the views of the senior members of the Campus Carrier and Viking Fusion news staff.