The Best a Man Can Get: Outrage Over a Gillette Ad Proves its Worth

The razor company, Gillette, has released a new video which asks, in the light of the #MeToo movement, “Is this really the best a man can get?”

The nearly two-minute advert, called “We Believe: the Best Men Can Be”, shows the legacy of sexist advertisements, sexism in the office, bullying children over gender stereotypes, and more. It then holds up the #MeToo movement as a watershed and gives examples of men standing up to this kind of harassment and men holding other men accountable.

Then, perhaps most hard-hitting of all, the ad spells out that our children are always watching.

“We believe in the best in men: To say the right thing, to act the right way,” the voiceover says. “Some already are in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

After the advert’s release, social media set alight with commentary, and that soon trickled into the media. Predictable battle lines were drawn.

Praise has been firm and fast in liberal and most centrist commentary. Many writers note that director Kim Gehrig, who also directed the empowering ‘This Girl Can‘ campaign for Sport England, is making a signature statement in this advert. She carefully calibrated the ad to strike the balance between the negativity of what has gone before and the path forward.

Right wing and “men’s rights” pundits, like Piers Morgan, have reacted angrily to the advert. Morgan, for example, took to Twitter to issue a word salad, saying the advert is “absurd virtue-signalling PC guff” that is fueling “the current pathetic global assault on masculinity.” He lamented, “Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men.” This apparently means letting boys physically assault other youths and to allow sexism to tip over into sexual assault; that men should abdicate all responsibility and that women should just accept that this is how men are.

What a message.

It’s easy to dismiss such criticisms, if for no other reason than because their general tone is so outlandish that it’s almost comical. However, it’s worth digging into the criticisms, because, on nearly every point, they prove that Gillette is not only right to have put out this ad, but that it has managed to strike an admirable balance between brand awareness and brand accountability.

As above, some have accused the razor company of virtue signalling, and they are absolutely right: Gillette is virtue signalling. But, it is also backing that virtue signalling up with a clear and concise message.

In this case, it is recognizing that it is a brand that markets to men. As such, it is speaking to men on the basis of that decades-long relationship and challenging them to think about their actions. It goes further than blithe “us versus them” messaging we see in many ads, and it actually dares to highlight how toxic masculinity has held sway for too long and, more importantly, how male-identifying people can fight it.

Other critics have called the advert patronizing, saying that most men are not like the advert portrays and that this is lumping all men in with sexual abusers and serial misogynists. Have they actually watched the ad though? Really watched it? I ask because, if they had, they would note that the advert is very careful to make this point: it might not be all men, but it is enough men to make such behavior pervasive. It is, therefore, up to men as a whole to actively shut it down. Anything less than that, any notion that “boys will be boys”, is complicity.

Others have attacked the ad for failing to be positive, saying that it does not provide positive role models and instead simply attacks men. This criticism lacks substance. Firstly, the ad does show role models, for instance actor Terry Crews who opened up about his own #MeToo story in 2017.

It also depicts a fictionalized father who wades in during a fight between kids and says kindly but firmly: “This is not how we behave.”

This ad is the latest in a line of adverts from Gillette that give examples of what the company deems “best men”. The ad does not come without context, and it is part of a wider branding shift for Gillette, something that other “male” brands have mirrored, for example Lynx antiperspirant.

Of course we can’t ignore that this is actually a savvy bit of marketing, too. Gillette, a brand that has and does trade on masculinity, is breaking away from the old wave of macho marketing and signing its name on the post-#MeToo docket.

In turn, this tells men that they can embrace this branding wholeheartedly. This, they may feel, is a means to communicate their beliefs about what masculinity should mean.

While the ad targets men, it doesn’t hurt that it paints Gilette as a brand that cares about women. This ad speaks a language that women are now seeing more and more: the language of a brand that “gets it”. For those women, this could be an important signal of a brand that is worth buying. While razors are still gendered products, many women use the Gillette brand anyway. Given the general tone on Twitter, many more might be using these razors as a result of Gillette’s advert.

And yet, despite this mountain of evidence that the Gillette ad is carefully-considered and eminently timely, the YouTube comments alone are a veritable moodboard for the kinds of toxicity that the ad is describing. The very backlash to this ad, from people saying they will never use Gillette razors again to people claiming Gillette must apologize for this “attack” on men, demonstrates with crystal clarity the fragile and ugly immaturity that this ad is calling us to grow up and grow apart from.

The problem is not with Gillette’s thoughtful advert. It is with the men who so readily call others “snowflakes” but simply cannot bear to think about their own actions. The men who refuse to assess whether their devotion to an antiquated masculine ideal is actually just them masking real defects of character, such faults that lead to sexual abuse, bullying and pervasive discrimination.

For those men, this shaving advert seems to have cut too deep.

For the rest of us, it is a timely reminder that, though at the moment the world seems to be steeped in hostility, we have created a change in the world. We have drawn a line and said, “No more,” and we are moving big brands like Gillette to do the same.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

93 comments

Ann B
Ann B2 months ago

ALL advertising is BOLOGNA...what happened to NO FALSE ADVERTISING????

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Barbara S
Barbara S2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Val P
Val P2 months ago

for sure

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pam w
pam w2 months ago

This is a beautiful ad and a beautiful sentiment! How could anyone disagree? (Unless they're hanging on desperately to the ''male privilege'' nonsense...) At the Women's March last weekend, I walked next to a young man who carried a sign saying..."HEY! GUYS! We've GOT to do BETTER!" I thanked him for that.

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson2 months ago

@Don Lamont--Wow, right back at you! Since when is asking you a question and expressing my view point make me such an angry person? You came here to express an alternate viewpoint on a liberal site---well, expect a rebuttal. I don't know what these 50 most infamous female teachers, sex scandals have to do with outrage over the Gillette add? No one has ever said here, nor have I ever said, that women are completely innocent of this kind of behavior, plus murder, thievery and every other crime. It would seem that you are the angry person.

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Don Lamont
Past Member 2 months ago

@Karen Wow... just wow!
You are such an angry person!
I came here to express an alternate viewpoint... and I did just that.
Maybe not every month... but here's the top 50.
http://www.zimbio.com/The+50+Most+Infamous+Female+Teacher+Sex+Scandals
I'll be leaving now as this has now simply become a waste of my time.

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Karen S
Karen Swenson2 months ago

@Emily J---Fundamentalist Christians would scream to the highest heavens--because this would somehow emasculate men if women stood up to bullies. Women take bubble baths--least you forget!

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Emily J
Emily J2 months ago

It's a good message but I think Gillette should do a similar one for women as well, sexism and toxic behaviour affects both sexes and we can all do something about it! I'd like an advert where the women stand up to some bullies or something instead of another boring bubble bath one

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson3 months ago

did not say!

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Karen Swenson
Karen Swenson3 months ago

Don Lamont-- About 80 percent of women have been sexually harassed in their life time, boys and men also. Doesn't happen in your house doesn't mean it doesn't happen. You stated there are reports of women teachers assaulting their students every month. Where do you read these reports, because, even tho it does and has happened, I certainly know if it was every single month, it would be plastered in every news paper and news station as a national threat, and talk shows would feast on this Female sickness. What would you call men who Rape, sexually assault and threaten job loss? Regular men? They are TOXIC and so are women who do the same thing. Your 5 minute add would have the conservative men screeching that Gillette was trying to Feminize men, which they scream about already, making them into a bunch of "Pussys". ( derogatory Female put-down used all the time) Do you really think it wouldn't be blisteringly criticized? What world do you live in, Don? We are trying to make you part of the conversation and look what happens---back lash against the #MeToo movement, men insisting they can't even look at a woman for fear of being accused of Sexual H, an add by Gillette making many men go Grape Nuts, because Gillette didn't do it the way they wanted it done, insisting this is Male bashing---never mind the message, the problem. The "Little man" stands when he screams in all-caps about the add saying Masculinity is evil, which it d

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