Letter to the editor: The new Gillette ad proves social justice is for sale

By Chad Cooper

“Seen the new Gillette ad?”

That’s the message I received last night from a friend.

By this point, if you’ve consumed any media in the last 24 hours, you’ve probably seen — or at least heard the debate about — the commercial from the shaving company.

The nearly two-minute ad draws on the #MeToo movement and purports to challenge “toxic masculinity.”

The opinions and backlash have been swift and numerous. Some are saying the ad is bad because it’s too political and paints a broad misogynistic stroke over all men. Some are saying it’s great for taking a stand and confronting a serious social issue.

Both sides are wrong.

This particular Gillette ad is bad because it’s an ad from Gillette. And its badness is sinister.

Let’s talk about the commercial. After the aforementioned message from my friend, I watched the video online. The production certainly has the sheen of a professional ad. The content challenges obvious wrongs, ranging from bullying to sexual harassment. The overall message is powerfully delivered. To any half-ass savvy marketing professional, this sounds like a win, and that’s precisely the problem.

This seems like a good place to take a brief aside to mention that I work in marketing. That’s probably why my friend sent me the message about the Gillette ad in the first place. Marketing and advertising has been maligned for decades as a purveyor of propaganda to boost consumerism. It’s also an industry that has widely employed fledgling artists and writers — offering a living wage to do work that involves at least a modicum of creativity. This is all to say that my relationship with marketing and advertising is complicated, and while I mostly work with nonprofits, I grow increasingly disillusioned with the field as a whole when I see ads like the one Gillette just shilled out.

There’s been a recent wave of these sort of social-justice ads, from Pepsi’s tone-deaf and comically bad Kendall Jenner commercial to Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign. Social justice certainly seems en vogue for huge companies and advertising agencies, and that’s not good.

A corporate ad can’t advance social justice. True advocates don’t perform a risk-reward revenue analysis to decide whether to confront societal wrongs. Gillette is a subsidiary of global behemoth Procter & Gamble. They’re here to make money. Co-opting a movement to make that money is about as dirty as it gets. It makes the Marlboro Man look like a beacon of morality by comparison.

The debate over this particular ad will probably rage for a few more days and then die out, as all stories generally do in our social media milieu. I can also guarantee that another company with another ad agency will invariably come out with another social justice ad. When it happens, I’ll ask myself the same question as when I finished watching the Gillette ad: Since when is social justice for sale?

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