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Gillette and Nike: How to do brand purpose

In the past few months, both Gillette and Nike released campaigns that anchored themselves around brand purpose. The reactions have proved very different. Here's our take on why that is.

Late to the party on this one, I know, but for some reason the recent Gillette/toxic masculinity furore has been on my mind today.

Generally speaking, I’m all for brand purpose. Likewise, toxic masculinity is something that needs to be addressed in advertising, as well as in society as a whole. But if you’re going to tackle an issue as big as this, you’ve got to have your house in order.

Gillette’s creative has drawn comparisons with the Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. Both ads are highly divisive and tackled huge social issues. But there are two fundamental differences between these campaigns. Authenticity and Execution.

Firstly, Nike retained Kaepernick as a sponsored athlete, despite the fact he didn’t have a contract with an NFL team. That kind of backing gives you the right to talk about serious issues through the credible voice of your athlete. Kaepernick has made a stand against social injustice and Nike stood by him, amidst a backdrop of brands seeking to distance themselves from player protests (see Papa Johns).

Compare this with Gillette. The ad lacks that authenticity. A real life story like Kaepernick allows you to buy into the brand purpose. Whereas here, viewers are directed to a microsite (remember those) with a few vague promises like ‘From this day forward we pledge to challenge stereotypes etc etc.’ All of which just leaves me feeling pretty flat. If you’re fully committed to tackling the problem, then partner with a charity or individuals that know the issues. Work with them, get a greater understanding of the problems and how they can be addressed, then come back and tell that story. The best part of the advert is the footage of Terry Crews in his congressional address, proclaiming ‘Men need to hold other men accountable.’ Why? Because it’s real.

The bulk of the copy is a polished, staged, archetypal 80’s TV ad. While Gillette claim that their brand has evolved to reflect modern societal values, the execution hasn’t. It looks the same as all their other creatives. Handsome, chin-stroking men, albeit this time calling each out about bad behaviour, rather than having their wives brush their smooth faces in front of the mirror. But this is what Gillette has always done. Make big, caricatured, global copy designed for distribution via broadcast media. A one-way directive telling audiences ‘this is what we think.’ But that’s not the world we live in anymore. Social media makes brands rife for instant backlash. If you’re fully committed to your stance, you can ride it out, like Nike did. Safe in the knowledge, that sock-burning men in their 50s were not the target audience.

But for Gillette, it feels like they upset the ‘boys will be boys’ brigade who didn’t like being told how to behave by a razor company (the irony). But unlike Nike, a huge chunk of the target audience have been turned off by the general 'nafness' of the copy.

The ambition is 100% admirable, I just hope the execution doesn’t put other clients off telling stories with brand purpose.



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