Written by Will Tait • Published 16th January 2019 • 4 minute read

For many reasons, Gillette deserve some well-earned praise for this latest marketing attempt. The advert, which challenges men and boys to be better and call out sexually inappropriate behaviour, deserves both praise for bravery and for getting the go-ahead. Tackling social issues always carries an inherent risk of backfire.

Millionaire Kendall Jenner’s poorly judged peace offering involving Pepsi at a protest already served as a significant warning to the industry of what can go wrong if issues aren’t handled sensitively. Yet, more recently Nike has seen booming sales after standing with Quarterback Colin Kaepernick in their “Believe in Something” campaign.

It’s continuing a strange phenomenon where the marketing teams of the world’s biggest companies seem more capable of touching the right cord with consumers than politicians do with their voters.  A lot of these decisions are calculated. Companies like Nike know which side their bread is buttered on. As University of Michigan Business Professor Jerry Davis put it on ABC news, “it turns out Democrats buy a lot more sneakers than Republicans.”

This comment was referring to the legendary adage often attributed to Michael Jordan that “Republicans buy shoes, too.” Yet, the increasingly important divide that age is playing in politics now means many of the world’s biggest companies are quite happy to hedge their bets on the next generation. Nike know the average customer who walks through its door is a teenage male, far more likely to sympathise with the political messaging that Kaepernick “sacrificed everything” to support. That risk has for the time being paid off.

Marketers ultimately report to the bottom line. Unlike Gillette, Nike has seen year on year growth for a decade. Gillette has instead seen year-on-year falling sales in a market where men have increasingly more choice and fewer people choose shaving. Gillette will have been sitting on ideas of how to revitalise their iconic “The Best A Man Can Get” slogan for a while now and how to target it at the next generation of men. This advert, however, certainly doesn’t naturally feel like it is driven directly by sales. There are no razors. The demographic it is most likely to impress, women, aren’t even potential customers. It fits into something bigger.

Gillette wrote on their website of how they plan to include this as part of a wider campaign: “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.”

The advert has so far only been paid for on digital channels in America, with no known plans to run it in the UK. So, when Piers Morgan reacted, himself fast becoming an effective medium through which all successful marketing campaigns must pass, Gillette had achieved huge global organic growth with a relatively modest budget. But you wouldn’t clap just yet…

When it comes to marketing, the opposite of bravery isn’t cowardice but conformity. Standing still isn’t so bad compared to losing ground. The launch of Gillette’s new campaign has achieved both widespread coverage and supported an excellent cause. Yet, for a company with more than half the market share in the US and far more than that in the UK (roughly 65%), we might be left asking what Gillette is set to achieve from this.

When Nike launched their campaign, they weren’t operating with anything close to a 50% share in any of the markets they compete in. When Nike isolated a certain part of America, they knew they were already experiencing declining sales due to a negative price elasticity those consumers were having with its products. They expected to recoup those sales elsewhere. It isn’t clear if this is going to be the case for Gillette.

Where Nike’s campaign was positive and inspirational, Gillette’s message feels negative. Nike told its key customers they behave better than the rest, Gillette has told its customers the opposite. At writing, Gillette’s video has received nearly 10 million views but the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly negative. The dislike to like ratio stands at 577k to 217k. On Sunday, the ratio was 10:1 with most comments saying they would abandon the brand. Make no mistake, those who found the advert first were Gillette’s actual customers.

In comparison, Nike’s campaign ran at the complete opposite. With ten positive reactions for every one negative. In the four long months of media coverage, the “Believe in Something” commercial still hadn’t amassed the number of dislikes Gillette has run up in the first 24 hours. Online sales grew for Nike by a massive 31% in the bank holiday weekend after the ad launched and the company has grown by $6 billion since. Opponents couldn’t boycott the company because they already didn’t shop there.

It’s of course too early to know how this will affect sales, but whether you agree with the message or not, it’s obvious Gillette have risked marginalising the actual people who buy their products. If they don’t end up attracting that next generation of customers, Gillette may be left wondering if their marketing strategy really is the best they can get.