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Gillette, opportunism or evolution

Whiplash Team, January 2019

Gillette’s campaign “We Believe in the best in Men” continues to arouse fiery philias and phobias. Almost two weeks after its controversial launch, a large majority has supported the campaign in media and social networks. However, there is a significant part of users who have felt alluded and offended by the campaign’s twist, that changes the concept behind – “The best a man can get”, threatening to boycott the brand and to team up with its competitor Dollar Shave Club, that in response has posted on its Twitter profile: “Welcome to the Club.”

While some blame the historic razor blades’ brand as opportunistic, questioning their credibility and motivations, as they simply surf on the boom of the #MeToo movement, Gillette pushes forward the “We believe” campaign, created by Grey. The campaign, according to Gillette, seeks to promote a more positive male behavior model and to highlight -or question- actions and attitudes of what has been called “traditional masculinity”.

In response to the social debate generated by the campaign, Gillette’s brand director for North America, Pankaj Bhalla, said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal that “This is an important conversation happening, and as a company that encourages men to be their best, we feel compelled to both address it and take action”. According to Bhalla, “We were just trying to upgrade the selling line that we’ve held for 30 years–the Best a Man Can Get–and make it relevant.”

But media such as Fast Company, openly doubt about the good intentions of Gillette, noting that during the last three decades the company has exhibited an advertising that is “full of phallic symbols”, far from what it promotes today. The publication goes further, and in an article entitled “Brand Purpose is a lie”, questions not only Gillette and the campaign, but the whole concept of purposeful brands, focusing on inconsistencies between what they say and what do they do. Fast Company poses firms like State Street, that placed the statue of “The Fearless Girl” in front of the Wall Street bull (although now it is in front of the New York Stock Exchange) while, according to the publication, they underpay women; Starbucks, that did not pay their corporate taxes in the United Kingdom for three years while having sales of 1.2 billion pounds; and Johnson & Johnson that maintained 98% of its cash offshore in 2017 to avoid paying taxes.

The article concludes that “purpose is something that you believe in, not something that you invent on any given day as a marketing strategy”.

Absolutely. Purpose is timeless, it is the organization’s reason to exist. It answers the question of why and what the company exists for. It must be motivating, business strategies must be consistent with it, and it must be reflected by attitudes and behaviors of the staff, in product design, and in the way in which the organization presents itself to the market. The key, however, is that purpose must be activated.A beautiful phrase is not a purpose. According to Sally Hill, Managing Director of Wildwon agency, “purpose is an aspirational raison d’etre rooted in humanistic values ​​and that inspires a call to action. It revolves around the notion that companies must establish a relationship of trust with the rest of the world.”

Fast Company does well to point out the irresponsible and unethical practices carried out by Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks or State Street, but these have more to do with corporate responsibility and business ethics than with purpose. They are connected concepts, but the purpose is about directing the organization’s resources towards action, towards the urge to do something in favor of a superior ideal, as Gillette has done.

Building a relationship of trust, as Hill pointed out, implies the commitment to maintain a coherence between tactics and purpose of the organization. It is interesting to observe that the multinational Procter & Gamble –Gillette’s owner since 2005–states its purpose as: “We will provide branded products and services of superior quality and value that improve the lives of the world’s consumers, now and for generations to come. As a result, consumers will reward us with leadership sales, profit and value creation, allowing our people, our shareholders and the communities in which we live and work to prosper”.

Sounds good. Undoubtedly, in the context of the purpose of its parent company, Gillette’s campaign is aligned with the aspiration of creating a better society for today and for the future, but it clearly positions itself in a territory that goes far beyond leadership sales, profit and value creation. Even more, some of the reactions to the campaign suggest that they could lose market share. And we ‘ll see in coming years -or months- P&G explain how a brand with a purpose such as the one announced by Gillette, can coexist under a meta-corporate purpose, with distinctly masculine brands like Old Spice. Check the latest video, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, and come to your own conclusions

But returning to the the Gillette universe, users are smart and quickly realize inconsistencies between acts and words. In response to the “We Believe” campaign the firm has received, via Twitter and social networks, criticism from its users about their pink razors for women and the names of their products aimed at the female audience –Venus, for example–that, in addition, are more expensive.

Product design is the easiest way to make a purpose tangible, and something that may seem superfluous like using pink in razors for women, reflects stereotypes within the organization from which society is detaching, as the assignment of colors according to gender. Are men razors all blue? Gillette has a gigantic task upfront in order to prove that its position on gender ideology goes beyond an opportunistic marketing strategy.

Similarly, Gillette employees and users will be on the watch to point out inconsistencies arising from how the brand lives its purpose indoors and how it exhibits it publicly. It will be necessary to see how the century-old brand acts in the face of a hypothetical harassment case, for example, if that were the case in the future. Time to time.