January 19, 2019 10:00 am

Is the controversial Gillette commercial good for business?

WATCH: Edmonton marketing expert weighs in on the Gillette ad addressing toxic masculinity

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Even if you haven’t seen the commercial, you’ve likely heard about it after this past week.

A nearly two-minute ad, released by Gillette this week, shows men harassing women, boys fighting at a barbeque and on the street, and eventually, shows other men stepping up to stop the incidents. The company said it was tackling “toxic masculinity.”

READ MORE: Gillette’s new ad tackles toxic masculinity


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It sparked backlash from many on the internet – and praise from others – but one thing that everyone is doing is talking about it.

“It has been aired on television as much as many ads are because it’s been shown in all the news programs,” University of Toronto marketing professor David Soderman told Global News.

Sure, people have been talking about it, but whether that translates into sales for Gillette is the ultimate question, advertising and culture professor Andrea Benoit of Western University said.

“[A company’s] main concern is sales at the end of the day,” Benoit said.

Soderman said large companies like Proctor and Gamble, which owns Gillette, and Nike have large advertising budgets – and likely have weighed the risks and found it favourable.

WATCH: Being a male in the age of #MeToo (February 2018) 

“I assume that these ads being highly researched and while they’re going to upset some people, the number of people that react positively to them is significantly higher,” he said.

“Companies like Procter and Gamble have the money to reduce those risks to a reasonable bubble.”

While an ad campaign is always a gamble, “there’s recent research that shows younger consumers, in particular, do want to make purchase decisions aligned with their social values and their belief,” Puneeta McBryan, president of the Ad Club of Edmonton, told Global News.

“There’s broader research that shows that brands that have a higher purpose, beyond just selling products, outperform, on average, other companies.”

While we may see a largely negative reaction on social media – that’s not how a company will measure profit, Soderman explained.

“People who react positively aren’t always posting on social media — they’re going out and buying the product,” he said.

“Twitter is never going to be a representative sample of the population, so just really, time will tell,” McBryan agreed.

Other examples of social advertising

The idea of using advertising to change someone’s lifestyle isn’t new.

Soderman explained for products – like Gillette – which aren’t fundamentally different from their competitors, companies will sometimes turn to “lifestyle” advertising like this. That allows the commercial to stand out.

It has been going on since Coca-Cola used the practice in the ’60s.

Most recently – the advertisement from Nike that features Colin Kaepernick drew a similar reaction. People said they would boycott the sportswear company, and others flat out burned the shoes in videos posted to social media.

READ MORE: Nike online sales increase 31 per cent since Colin Kaepernick ad reveal: study

Soderman said the negative reaction hasn’t harmed the brand.

“Their brand has actually been stronger since that initiative and they’ve actually gained in the marketplace,” he explained.

WATCH: ‘Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything’: Colin Kaepernick in Nike commercial

McByran said the difference in Gillette’s ad is that it is less subtle in its activism than Nike’s, which may backfire for Gillette, but “we’ll just have to see how customers speak with their dollars.”

Benoit cited soap and beauty products brand Dove’s campaign for “real beauty” in 2004. The campaign showed women of all body types and colours instead of professional models. While she said there was some negative reaction, the campaign has proven to be extremely effective, and won advertising awards, and experts say it was a factor in Dove’s commercial success.

Other ads that have tried to capitalize or push social themes haven’t done as well. Pepsi’s controversial Black Lives Matter ad with Kendall Jenner was widely criticized for missing the mark and resulted in Jenner offering a tear-filled apology on her reality show.

Social change on social media

More people are ditching traditional television for online streaming, and advertising needs to keep up.

“We now can see a lot of the ads that have been highly discussed in the last couple of years, have been ones that have not been launched through traditional media,” Soderman said.

“You’ve got to put your marketing where eyeballs are, and if eyeballs are now focused on the internet and streaming services, you’ve got to use the marketing strategies that you can conceive to make your message available there.”

Is the ad a sign of the times?

So is the ad a sign of a changing society? Or does the ad help change society? That’s the “age-old” question, Benoit said.

“Whether ads can shape society in social change or does social change shape advertising — the answer to that is the age-old question about the influence of media,” she said.

“They are mutually reinforcing.”

Soderman agreed that “advertising is a reflection of the society we live in.”

So does that mean we will see more advertising like this?

“The ‘woke’ business strategy will be a big theme in 2019, as that’s where the money is,” Scott Galloway, a New York University marketing professor, told CNN.

McBryan said we will see major brands like Gillette and others “take much bigger risks” to make an impact.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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