Gillette’s Done With Toxic Masculinity, But Are Its Customers?

It’s always the same routine – a conventionally attractive man with a chiseled jawline, dressed in fancy clothes, surrounded by flashy cars and scantily clad women gallivants around an expensive-looking foreign locale and signs off with a self-congratulatory one-liner. It doesn’t matter what the product is, that’s just the name of the game when it comes to men’s grooming products or even clothing.

Gillette just tried to disrupt this old paradigm of masculinity with a new ad that turned its own tagline from a statement into a question. Instead of saying “The best a man can get” the voiceover now asks, “Is this is the best a man can get?”

The ad attempts to dismantle the logic of ‘boys will be boys’ by emphasising all the ways in which toxic masculinity plays out against both men and women.

We see footage of TV shows, cartoons and films in which the harassment of women seems normalised. We see young boys being bullied and women facing workplace harassment. In the middle of all this, we see a line of men saying, “boys will be boys”.  The camera swiftly turns to another set of men laughing at sexist jokes as the voiceover cuts in midway to say, “We can’t hide from it. It’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses.”

Then the ad goes one step further, and tells viewers what to do to disrupt this narrative in real life situations. We see men holding other men accountable.  Men calling out other men for ogling women, men standing up to bullies.

The ad shows us a world where a man be the best version of himself by saying the “right thing” and acting the “right way”.

But it hasn’t gone down the way it should have, with many assuming that Gillette is out to malign all men everywhere.

The ad’s hardly an assault on masculinity. For one, it doesn’t target men as a gender but the system of toxic masculinity which affects everyone.

Others however have picked up exactly what Gillette is attempting to put down.

After releasing this ad, Gillette publicly pledged to challenge masculine stereotypes through their outreach, be it their ads or social media campaigns.

Additionally, the brand is also committing to donate USD $1 million every year for the next three years to non-profit organisations in the US that design special programmes to inspire, educate and help men of all ages.

Notably, the brand is putting its money where its mouth is in India as well. It recently cancelled their endorsement deal with cricketer Hardik Pandya after he made misogynist statements on Koffee With Karan. 

Another male-centred grooming brand, Brylcreem launched a similar ad campaign featuring Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhavan in July 2018. The ‘Boys Man Up’ campaign called out men’s problematic behaviour without relying on generic masculine tropes.

In these ads, both stars simply wiped off their aggressive expressions to say “Soch Badlo Style Badlo” (Change your thoughts, change your style).

Indian ads conflate masculinity with sexism all the time. One example is the whiskey brand, Imperial Blue which has been selling their CDs with the tagline “men will be men” for years now. The ads are clearly popular with their intended audience, having racked up millions of viewers on YouTube and other social media sites.

A still from Imperial Blue’s advertisement. Image credit: YouTube.

it’s worth noting that Gillette isn’t blameless in this. Just a few years ago, in 2012, the brand teamed up with Salman Khan to release a shortfilm featuring his movie Dabangg’s protagonist, Chulbul Pandey. Just like the three-hour-long film, the ad also celebrated male dominance with wide-angle shots of the main character fighting goons.

Gillette sure seems to have come a long way, but one has to wonder just how far brands can do in ‘leading’ social change.

Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab