Gillette took a drastically different direction in its advertising last January when it released a commercial that challenged the idea of traditional masculinity. The company's well-known slogan, "The best a man can get," was tweaked into a question, "Is this the best a man can get?" That message was accompanied by scenes of the "Me Too" movement and examples of workplace sexism.
Even liberal Piers Morgan got heated over it, calling it "PC guff" on Twitter and ranting about the ad on "Good Morning Britain."
"Let boys be damn boys," he said. "Let men be damn men.”
A few months later, Gillette released another social justice-like ad which depicted a father teaching his transgender son how to shave. Cue more backlash.
The outrage against the hyper-political ads could account for the company's recent $8 billion writedown.
“P&G reported a net loss of about $5.24 billion, or $2.12 per share, for the quarter ended June 30, due to an $8 billion non-cash writedown of Gillette," Reuters reported at the end of July. "For the same period last year, P&G’s net income was $1.89 billion, or 72 cents per share.”
The company opted to blame the numbers on the increased competition from the likes of the Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s. It also pointed to a decreased demand for men's razors.
“Lower shaving frequency has reduced the size of the developed blades and razors market,” according to CFO Jon Moeller.
But, the latest Gillette ad at least suggests that the company has learned its lesson about the unpopularity of its PC campaign. The razor company is “shifting the spotlight from social issues to local heroes.” First up is Australian firefighter and personal trainer Ben Ziekenheiner.
The new ad, which launched last week, stars Australian firefighter and personal trainer Ben Ziekenheiner. “I’ve been a firefighter for 19 years,” Mr Ziekenheiner says in the ad.
“People sometimes ask if it’s scary. It can be, but like anyone who has a job to do, you prepare — not just in terms of your equipment but also mentally and physically.”
The ad spruiks the brand’s SkinGuard range, highlighting the issue of sensitive skin for men who shave every day — including firefighters, who are required to be clean-shaven as it enables a proper seal for their breathing mask.
“We have a very clear strategy when it comes to how we authentically connect with our consumers,” said Manu Airan, associate brand director for Gillette Australia and New Zealand.
“We will continue to talk about what is important to Gillette and that is representing men at their best and helping men do their best. That is not changing. We will continue to do that and demonstrate it in different ways.”
Male consumers may not think Gillette is still the "best" they can get, but they can admit that this kind of advertisement is at least better.