Although the “Me Too” Movement was first founded in 2006 by activist Tamara Burke, “in 2017, the #metoo hashtag went viral and woke up the world to the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence” (Get To Know Us: History & Inception, 2020). The movement regained traction in 2017 as a result of surfaced sexual assault allegations against different people, such as American film producer Harvey Weinstein. According to the New York Times, “a cascade of high-profile men, many in the entertainment and news media industries, have since been fired or forced to resign after accusations of sexual misconduct that ranged from inappropriate comments to rape” (After Weinstein: 71 Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct and Their Fall From Power, 2017). Within the New York Times’ article, seventy-one different men were accused of “inappropriate behavior” within the workplace. Of the seventy-one, a California State Assemblyman, the Chief News Editor at NPR, and a Federal Appeals Court Judge were included. Around the world, a conversation was started. Once the allegations began, others felt the courage to come forward as well.
In response, some corporations made the decision to publicly voice their support of the Me Too Movement. Gillette, a major American razor company, began a campaign in support of movement. Founded in 1904, Gillette has been one of the leading razor brands in both the nation and the world. As of July 2020, Gillette’s razors are used by 750 million men in 200 different countries, with its brand value at 14.5 billion dollars (“Gillette”, 2020). “It was the official razor of World War I, thanks to a government contract that put 3.5 million of them into the hands of American soldiers, therefore becoming the official razor of the United States” (“The Absurd Quest to Make the ‘Best’ Razor”, 2018). For nearly thirty years, the corporation had used the slogan, “The Best A Man Can Get” (The Best Men Can Be, 2020). However, to promote their campaign in support of the Me Too Movement, Gillette transformed their slogan into “The Best Men Can Be” (The Best Men Can Be, 2020), along with beginning their own campaign. To promote the inception of their new campaign, Gillette released an advertisement in January of 2019, titled “The Best Men Can Be”. In under two minutes, the advertisement addressed the topics of bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity, asking men to take responsibility and lead a better example for young boys today. In this essay, I will examine the effectiveness of the rhetorical strategies employed in Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” advertisement. I will also analyze the range of feedback the advertisement received. I will argue that although Gillette’s advertisement successfully addresses relevant societal issues such as bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity, the advertisement’s provocative assertion of holding all men accountable ultimately alienates a percentage of their intended target audience.
I will first evaluate the efficacy of the rhetorical strategies used in Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be”. The video begins by showing men looking into the mirror at themselves, as voices of news reporters are heard saying “bullying”, “the Me Too Movement”, and “toxic masculinity” (See Appendix A). In this specific segment of the advertisement, Gillette suggests that men should be looking to themselves and taking on personal responsibility for the aforementioned male issues plaguing society. Men of different race, age, and size are included in this segment, making clear that the advertisement is targeted towards all men. There is an implication that Gillette intended for the advertisement to come across as leaving it up to the viewer to decide whether or not they have taken part in such actions, or if they have stood by as such behavior has taken place. By merely showing men from different walks of life, looking at themselves in almost a disappointed manner, Gillette sends the powerful message that every man should be ashamed of the reputation created by the few. In a statement upon launching the campaign, the company noted the actions of the few can and have affected the reputation of all men (Backlash Erupts After Gillette Launches A New #MeToo-Inspired Ad Campaign, 2019).
Towards the middle of the advertisement, a line of grown men are seen standing in front of their individual grills, repeating the phrase “Boys will be boys”, as they watch two young boys fight in the grass (See Appendix B). The phrase “Boys will be boys” has been used since 1589. At its origin, the phrase was meant to serve as a literal interpretation, that children act foolish. However, over time, “the phrase has morphed over the years into a flippant way to excuse the actions and attitudes of boys and men of all ages” (Why We Say ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ But Not ‘Girls Will Be Girls, 2017). Essentially, the phrase now supports the assumption that boys and men should not be held accountable for their alleged inherent nature of aggression. To challenge this notion, Gillette creates a “cult-like” presence of men in this specific segment of the advertisement. In doing so, Gillette contends that the current societal ideology normalizes boys being violent towards each other. In this segment of the advertisement, Gillette aims to challenge this ideology, and advocate for a new standard for what is natural, just, and right in terms of male behavior.
To continue with the advertisement’s theme of male indecency being the social norm, the end of the advertisement shows men doing the right thing as “swimming against the tide” (See Appendix C). For example, the advertisement displays one man fighting to get through a crowd of people in order to save a young boy from being beat up. This segment of the advertisement sends the message that Gillette is contending good men are the minority.
I will now analyze the range of feedback the advertisement received. Although the advertisement was labeled as “controversial”, there was a fair share of positive feedback for its message. One Twitter user wrote “‘This conversation needs to happen’” (Gillette Faces Backlash and Boycott over ‘#MeToo Advert’, 2019). Nonetheless, the advertisement’s message received negative feedback as well. On Youtube, the advertisement received 10,000 thumbs down as opposed to only 1,700 likes (Gillette Ad With a #MeToo Edge Attracts Support and Outrage, 2019). Specifically, one man claimed the advertisement was “grotesque to repeatedly ascribe collective guilt onto half of humanity known as men” (Backlash Erupts After Gillette Launches A New #MeToo-Inspired Ad Campaign, 2019). Despite their intentions, Gillette limited their target audience by coming across as accusatory to men who disagree with the notion of few tainting the reputation of many. However, I am compelled to believe that Gillette anticipated there would be backlash in response to the advertisement. A spokesperson for Gillette expressed “These days ‘brand-building’ also means taking a stand on important societal issues, controversial as they may be” (Backlash Erupts After Gillette Launches A New #MeToo-Inspired Ad Campaign, 2019). Although the rhetorical strategy employed by Gillette in the segment showing different men’s moment of self-reflection may have been deemed contentious by some, it seems as if Gillette was willing to offend a portion of the audience in order to get their message across to the audience as a whole.
Specifically in response to the segment of the advertisement depicting a “cult-like” presence of men (See Appendix B), one man wrote “I find your recent ad offensive and insulting to imply that men just fight, barbecue and harass women” (Backlash Erupts After Gillette Launches A New #MeToo-Inspired Ad Campaign, 2019). While this segment was extremely effective in highlighting the toxicity of the current societal male standard, it is apparent that Gillette alienated a substantial group of its audience that believes majority of men do not act in such a manner.
I would argue the segment showing men “swimming against the tide” (See Appendix C) makes the most controversial assertion of the entire advertisement. Susan Cantor, Chief Executive of RedPeak, wrote “Men are saying, we feel marginalized, criticized, and accused rather than feeling inspired, empowered, and encouraged” (P&G Challenges Men to Shave Their ‘Toxic Masculinity’ in Gillette Ad, 2019). Yet, not only did Gillette seem to anticipate backlash by some men, but almost wanted the negative response. One Twitter user exclaimed “If you’re mad at your razor for saying boys should be kind, that ad was exactly for you” (Gillette Makes Waves With Controversial New Commercial, 2019). Gillette’s desire to start a conversation regarding the topics of bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity resulted in some coming to the realization that those angriest about the advertisement may be those needing to see it the most.
Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” advertisement was only the beginning of Gillette’s campaign as a whole. Gillette has continued their campaign through a series of stories, which showcase “Men who are advocates, mentors, and leaders in their communities, actively demonstrating what it means to be a great man” (The Best Men Can Be, 2020). While Gillette’s advertisement used powerful rhetorical strategies to send their message urging for men to do better, the generalization of the notion of the toxicity of men as a whole ultimately offended and alienated a portion of their intended audience. Nonetheless, it is apparent Gillette was willing to take such backlash in order to start a much needed discussion.