2019: the year of the brave brand

I was in the US the other week to witness the reaction to the new Gillette advertising campaign. It was both amusing and frightening in equal measure, watching the consumers and pundits react: there were as many moments of moral outrage as there were passionate messages of support. Another major brand taking a stand on a topical social issue shouldn’t really have caught everyone by surprise. But it did…

In case you’ve been under a rock for the past week, this new ad urged men to do better by turning the original Gillette strapline “The best a man can get” on its head, with the new and thought-provoking “The best men can be”. 

Sparking a debate about the next generation of masculinity in light of the #MeToo scandals should of course be lauded. However, the ad caused a flood of mixed responses, including a large number who viewed the film as sexist and anti-male. In some of the analysis, almost 40% of women reacted negatively to it. 

Across the team here in the studio even, there was a range of reactions to the ad. What was universal though, was our admiration for the position they’re taking in starting the conversation. Gillette are absolutely on the right side of this important argument. 

Although Gillette themselves say they are happy with sales in the aftermath of the controversy, it’s really too early to tell what type of impact this is all going to have on their reputation, market-share and brand value. However, two examples from recent history suggest this may well turn out to be a smart move: Patagonia and Nike.

Although much less controversial, it’s interesting to look at outerwear company Patagonia, who drew almost universal praise for their response to the savings the company made from the 2017 federal tax cuts last year. When CEO Rose Marcario announced on LinkedIn that “Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet. Our home planet needs it more than we do” – the market gave Patagonia a gigantic thumbs up. 

Given the mounting evidence to suggest that Patagonia’s revenue grows every time it amplifies its social mission, it’s safe to assume this latest commitment to environmental activism will continue that growth trend. 

Similarly, when Nike launched its Colin Kaepernick-fronted campaign in the US last autumn, it created a huge amount of negative noise. The line “stand for something, even if it means sacrificing everything” was in direct response to the NFL protests against police violence, and got some people so hot under the collar that the #boycottnike was trending in the days and weeks after the launch. 

However, that initial outcry doesn’t tell the whole story. In fact it seems quite the opposite: according to some data points, Nike’s sales have surged some 31% since the campaign. Truth indeed that standing for something is important in this age of cynicism and rock bottom corporate trust. 

“Brands will be judged by this generation of consumers who, more so than ever, want to get behind organisations that stand for something.” 

Whether Gillette continue the P&G trend of being early movers on a key issue, or a more cynical brand trying to lay claim to a very hot topic, remains to be seen. In fact, it will be determined by their actions in the coming weeks and months, for example: will they continue the debate or is this just a one off? Will they review their pink ‘Venus’ range for women (that includes names like Passion and Embrace and costs more than the men’s ranges)? 

We’ll have to see, but as Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario put it when discussing other companies embracing social issues, “the companies that do that in a way that’s really consistent with their values are rewarded for doing it”. 

If I were to hazard a guess, I would imagine this will not lead to the huge drop-off in market share that the #boycottgillette hashtag is currently predicting. Ultimately, they will be judged by this generation of consumers who, more so than ever, want to get behind organisations that stand for something. 

So, bravo then to Gillette, for the ambition to take on the subject. If this trend continues, 2019 could very well become the year of the brave brand. I certainly hope so. 

Jonathan Walker
Client Partner