Outrageous advertising: Brilliant or a boomerang by Gillette?
If there’s a trend that encapsulates the beginning of 2019, then it’s standing up for what you believe in even if it means bidding farewell to political correctness. How did this come to be? Blame it on Gillette’s new ad, inspired by #MeToo, which targets ‘toxic masculinity’ and calls on men to change their behaviour. The ad, showcasing instances of harassment, has flipped the brand’s 30-year-old slogan from “The best a man can get” to “Is this the best a man can get?”
As soon as it aired, it triggered a debate on social media with most men criticising the ad for looking down on men, marginalising them. On YouTube, dislikes were twice the likes. Several men declared on Twitter that they would stop using the brand. However, the ad also won applause for what fans said was targeting masculine stereotypes and urging men to behave better. They believe this should lead men to correct their own behaviour and inspire others to do the same.
This isn’t the first time a brand advertising generated uproar. Last year, Nike’s ad featuring US footballer Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand for his country’s national anthem, to protest police brutality against African-Americans, created huge controversy in that country. In 2017, a Pepsi ad featuring American model Kendall Jenner created controversy as it borrowed imagery and inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement. Back home, the Amul Macho ad featuring actor Sana Khan, as a woman who daydreams about her husband while washing his Amul Macho undergarment, was banned.“The idea behind outrageous advertising or shockvertising, is to divide the consumer into two conflicting camps. It’s much easier to consolidate your consumer base by using the good old strategy of divide and conquer. Ethics or morality have no role to play; it’s all about publicity [good or bad],” says adman and filmmaker Pritish Nandy. This kind of marketing is described as virtue signalling, usually relying on controversy to generate revenue. Nandy further says, “Such form of advertising has led to the destruction of multiplicity of opinions. The emphasis is not on understanding, but on taking a stand. It only polarises the consumer even further. For me, the age of discussion and understanding is over; the age of debate, polarise, trigger has begun.”
And not everyone is on board the ‘bash Gillette’ bandwagon. “In a culture where political correctness rules the roost, taking a stand on a social issue is great. You can argue it’s a calculated risk but it’s a risk that pays off as there is no such thing as bad publicity. The job of the ad is to help increase revenue, and this does that. Also, it’s only natural that some people disagree with it, no one can agree with everything,” says adman Prahlad Kakkar.
Is there a takeaway from this episode? “Full marks to the company for taking a stand. One should always stand for what they believe in and not give in to the politically correct culture. They’ve addressed issues such as bullying and sexual harassment, which is great. However, they could have taken a sensitive approach by trying not to generalise,” says Tanya Rai, a 27-year-old advertising professional.
This does raise questions about the returns from shockvertising.“I think corporate moralising usually backfires in the long run. Yes, a company can temporarily boost profits, but as seen in this case, in the long run you only end up losing. Taking a high moral ground, lecturing your customers and telling them they are not good enough — just to grab a few eyeballs — doesn’t work. Imagine the outrage if the campaign was about toxic femininity?” observes Raghav Bindal, a 28-year-old advertising professional.