How Trump, Corbyn and May left the stage clear for Gillette's corny moral messaging

The razor company's latest ad is a clunky homespun parable from a bygone age

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 18 January 2019 11:39 GMT
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Piers Morgan on Gillette ad GMB-

Gillette has created an ad entitled “Is This The Best Men Can Be?” pimping off the back of #MeToo. Loudmouth Piers Morgan is so disgusted by its PC message he’s switching to another brand. In two days the Gillette YouTube film has been viewed more than 45 million times, and debate rages on social media about whether it is timely or downright patronising. But what does the furore tell us about modern society?

Personally, I find the ad cloying and corny. Are men so dysfunctional that Procter & Gamble need to define their responsibilities as fathers and role models? So dumb they need reminding that boys watching them clown around and grope the opposite sex today will be the young men of tomorrow?

Most importantly, isn’t the ad aimed at women anyway – they buy most of the household products, and the message is one that many would be highly receptive to.

The film, with its clunky attempt to show oafish men and the “right” and “wrong” kinds of behaviour, reads like a homespun parable from a bygone age. Its director, Kim Gehrig, was responsible for the equally controversial ad “This Girl Can” in 2015, commissioned by Sport England after research found that two million fewer women, than men, took in any activity . Although there was criticism for its use of the word “girl”, the ad was viewed as a success, with 1.6 million more women take to exercise as a result.

Gehrig’s new ad is not really about selling anything as crass as a product, but ensuring that the Gillette brand name is imprinted deeper into shoppers’ (ie female) brains. It’s selling a philosophy.

Benetton, with its controversial ads that had nothing to do with naff clothing and everything to do with being bold enough to stand against the crowd, started the trend back in 1984, with its “United Colours” campaign featuring billboards of a man dying of Aids and images of a bloodied newborn baby still attached to its umbilical cord.

Dove – a mass market skincare range – followed up with its “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004, using real women in all shapes and sizes and creating films for YouTube which claimed to promote our self-esteem. It came a cropper with a bodywash ad in 2017, in which a black model peeles off a brown T-shirt and morphs into a white woman. The model said she didn’t think it was racist, but Dove must have been delighted at the ensuing row on social media. Dove positioned itself as “understanding” normal women and their anxieties.

Sportswear leads the field when it comes to social messaging. Serena Williams has a highly lucrative contract with Nike, and as her specially designed outfits in outlandish colours and shapes attract massive media attention, Williams says she’s proud to work with a company “making a strong a powerful statement for mothers that are trying to get back and get fit”. In other words, it’s nothing to do with sportswear and everything to do with personal goals and social mobility for ordinary women.

Gillette’s 2019 message of encouragement for men to set standards, to step up and call out inappropriate behaviour, is just as disingenuous – surely this is something that teachers and parents should be doing? Is the company really making a stand against “toxic masculinity” or just stating the bloody obvious? It’s a bit like my least favourite charity campaign slogan – “Make poverty history”. I mean, who would ever say the reverse?

Don’t forget, Gillette needs people (men and women) to engage in the act of shaving so it can make profits. A tough job, as more men than ever are growing beards, and plenty of women resent being told to remove their natural body hair in the name of a spurious standard of feminine perfection.

One theory why big brands like Nike use heroic slogans like “Just Do It” and create ads which seem like anthems with mission statements, is because politicians are frightened to offer genuine, powerful messages of their own. Where are the morally driven politicians, the men and women who are unafraid to speak out about what they stand for? There’s some truth in this.

Who knows what Theresa May would adopt as her creed, if she had to spell out a simple statement of fundamental beliefs. She might complain that her Brexit critics have not come up with an alternative plan to her own, but many of us have no idea what she actually wants. The same is true of Jeremy Corbyn, reluctant to nail his colours to any mast. There has been so much shouting, reiterating of entrenched positions, jargon and blathering, that the public feel (quite rightly) that those in power do not speak for them.

There is a huge vacuum between our elected politicians and the people they are supposed to be serving. Why the reluctance to compromise, for starters, something we all have to do every day of our lives in order to function?

Into this mess (while Donald Trump mouths bellicose platitudes on Twitter) steps Gillette, with a self-serving message which purports to have a serious intent, following a long-established tradition of “socially aware” marketing. The company is as vacuous as many politicians, but at least it just flogs razors, not trade agreements which could destroy livelihoods.

Feminists, tigers and bears

Bristol City Council has renewed the licence of lap-dancing club Urban Tiger, in spite of 16 objections from women’s rights and gender equality groups. The club employs 37 dancers and seven bar staff, who described themselves as “strong independent feminists… working in a safe environment”.

I’m not a fan of these clubs, but city centres should reflect the tastes of all citizens, not just gender-aware ones. If women want to do this work, let them get on with it (providing they are properly paid and not harrassed) and stop trying to morally cleanse our high streets.

Using the same criteria, surely betting shops are offensive to people who oppose gambling, and butchers distressing to militant vegans. One objector wrote: “I am unable to avoid seeing Urban Tiger whenever I go to the city centre area... a constant reminder of my place as a woman in our society and of Bristol’s tolerance of sexism.”

Why not take another route and then your day will not be blighted by the visual horror of passing a lap-dancing club?

In an effort to curb anti-social behaviour, the city is also considering removing Ursa, a giant wooden scuplture of a bear by artist Jamie Gillman. It stands over the “bearpit” area which has been a hub for the anti-establishment scene. Hard to believe that an innocent bear is responsible for drinking and drug abuse, but this is modern Britain.

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