Is this really the best Gillette can do?

Shaving Pot

Much has been said about Gillette’s The Best Men Can Be campaign, none of it more insightful than Mark Ritson’s must-read dissection of the whole sorry saga here.

Ritson has long been a critic of the ‘brand purpose’, Start with Why snake oil pedalled by Simon Sinek and co; it’s one of the reasons I so love his work. In this article, he argues that even if you buy into the strategy, the tactical execution is deeply flawed. I encourage you to read the whole thing and won’t try to repeat it here.

So, what can I hope to add to the debate?

Well in the spirit of scientific marketing, a few stats and facts and a bit more context.

Before we start

Any criticism of the campaign has been seized upon by the professional takers of offence as a sign the writer opposes equality, the #MeToo movement, or the idea that men should not be “knuckle-dragging, misogynistic, bullying, sexually harassing, selfish, fighting, overly and overtly macho tosspots”.

So, let’s all accept that it’s not unreasonable to expect men to behave in a civilised, decent, respectful manner at all times to everyone.

There are issues that need to be addressed.

But Gillette’s ham-fisted approach is an odd way to achieve it – and a terrible way to shift razors.

Like too many bad ads, it’s telling not selling.

“Rather than a work of inspiration and aspiration [ad director Kim Gehrig] delivers a short film that feels vindictive and accusatory. We are not being shown the better path, we are being told we are all on the wrong one and must change course immediately. Men are to blame. You, yes you. It’s a poor way to sell razors. Hell, it’s a poor way to sell anything.”

Mark Ritson


When I posted some initial views on social media about this campaign, I anticipated the responses it would draw. Rather predictably, the most common was this:

“You don’t get understand who the ad is targeting. Men don’t buy razors, women buy them for their husbands.”

Wow. There’s a whole stack of assumptions in that assertion, that women do all the weekly shop being just one of them. It also overlooks the fact that around half of adult men in the US are single. That’s before we even begin to consider how of the rest many may be involved in same-sex relationships.

But I thought it was a point worth checking against the data.

Trouble is, the data is sadly lacking. Mintel’s report on the razor market does not break down the purchasers by gender.

Instead, I turned to the next best alternative, Mintel’s report on Men’s Facial Skincare Products for the UK, July 2018. It provides reliable proxy data.

Here’s what they found:

  • 73% of all men who use facial skincare products buy all the products themselves.
  • A further 17% buy some of their skincare products
  • As they become financially independent men are more likely to buy their own products. More than 90% of men between the ages of 25 – 64 (Gillette’s core market) buy all or some of their own products.
  • The groups most likely to have all their skincare products bought by someone else are those aged 16-24 (13%) and 65+ (18%).
Three generations of shavers

Those aged 16-24 and 65+ are more likely to have their products bought for them

Women do not buy razors for their partners.


Another rejoinder that has appeared involves variations on that old chestnut:

“Everyone’s talking about it”

Sure. In much the same way that everyone was talking about Ratners following Gerald Ratner’s infamous prawn sandwich speech. Not all publicity is good publicity, especially when it focuses on telling your core target audience they’re bad people.

And once again, Mintel’s data undermines this assertion.

In a list of nine factors considered important when buying facial skincare products, advertising (specifically celebrity-endorsement ads) and media mentions were eight and ninth respectively.

Only 6% of all men said they influenced by advertising or media mentions.

Of course, there’s likely to be a bit of self-delusion there, but even allowing for a large margin of error,  a brand they have used before (48%) and low price (47%) have a far greater impact on decision making.

Which is why market dominant Gillette is making a grave mistake in risking the long-term relationship it has with customers.

Former P&G VP Phillippe Bovay berates his former colleagues in his excoriating LinkedIn article, P&G Top Managers just don’t get it – Again! for this flawed thinking.

“To our CMO: This time Gillette, last time it was the Super Bowl’s “It’s a Tide Ad” campaign which everyone certainly talked about and won awards, but did not build Tide’s superiority image or market share.”

Look at the genius of the Greggs vegan sausage roll for a better way of getting talked about in a way that actually increases sales.

And, like the Gillette ad, still offers the gratifying benefit of sending Piers Morgan over the edge.


The final argument I’ve seen is

“Don’t criticise Gillette. At least they’re taking a moral position”

To be frank, I don’t want to take moral guidance from the marketing department of a global multinational, particularly when it’s delivered in such a sanctimonious, patronising and cloying way.

But let’s take a look at Gillette for a moment.

As comedian Susan Murray highlighted on Twitter, Gillette has quite a history to make up for.

Tweet from Susan Murray

“Putting women in skin-tight catsuits and printing their brand across their arse is more of a reason to boycott Gillette.” Susan Murray


“But that was a long time ago” I’m told.

Okay. So perhaps there should be a greater emphasis from Gillette on apologising for their past.

A more current concern is the issue of Pink Tax.

In 2015 a New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Report found that on average “women’s products cost seven per cent more than similar products for men.”

Gillette is a prime offender. Many people on Twitter have highlighted the fact that Gillette charges between $3 and $4 more for an eight pack of women’s blades than they do for the men’s equivalent.

You have to wonder how they can look at themselves in the shaving mirror.

Finally, let’s take a look at the composition of the leadership teams of Gillette and its parent company Proctor & Gamble.

Of the 13 board members and executives listed for Gillette, only two (15%) , Mun Tak Yang and Nancy Karch, are women. The board of Proctor & Gamble is a little more balanced. Of the 13 members, four (a whole 30%) are women.

The founder of Gillette will be turning in his grave.

His name?

Gloriously, it was King Camp Gillette.

Now that really will wind up the ‘knuckle draggers’!




Further reading 

Gillette: Best A Purpose Ad Can Do? by Professor Koen Pauwels, Professor of Marketing at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Northeastern University