Proctor and Gamble is the parent company of Gillette. Gillette makes shaving products for men. The company faced major backlash after its newest advertisement, "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be." (Tony Walsh/Staff)

The meninists, or men’s rights activists, are back online, which means that someone must have done something positive and progressive.

On Jan. 13, Gillette released a new commercial titled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” online to a massive, if predictable, backlash.  

The company’s new initiative constitutes a much-needed recognition of past problematic behavior and a call to provoke change.

The video in question is an introspective dressing-down of toxic masculinity in its most common and potent forms. Amid scenes of bullying being excused and sexual harassment with the common “Boys will be boys,” comment, the narrator asks if this is truly the best that men can get, and the answer is a resounding no.

On YouTube, the video has 701,000 likes and 1.2 million dislikes as of press time.

Twitter is a hotbed of mixed opinions under the hashtag #TheBestMenCanBe, with some users expressing gratitude for the company’s initiative. Others criticize Gillette for shaming and stereotyping men. Some vow to never use the razors again.

But does the controversy really matter?  

Among talks of social redefinition, it’s important to remember that this is a commercial – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. That Procter & Gamble, the parent company of Gillette, considered this advertisement a safe enough business decision to market to the masses is a comforting thought. It signifies that a majority of the consuming public feel the sentiments in the video ring true.

To quote the Gillette’s The Best A Man Can Be page, “It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture.”

Perhaps though, there was a deeper intention than encouraging a socially conscious consumer public. Gillette has gotten a lot of media coverage for their ad and the backlash surrounding it in the last few days. And all press is good press.

It’s not a stretch to suspect the company is generating an artificial controversy in hopes of free marketing.

Procter & Gamble is not unfamiliar with dabbling in social advertising. In the summer of 2017, the company released “The Talk,” a video that depicted black mothers warning their children of the racism that would follow them. It was received poorly by many, with several purporting to boycott the company’s products.

Despite this supposed setback, the ad won an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial in  2018, and their stock has been trending upward since, outpacing the downturn it took after the release of the campaign.

Additionally, The Wall Street Journal reports that the company “slashed its spending on digital advertising by more than $200 million last year [2017].” How else does a company accomplish that feat but by riding the wave of controversial socially progressive marketing campaigns?     

In spite of the controversy, Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” advertisement is indicative of a larger trend of socially conscious branding. As opposed to the culturally tone-deaf Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad of 2017, Gillette’s commercial stirs up real thought without trivializing the movements that led up to this point.  

Consumer culture is being re-centered around a more responsible moralist core. Social movements, especially those in the public eye, are marketable. Their mere mention evokes intense emotion, the same feeling that advertisements mean to incite in their audience. Controversy and free press coverage don’t hurt either.  

If media coverage of Gillette’s commercial provokes a dialogue, or better yet some change, then we’re better for it.

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