Gillette’s Ad was not Brand Suicide – Here’s Why

Edit: In the time between writing this article and it’s release, Ace Metrix reported the ad to be a success in all demographics and despite a “loud minority” of dissent, rated in the bottom 2% of polarity scores.

Disclaimer: As a father, employer, and human I loved this ad and its message. As a marketer, I want to discuss the tactics behind it, some demographic information, and some function. It’s easy to get lost in the technical details and sound cold or tone-deaf when discussing things of this nature so stay with me.


This ad was not just meant to inject good into the world, it was tactical and timely. Often I see people proclaiming stupidity when brands manufacture defensible controversy, and that’s certainly not always the case. As with Nike’s Kaepernick ad, you will note a couple things:

1. It came on the ass end of the height of controversy – Still timely, still relevant, but not injecting itself into the spotlight when it’s not theirs to take.

2. They don’t actually say ANYTHING offensive or even controversial. They speak directly to people and they make insinuations, surely, but Gillette didn’t actually SAY toxic masculinity, it was a news clip. They even snuck in “not all men” (Didn’t notice that, did you?) Nike didn’t SAY a single thing about protesting, civil rights, etc. It’s not there. You’re making the connections: You’re telling YOUR story.

Your involvement with this ad, whether it’s anger, emotion, motivation, whatever: is yours, that’s beauty behind the story that was told. You are personally involved with this brand right now.

The brand equity being formed here is immeasurable. Nike reported record engagement following the “Dream Crazy” ad campaign, and I am sure Gillette will have similar numbers. The stock may dip a few points initially, it often does: But please remember this is not about anger or offended traders, this is about uncertainty. Many traders (Read: Robots) get out at the slightest scent of instability.

Controversy sells.


I don’t want to start rattling off facts or making statements – consider this an exercise in demographics and target markets:

Demographically, what age and gender group do you think is responsible for buying the most household products?
Demographically, what interests and demographics do you think shops via conscience?
Demographically, what ages are just entering market share for razors?
Demographically, what groups tend to buy brand names/quality over price?
Who do you think focused the best with that ad?

The wrong way

Pepsi’s ad was a similar tactic that got totally lost in the execution. It was completely tone deaf, too direct, injected Kendall Jenner into it for no reason, and really primarily left absolutely no room for any consumer to relate. You can ask the same demographic questions above and you have to wonder how exactly this got through the cutting room floor.

My advice to brands is generally to stay far away from controversy without a plan and a well thought out and focus tested plan. The absolute worst thing you could do is alienate everyone. This is also just a truth for your personal interactions. Understand what it looks like from all angles before you speak or make up your mind. Don’t tell people how they feel: Listen.

All that being said, timely, relevant, ears open commentary, done correctly, is an immensely powerful tool to tether your consumers to your brand for life.

Thanks for reading! See you next week.