Ads are key platform for social issues

Noah Thornburgh

Gillette’s recent “The Best Men Can Be” advertising campaign, released online Jan. 13, received a polarized reaction from the public. It has been praised for its anti-toxic masculinity stance and criticized as an inauthentic ploy to capitalize on the #MeToo movement. Praise or blame worthy, Gillette’s campaign reflects a stark reality: advertisements’ primary intent will always be profit, and yet they provide one of the best platforms to promote social awareness.

Recall Pepsi’s socially charged 2017 commercial in which Kendall Jenner gifts a can to a policeman in the midst of a protest. The ad was almost unanimously derided for its obvious intent to profit off racial tensions. Gillette’s commercial was better received, likely because it was less transparent about its profitability.

“The Best Men Can Be” is not meant for Gillette’s primary customer base — men aged 35 and up and whose brand loyalties are more or less set.

“It’s a part of our effort to connect more meaningfully with younger consumer groups,” Procter & Gamble CFO Jon Moeller said on a call with CNN reporters Wednesday. “That campaign was aired once and has generated significant conversation.”

The commercial has been highly shared and interacted with on social media outlets since its release, reminding people of the passionate #MeToo outcry and encouraging a new ideal for masculinity. It doesn’t pull punches, standing clearly on the side against objectifying women and alpha male posturing.

Better than Pepsi’s half-hearted approach, Gillette’s strong stance masks marketing tactics but leaves the door open for criticism.

“I know a lot of people who have issues with it,” junior English major Gwyneth Osterby said, “I don’t see why. It’s just sort of taking ideas that already exist in the world and expressing them.”

Like Pepsi, Gillette targeted socially involved youth; unlike Pepsi, they succeeded. They generated a positive dialogue on masculinity and its meanings post-#MeToo. The quality of the ad overrode consumer skepticism: people looked past the savvy marketing move, which they hadn’t done with Pepsi.

Socially conscious business strategy sets up an interesting power reversal. Billion-dollar corporations support the most lucrative social stances, which are determined by researching what the target demographic cares about. Advertising campaigns are designed to spread meaningful messages at the sole cost of those it is being marketed to.

The flip side is that those messages are still spread primarily as advertisement — focused on hooking the viewer and selling a product.

“If you’re watching TV and [the Gillette commercial] comes on, it definitely grabs your attention,” Joleen Carreon, first-year computer science major, said. “Maybe there are better ways of going about it.”

That better way isn’t here yet. For now, let the companies practice modern business strategies and let social issues get a platform, however inauthentic it may be.