COMMENTARY: Gillette’s ad of a transgender man’s first shave shows authenticity in advertising matters

New Gillette ad shows father teaching his transgender son to shave
The short film titled 'First Shave' is Gillette's first advertisement featuring a transgender man.

Not too long ago, companies typically used aspirational imagery to sell us products. However, these days exclusivity doesn’t garner the same appeal, with brands often put on blast for pedalling privilege.

Consumers are leaning toward advertising that better reflects the world they live in. They’re seeking representations of themselves, with diversity and inclusivity, and brands have turned to more authentic advertising.

This shift is most ubiquitous in the fashion and beauty industries and is fuelled by social movements like #MeToo and a growing call to redefine traditional beauty standards and ideals. Brands like Fenty Beauty and M.A.C. Cosmetics, which embrace inclusivity in authentic ways, reap great rewards.

Meanwhile, those brands that are still selling an insular “fantasy” are losing ground. Take, for example, Victoria’s Secret, a once dominating panties and pyjamas powerhouse, is now seeing declining sales and eroding market share as it seems to be losing relevance (and ratings — last year’s fashion show saw its lowest ratings ever) after Ed Razek, chief marketing officer, scoffed at the idea of having plus-size models or trans models walk the runway.

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READ MORE: Gillette ad shows father teaching transgender son to shave for the first time

Aspiration is being replaced by real-life inspiration, and I’m all for it.

One brand that is making a razor sharp focus on authentic and inclusive advertising is Gillette. In January, the groundbreaking The Best A Man Can Be campaign made major waves, with Gillette calling out toxic masculinity and the brazen dismissal of misogyny, bullying and homophobia as simply “boys will be boys” behaviour.

While the campaign sparked outrage among many who viewed it as anti-male, and even lost Gillette some customers, what the company gained in return was credibility and respect from many others, impressed with the brand’s bold stand against bad behaviour.

READ MORE: The lack of diversity in Canadian media is ‘hard to ignore’ — and the numbers prove it

The controversy didn’t deter the brand from treading deeper in political waters, either. The first ad started a conversation globally about what it looks like for men to be their best in the modern world. Gillette Canada is now continuing that conversation with the short film First Shave.

It captures the moment when Toronto-native and trans advocate Samson Brown first used a razor to shave himself, all under the watchful and caring guidance of his father.

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Samson’s story recognizes that having the confidence to express one’s true, authentic self can be a journey — one that Gillette fully supports — and one that is resonating with a large audience with over 1.3 million views on social media and growing, and garnering a tremendously positive response.


I think part of the overall positive feedback to this ad is the very authentic approach in its story-telling. It features a trans man describing his journey in his own words: “I didn’t know there was a term for the type of person that I was. I went into my transition just wanting to be happy,” Samson says. “I’m glad I’m at the point where I can shave.”

On his Facebook page, Samson shared the ad along with a message.

“I’m keenly aware of how blessed I am to be able to exist in this world being supported by my family in ways that all too often many of my trans brothers, sisters, and siblings who exist outside the binary are not always as fortunate,” he says. “I am confident that this ad will encourage many of my trans siblings and fill them with the knowledge that our existence in this world can be filled with the love and support we deserve.”

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READ MORE: Is Gillette’s controversial ‘toxic masculinity’ ad good for business?

Those sentiments are not simply coming from an actor in a razor ad, but from a real trans man, who is sharing his personal experience in the hopes of improving the situation for other trans individuals — and there is something deeply powerful in that, something that reaches far beyond pushing product.

Gillette recognizes that and is showing it through the company’s actions. Beyond the launch of the short film, both Gillette and Gillette Venus are taking action to demonstrate their values of respect and inclusivity for everyone.

As Gillette continues the conversation around First Shave and what it means for people to express #MyBestSelf, the brand is partnering with Toronto-based charity and City agency The 519 to support its trans-inclusive programs.

In a statement, Pankaj Bhalla, brand director for Gillette and Venus North America, said the company “supports everyone in their journey to looking, feeling and acting their best every day. That includes our own journey as a brand committed to using our platform to showcase real, diverse and inclusive stories of men working toward their ‘best’ selves.”

However, this campaign isn’t gliding by without the sting of some criticism. Notably, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren has condemned the campaign, saying that it is “a little much to normalize and promote high-school-aged kids undergoing hormone therapy and gender reassignment.” (A spokeswoman for Gillette confirmed to Yahoo Lifestyle that Brown is not a teenager.)

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But for the most part, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, even capturing the attention and praise of celebrities like Wanda Sykes, Ellen Degeneres and Thandie Newton, to name a few.

Inclusive campaigns, ones that share never-before-told stories like the latest from Gillette, matter because when executed with authenticity, companies not only reap the reward of a healthier bottom line, but also a healthier and happy society.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.