Advertising and psychology are inextricably linked. From the artisan using the power of persuasion and word of mouth to sell their wares at ancient markets, to Volkswagen finding massive success in the ‘60s by going against the grain, brands have long understood that to get people to buy in, you’ve got to make an emotional impact.
It only follows that if an ad can influence your buying behavior, it also has the capacity to influence your behavior in general. Not necessarily a bad thing if used responsibly, right?
That’s exactly what I think Gillette was going for in their recent ad spotlighting toxic masculinity (and, of course, their razors). In their ad, Gillette calls out toxically masculine behaviors—catcalling, bullying, and interrupting others—while positioning their brand as a leader and messenger of change. It’s at once both a gimmick to win over the wallets of a #woke young audience and an earnest call for change.
These two motives can coexist. Advertising is always going to push us to buy, so why shouldn’t it also be able to push us to think?
Especially in our age of information overload, there are always new causes and movements cropping up that deserve attention and support. Take the #MeToo movement, which gained viral traction in 2017 by challenging sexual harassment in Hollywood. The movement sparked a number of high-profile celebrities, companies, and politicians to speak out in favor of the movement—so why shouldn’t advertisers and brands be able voice their support through their own mediums as well?
Unfortunately, some people believe that ads should stick to selling, or should only address causes that align with the viewer’s own values. If the backlash from Gillette’s ad proves anything, it’s that it struck a nerve.
Interestingly enough, many of the comments and posts against Gillette included several behavioral patterns that the ad spotlighted—bullying, unreasonable aggressiveness, and “mansplaining.” Maybe this is an indication that the ad’s message was warranted after all?
I certainly believe it was. The phrase “toxic masculinity” has become somewhat of a buzzword in the past few years, but it's not a new concept.
Just like women, men have always been pressured to conform to certain societal expectations under the guise of “real” masculinity.
While some behaviors typically associated with masculinity are certainly positive (i.e., strength, assertiveness, and leadership), many others can take a negative spin. This is where masculinity can become toxic, and something in need of addressing.
You’ve probably experienced a form of toxic masculinity yourself. I have! I’ve been catcalled by strangers on the street, talked over or ignored completely at meetings, and I was assaulted in broad daylight in front of the children I was in charge of watching at a summer camp.
To anyone who claims that toxic masculinity is a myth, I’d invite them to rethink their perspective.
We put so much value in starting dialogues as a society, so we should be encouraging them wherever they happen. In my opinion, Gillette, and other brands like them, represent a cultural shift that’s sorely needed. I hope more companies take note.