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Revisiting the Gillette Ad: Deconstruction vs Encouragement

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Gillette

Gillette's now infamous "toxic masculinity" ad was the center of bile for many conservatives. I can see why: it's a poorly articulated message of negativity. It presents what most people might simply label "bad behavior" as evil flaws naturally inherent to men for no other reason than being male. It was demeaning, it was poorly presented and overly emotional. However, I must confess there was at least a well-meaning sentiment behind it: calling men to be better. No man is perfect and every once and awhile, we need a kick in the keister to remind us to be better than we are. However, Gillette went the complete wrong way about it. Rather than encouraging men to be better, they beat them down and left it at that. It broke down rather than built up. When all you're doing is venting frustration (which this ad seems to be doing), what is that supposed to do for the people you're targeting? Do you really expect them to be encouraged to do better or be discouraged by how they were represented? So, the question is now this: what could the Gillette ad have done better in its commentary on men?

The first answer is to not put political commentary in your ad for shaving supplies. I'm not saying this because it's a political agenda I happen to disagree with. If it had been filled with right-wing commentary I would have given it an equal thrashing. The problem with politics is that they're impersonal; they group people together into easily digestible statistics, leaving anything resembling humanity in the dust. If you want to tell a story with your ad, that's great. There are plenty of great ads that tell stories completely disconnected from the product they're selling. But here's the thing: stories deal with experiences and emotions. Stories take the audience on a journey of feelings they can connect with. Stories breed unity through their common humanity. Politics, on the other hand, feed on negative emotions rather than stimulate positive ones. They're broad and based on stances, breeding and perpetuating hatred and division rather than unity and love. Humanity is tossed aside in favor of scapegoats and that's exactly what Gillette did with this atrocious ad.

Now, if Gillette still wanted to do an ad about masculinity within those guidelines, I think I have just the ad for inspiration. In 2015, Dove launched an ad campaign called #RealStrength. It ran during the Super Bowl that year and was by all accounts a solid success. The commercial itself is simple: a series of scenarios in which fathers are shown to be there for their kids. It's touching, it's cute, but most importantly, it's encouraging. When I see this ad, I think of all the times my dad caught me when I jumped in the pool. How he was there to hug me when I cried and pick me up when I screwed up. And most importantly of all, when I see this ad, I think to myself, "Man, I hope I'm that kind of dad when I have kids." That is what a message about manhood should be: a reminder of the good men in your life and what kind of man you should be.

Pandering to a certain political party not only makes you a hack, but in this climate, it makes you morally irresponsible. We are more divided than ever because of politics. You think more politics are going to bring us together? If you want to send a message to men, why would you break them down, leaving them depressed and ashamed? Wouldn't it be better to encourage them and make them smile? Despite how short they are and the fact that they advertise products, video ads have a significant amount of power. They can make us laugh as hard as any comedy, make us cry more than any drama and, as we've seen here, divide us more than any political speech. It's time marketing teams started to realize that and taking responsibility for it. Otherwise, ads like this will continue to be made with equally chaotic consequences.

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