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  • Writer's pictureCedi Frederick

A watershed moment?

Have you seen the new Gillette advert? Gillette is of course the men’s shaving and personal grooming company. The advert has caused a bit of a firestorm because it promotes what the media describes as ‘a new kind of positive masculinity’, has linked with the #MeToo movement and really takes it to sexual harassment, bullying, violence and the ‘Boys will be boys’ toxic masculinity. If you haven’t watched it, check it out on YouTube. It’s been viewed nearly 1.5m times, received 35k ‘thumbs up’ responses, but interestingly 65k ‘thumbs down’ responses. If you’re up to it, read a few of the comments below the video. Clearly lots of people don’t like the message of the advert.

Gillette has updated its famous ‘The best a man get’ tagline with ‘The best a man can be’ and this new tagline now fronts a $1m a year Gillette sponsored campaign to ‘Challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man’. Brilliant, and of course worthy, whilst $1m a year is loose change to Proctor and Gamble (P&G)!

First up, hats off to Grey, the advertising agency for developing a brilliant advert and kudos to P&G for having the guts, or the commercial necessity to go with it knowing I’m sure that it would cause controversy. Maybe Proctor and Gamble have taken a leaf out of the Nike and Colin Kaepernick play book of controversial and provocative advertising, or that upstart men’s grooming market disruptors such as Harry’s, Bulldog and Dollar Shave are snapping at their heels, or even that the growing (no pun intended) popularity of beards and designer stubble has affected Gillette’s sales, but whatever the reason, it’s a great advert and campaign.

I’ve been following the press and media coverage over the last few days of how this advert that’s 1:50 long has led to apoplectic rants on social media (check out Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed), intellectual debates and in some cases furious rows about the position of men in modern society, the emasculation of men over the last 20 years and the erosion of masculinity to a point where some describe it as a crisis! If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember the Marlboro man adverts that featured images of the kind of man many wanted to be and society expected men to be. You’ll also remember all too often hearing ‘Suck it up. Be a man’ and ‘Real men don’t cry’.

Then just over 20 years ago Metrosexual Man arrived, with David Beckham leading the way and arguably opening the door for millions of others to follow his lead of meticulous grooming, eclectic fashion sense and being unafraid to show emotion! How many times did we see him cry on a football pitch? In life, timing is everything and the continued rise of Metrosexual Man at a time of western post-industrial decline followed by austerity has seen a loss of work that had historically defined men; work that was tough, required physical strength and had elements of risk, from coal mining to manufacturing, ship building and construction. When added to the growing numbers of women challenging the traditional male roles of bread winners, leaders and pioneers, perhaps one can understand why so many men are struggling with identity, and what it is to be a man in the 21st century.

This is a quote from a Guardian article titled ‘Men or mice – masculinity in Crisis’ by Ross Raison in October 2017

“If my missus was … the sole provider, I think there’d be a lot of friction in the house, because my manliness would be gone… I would feel really angry at her, and at myself. But probably at myself more.”

But thank goodness, increasing numbers of men around the world, of all backgrounds are now finding ways to talk about who they are, what they are, where they are in their lives and are working with coaches, joining informal men’s groups such as ‘Men’s Shed’ and ‘Blokes Breakfasts’ or going beyond that and seeking counselling.

Maybe the current Gillette advert furore will bring this challenging issue to the surface and prompt more men to question and explore. As a coach who works with men, I hope so.

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