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Men’s brands embrace the #MeeToo

Whiplash Team, March 2019

A year and a half after The New York Times lit the fuse of the #MeToo movement by publishing Harvey Weinstein’s extensive history of sexual abuse, the whole world joins to the cause of women’s empowerment, not without consequences for brands. Some, like Gillette, have made the most of the momentum positioning their communication towards the construction of a new way of understanding masculinity.

A year ago, the huge mobilization to celebrate International Women’s Day exceeded all expectations, not just in Spain where it was massive, but throughout the world. A few months earlier, in October of 2017, The New York Times had set the US media on fire with the publication of Weinstein’s file. That report was the first in a long list and set the birth of #MeToo movement. Soon, new investigations and victims of abuse’s testimonies began to come to light not only in the film industry but everywhere.

Thus, the #MeToo became a global movement, and women empowerment turned into a cause that has forced brands to take a public stand. Twitter, for example, which had never had a TV ad, this year decided to use the Oscars to launch a spot that linked the brand with a message of empowerment towards women -in clear reference to what happened in the film industry-, and took the opportunity to make clear that this platform is the best way to amplify their message: “We stand with women around the world to make their voices heard and their presence known. To bring them front and center, today and every day. Join us as we say #HereWeAre”.

Paradoxically, one of the areas where the MeToo movement is having a great impact is in the communication strategies for products aimed at men and, although it is true that it may not have radically transformed the principles of male-oriented marketing, in general terms, it has made it easier for brands to join an uncomfortable conversation about gender roles. The controversial Gillette campaign “We Believe in the best in Men”, which gave a twist to its historic slogan “The best a man can get” betting on a new way of assuming masculinity, is a good example.

It seems that these two words, Me Too, have transformed the way that brands speak to their audience, especially the male. As expressed by Lisa Rosenberg, Lisa Rosenberg, Allison+Partners’ chief creative officer and consumer marketing co-chair, male-focused marketing has always been more than just “cars, girls, and booze.” What the MeToo movement has done is giving men’s brands “permission to look and feel different,” she adds.

Men’s brands are in fact realizing that they don’t need to appeal to traditional stereotypes to succeed but instead, in the light of current social and political climate, appealing to those may be counterproductive. Just to mention a couple of examples, condoms brand Durex, recently published a creative in its social networks that read “Before you even think about it, get CONSENT”, in capital letters; and Manforce, another condom firm remembered in a creative that “no means no”.

But they are not the only ones: male clothing brand Bonobos, for example, launched in July last year the #EvolveTheDefinition campaign to redefine the meaning of the word “masculinity”. “It is in the DNA of this brand of wanting to have purpose, evolving what it means to be a man, and moving them closer to what is an equal society or one that is run by women”, says Amia Lazarus, head of strategy and entertainment consulting at Observatory Marketing, which works with Bonobos. MeToo has given wings to brands like Bonobos “that believe in ‘evolved masculinity’”, she says. Schick Hydro, on its part, recently launched the campaign “The Man I Am “, starring basketball player Kevin Love who talks about positive masculinity.

Another brand championing ‘modern masculinity’ is Unilever’s Dove Men + Care, born in 2010 with a clear egalitarian vocation, promoting the figure of men as caregivers and leading a campaign in the US favoring paternity leave.

These are just some examples that show how the women’s empowerment movement has already driven a change both, in language, and in the notion of what it means to be a man in the principles of male marketing. Coherence and consistency over time will tell whether these initiatives are a real expression of the intrinsic purpose of these brands, or mere commercial strategies designed to take advantage of the MeToo wave.