The following is the transcript of my video letter to Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer, Proctor & Gamble. A link to the video is also provided below.
Dear Mr. Pritchard:
I'm reaching out to you today as a life-long Gillette customer and great admirer of Procter & Gamble, especially how the company markets its brands and nurtures customer relationships. But sadly, I am also writing to let you know I recently did something that I have not done for over 40 years. I did not purchase Gillette blade refills for my Fusion razor. I discarded the two Gillette razor handles I own and replaced them with a competitive brand.
I did that because of the release of Gillette’s recent campaign video for “The best a man can be” campaign. Yes, the video incensed and offended me that much because it comes from a brand that has been a part of my everyday life for most of my adult life and a parent company, P&G, that I respect and admire. Also, it runs contrary to everything I believe in and practice as a marketing professional and teacher.
I have over 50 years’ experience in Marketing and am an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at a leading US university. In 1965 my first job in advertising was at Benton Bowles working on P&G brands. The training and lessons I learned working with P&G were invaluable to me in my career. Forever grateful for that. Teaching is my avocation and my way of giving back and hopefully help set next generations of marketers on the right path. In my classes I often use P&G as shining examples and beacons of best practices in marketing communications, especially in the areas of purpose driven marketing and customer relationships.
I use Jim Stengel's book, Grow, as the backdrop for my classes on this important topic. Today’s consumers support brands that both provide value and espouse values they share. I often quote you and praise your efforts regarding digital media transparency, agency compensation and give kudos to P&G’s efforts for Always, Like a Girl, Old Spice, Pampers and the Thank You Mom Olympics initiatives. These campaigns celebrate their customers and audiences in a sincere, authentic brand voice. Up-lifting. Emotional. Positive. Regrettably, I cannot do that with the Gillette campaign. What happened!
An attainable, inclusive and ha
This is not a political rant or cause celeb advocacy. I’m coming at this constructively and from a responsible, professional perspective in the hopes that something positive can come of it. (By the way the first time I’ve ever done this) I also see this as an important teaching moment for my class and any others that care to listen.
First. The good stuff.
I applaud Gillette for its stated purpose of “inspiring us all to be better every day” and “promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man.” Making that part of the Brand’s greater good platform is commendable.
The transition from the “Best a Man can Get” to the “Best a Man Can Be” is a smart evolution that feels right for the brand. As a statement, it’s positive, aspirational and motivational.
Excellent move to include support of the Boys and Girls Clubs as part of the initiative. Good fit.
Next. The Bad Stuff.
It’s a truism in marketing communications that sound strategy is essential and sets the stage, but it takes you only so far. It’s the interpretation of the strategy and ultimate execution that makes or breaks a campaign. Sadly, somewhere between Gillette’s strategic aspirational good intentions and the creative brief and execution, the campaign seems to have morphed into something different. The agency and brand teams were handed a golden opportunity to create powerful, positive content that would inspire and motivate men to be their best and instead chose a different direction.
Bright Side to Dark Side
The teams made the decision to develop content that denigrates and demeans its target audience in a dark and prejudicial manner. Gillette represents men as generally intolerant, insensitive, poor fathers, condescending bosses, groping idiots and other negative portrayals. To Gillette, most men are mindless lemmings behind a barbecue, always screwing up and being the worse they can be. Sure, there are some men like that, but to paint men in general with that broad a brush is irresponsible and offensive.
I’m confident your customers, potential customers and the male employees at Gillette and P&G do not act or feel that way. I know I don’t, nor do the men in my family or the overwhelming majority of men I know.
Being Topical & Incendiary vs Responsible & Inspiring
This is another aspect of the campaign that is disturbing and very “un-P&G”. Rather than being genuine and stand on its own, it gratuitously attaches itself to the Me-Too movement and in so doing distracts from the real importance and impact of that cause. The campaign purposely hits polarizing phrases of the day, like toxic masculinity, that demean and present a dark, bleak portrait of American values.
Impact on Impressionable Youth:
Finally, I asked myself if I would be proud to show the video to a group of kids at the Boys & Girls Clubs. My answer is an emphatic no. I would be saying to them, “Hey kids, take a look at your toxic father, uncle, brother, teacher, etc. Pretty bad huh?” It’s a dark downer that could have lasting negative effects on young minds.
Please put the current video in the archives and lock it tight. Rethink this campaign content. Revisit the creative brief. Encourage your brand teams and agency to put all of their creative talents and energy into the development of an award winning, uplifting, unifying, aspirational campaign. Unfortunately, this type of approach might not be in vogue or the flavor of the day in many agencies. But I do know this for certain. Positivity always beats negativity. Negative provocations may generate some short-term buzz and notoriety but it rarely, if ever, results in medium- or long-term behavior change. Taking this type of action can go a long way in undoing the damage done and help win back lost loyalists like me.
Incidentally, I will be having my class do this as reimagining project as part of our invention session exercises. I’d be happy to share the results with you.
Thanks for listening and I'd be happy to discuss this more at any time.
PS. I posted a similar but shorter version of this on Gillette’s/P&G’s customer service website about two weeks ago. To date, no response.
LInk To Video Letter on You Tube: #gillettefail