Gillette Tries to Be the Best That Companies Can Be

Gillette sure knows how to create a controversy. The company’s “We Believe” short video, which challenges men to hold each other accountable for toxic behavior, has quickly become a polarizing example of the emotional firestorm a business can ignite when it dips its toes into the volatile world of cause marketing.

The video has been reviled and praised — accused of being being preachy, phony, and ham-handed, and praised for taking a stand against the evils of sexism and bullying. Some consumers on social media have called for a boycott against Gillette products. Others have taken to social to back Gillette. As comic book writer Ron Marz tweeted, “If you have a problem with the #GilletteAd, congratulations, you’re the reason they made the #GilletteAd.”

What interests me from a marketing standpoint is what will happen once the controversy over the video subsides. So much attention has focused on the “We Believe” short that I think many have overlooked the fact that “We Believe” is much more than a video. “We Believe” is a broader redefinition of Gillette’s core brand ethos, from “The Best a Man Can Get” to “The Best That Men Can Be.” In a press release, Gillette announced the company is committed to a long-term effort to uphold the values of respect, accountability, and role modeling. Per Gillette:

RESPECT — Demonstrating respect and fostering inclusivity for all, including genders, races, religions and orientations.

ACCOUNTABILITY — Ending phrases like “Boys Will Be Boys” and eliminating the justification of bad behavior.

ROLE MODELING — Inspiring men to help create a new standard for boys to admire. We want boys to see and admire traits like honesty, integrity, hard work, empathy and respect — words that people across the U.S. use when describing what a great man looks like.

Gillette said it will hold itself accountable to these values by:

  • Donating $1 million annually to causes designed to help men achieve their best.
  • Ensuring that its public content reflects respect, accountability, and role modeling.
  • Keeping a conversation about male behavior in the public eye through social media.

Gillette has put a stake in the ground. If Gillette truly lives those values in its actions and in its message, Gillette will succeed. In fact, Gillette may gain customers who identify with those values, especially with millennials, who are more interested than baby boomers are in brands whose values align with their own. In addition, Gillette may very well be happy to cut loose of the kind of customer who boycotts a company for challenging men to hold each other accountable for their behavior.

What happens next all comes down to Gillette demonstrating its commitment to its brand values. You don’t simply bake a new set of values in the oven and serve them to the public. It takes time to build emotional trust and belief through actions and reinforcement of your message. Gillette has just begun a long-term journey toward being a better company, not just a famous brand that makes a lot of money selling razors. Let’s see how this journey plays out.

Consumers are the content in stunning Forever 21 ad

Times Square Billboard by Space150 from Cliff Kuang on Vimeo.

There is no such thing as intrusive advertising so long as advertisers provide great content to consumers — and in the case of a new Forever 21 billboard ad, consumers are the content.

Here’s how the ad works: pedestrians strolling through Times Square in New York notice a mirror reflection of themselves projected on a giant interactive billboard above the recently opened Forever 21 clothing retail store. We can wave at ourselves onscreen and do all the other impulsively silly things that pedestrians like to do when we stop and gawk. And then the fun really begins: a model appears on the billboard and appears to pluck one of pedestrians off the street. The model kisses the digital image of the pedestrian, tosses the person back into the crowd, or places him or her in a shopping bag. Other times, the model takes a Polaroid snapshot of pedestrians and waves it to everyone watching from the street — a snapshot of us.

I “saw” (or rather experienced) the ad myself by happenstance June 30 as I was walking on Broadway. What I noticed first were the smiling people jamming the sidewalk, with their fingers pointing upward. Even though I was in a rush, I just had to stop what I was doing and find out what had captured everyone’s interest. I quickly found myself being entertained like everyone else. I did not feel like I was staring at an ad even though I was. And yes, I looked for my own tiny image projected amid the “digital crowd” high above Times Square. I even shamelessly waved and wondered if I might be one of the lucky people who would be slipped into a shopping bag.

Forever21_01A

The ad works because it is, quite simply, fun. The ad also reminds me of how a good movie comedy creates a communal experience among strangers gathered temporarily in one place. Somehow I don’t think the ad would be as fun if I were all by myself on a deserted road. In the context of Times Square, though, the ad feeds off the energy of the crowd and, in turn, energizes us. Really part of the fun is watching others beside you on a crowded sidewalk experience the same realization you just had: the initial puzzlement and curiosity etched on the face of a jaded business person or tourist, the upward gaze, the expression of surprise as we realize the image we are watching is us, and then the laughter when the model onscreen starts to engage with us. You can read more about it in Fast Company.

How many ads have you seen that literally stop traffic and make people wave happily at the sky? Kudos to agency space150 and to designer Chris O’Shea, whose his own Hand from Above project in London inspired the work.

Skip the ad? Skip the story

Whoever complained about intrusive advertising hasn’t read the May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, where the advertising eclipses the content. If you need any convincing, I give you the opening sentences of a head-scratching cover profile of Madonna:

“The world is a series of rooms, which are arranged like concentric circles, or rooms within rooms, joined by courtyards and antechambers, and in the room at the center of all those rooms Madonna sits alone, in a white dress, dreaming of Africa. To reach her, you must wait for a sign. When it comes, if you are pure of heart, you begin to move toward Madonna, and move fast.”

And the writing gets worse. Here’s what VF says about Madonna’s adoption of a child from Malawi:

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Skip the ad? Skip the story

Whoever complained about intrusive advertising hasn’t read the May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, where the advertising eclipses the content. If you need any convincing, I give you the opening sentences of a head-scratching cover profile of Madonna:

“The world is a series of rooms, which are arranged like concentric circles, or rooms within rooms, joined by courtyards and antechambers, and in the room at the center of all those rooms Madonna sits alone, in a white dress, dreaming of Africa. To reach her, you must wait for a sign. When it comes, if you are pure of heart, you begin to move toward Madonna, and move fast.”

And the writing gets worse. Here’s what VF says about Madonna’s adoption of a child from Malawi:

Continue reading