Giant razor-maker Gillette got itself into a bit of a tough scrape with a new, nearly 2-minute-long ad promoting the ideals of the #MeToo movement.
For over a century, Gillette has championed the alpha men who use its razors, including, its ads have claimed, "all the world's rulers" and "the millions of big, strong-limbed supermen who are fighting to save freedom."
But a new ad released in advance of the Super Bowl, cuts the other way, channeling the #MeToo movement and undercutting toxic masculinity. The first half of the ad portrays males as boorish, sexually harassing women, mansplaining and bullying. About midway through, the narrator proclaims that something has changed and that "there will be no going back."
"You can't hide from it. You can't laugh it off, making the same old excuses," the narrator intones, as a long line up of men shrug, "boys will be boys." Then, the ad exalts men who "say the right thing" and "act the right way," as it showcases caring and empathetic men who intervene to stop friends — and strangers — from catcalling or bullying. "It's only by challenging ourselves to do more, that we can get closer to our best," the ad concludes, in a twist on its decades-old tagline "The Best A Man Can Get."
Many are hailing the ad for its call to action. "Thank you for this reminder of the beauty of men," tweeted actress Jessica Chastain. @ChettaYoda called the ad "superb," tweeting that it brought tears to her eyes.
@AlisaHovha applauded Gillette what she called a "Fantastic ad," tweeting "thank you for recognizing the toxicity and moving towards a change. Bravo and keep moving forward!"
Fantastic ad. Thank you for recognizing the toxicity and moving towards a change. Bravo and keep moving forward!— Alisa (@AlisaHovha) January 16, 2019
But the ad, which has more than 14 million views on YouTube, is getting more than twice as many "dislikes" as "likes," and many are vowing to dump their Gillette razors and wage a boycott.
"I'm researching every product made by Proctor & Gamble, throwing any I have in the trash, and never buying any of them again until everyone involved in this ad from the top to bottom is fired and the company issues a public apology," tweeted @JoeS3678.
He went on to bash Gillette for "telling [its] customers that they are the problem and need to change. That masculinity is bad, and that all men are responsible for the actions of a few."
I am taking action. I'm researching every product made by Proctor & Gamble, throwing any I have in the trash, and never buying any of them again until everyone involved in this ad from top to bottom is fired and the company issues a public apology.— Joe (@JoeS3678) January 14, 2019
Others have blasted the company for "crapping all over" the guys who've supported the company for a century and "gender shaming" men. "Stop trying to emasculate men!!" @angelsvoice66, tweeted to Gillette. "Let them be men!"
A Fox News commentator asked: "Does Gillette want men to start shaving their legs, too?"
"This ad is offensive and insulting," tweeted @Willpowers5, calling out Gillette for "imply[ing] that this is what men do, fight, barbecue and harass women."
@ProcterGamble I find your recent ad offensive and insulting to imply that men just fight, barbecue and harass women is sexist, deceptive and yet another false narrative perpetrated on AMERICAN people by left wing loons— will powers (@willpowers5) January 15, 2019
But others have shot back, suggesting those most offended might be those who most need to heed the message. "Wow somebody got triggered. You okay there snowflake?" @kirrasdad tweeted back to @JoeS3678. "The ad is just suggesting we try to be better people in my opinion. If it threatens you to the point of hatred, you may want to think a little about that."
For its part, Gillette says its goal was to spark discussion, and it takes heart in seeing that happening.
"If we get people to pause, reflect and to challenge themselves and others to ensure that their actions reflect who they really are, then this campaign will be a success," a Gillette spokesperson tells NPR in an email.
Gillette says it's "setting a new standard for our brand ... to encourage and inspire the next generation to be its best."
In an earlier statement launching the ad, the company seemed to be anticipating some of the backlash, noting that "in a world where the actions of the few can taint the reputation of the many, we know there's work to be done – together."
It remains to be seen how the ad impacts sales. It comes at a precarious time for the company, as Gillette faces stiff new competition from startup subscription clubs like Dollar Shave Club and Harry's.
Gillette, however, may be buoyed by the experience of other companies who have plunged into similarly divisive social issues. For example, controversy followed a Nike ad featuring ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who had sparked many players to protest police brutality and racial inequality by taking a knee during the national anthem before games.
But ultimately, the Nike's controversial ad did not hurt its sales. Counter to some fears, the controversial ad drove a spike in sales, social engagement and online buzz, all of which helped the company emerge from a slump.
Gillette is so far exuding a quiet confidence.
"Successful brands today have to be relevant and engage consumers in topics that matter to them," a spokesperson tells NPR. "This is especially true when it comes to younger consumers — a key demographic for us."
Call it a new kind of corporate machismo, volunteering to march bravely ahead into the culture wars.
No longer can companies "just advertis[e] product benefits," the Gillette spokesperson says in the email. These days "brand-building" also means taking a stand on important societal issues, controversial as they may be.