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Authentic CSR: A closer look at Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” campaign

Updated: Feb 27, 2019

With half of consumer conversations today driven by social media, the pressure to go “viral” has simultaneously propelled some campaigns to success and diminished the meaning of others. Companies attempting to practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) have an additional pressure: the knowledge that their efforts will be judged under a social media consumers’ microscopes based on authenticity, as well as their level of awareness on issues important to not just their consumers, but the entire world.

Recently, Procter & Gamble’s personal care and razor brand Gillette debuted a short film that quickly went viral, achieving a high volume of engagement and sparking numerous conversations, both positive and negative in nature. The message of the 1-minute, 48-second video challenged stereotypes of masculinity in light of the #MeToo movement, highlighting examples of bullying, misogyny and sexual harassment. It directly asks men, “Is this really the best men can be?”

This is more than an ad, however. First, it takes on the appearance of a self-aware rebrand by playing on “the best a man can get,” Gillette’s long-standing tagline. Most importantly, however, is that at its core, “The Best Men Can Be” is a full-fledged campaign that becomes a textbook case study of effective and authentic CSR practices the closer you look.

In addition to the ad, Gillette launched a new brand site that houses more information about the efforts it’s making to “driving change that matters.” It’s promising to donate $1 million annually over the next three years to “non-profit organizations executing the most interesting and impactful programs designed to help men of all ages achieve their personal best.”

Gillette’s first nonprofit partnership is the Boys & Girls Club of America, and it has opened applications for similar nonprofits that are dedicated to “fostering respect and inclusion, youth development, encouraging healthy behaviors, building strong leaders, promoting positive role models, and more.”

While philanthropy is important, putting money into a CSR campaign is an easy act for a large company like Procter & Gamble. Whether or not money is donated simply does not make or break a CSR campaign such as this.

Instead, two other things show the campaign’s authenticity. One is the fact that the message is controversial and calls out the brand’s target audience in a “no apologies” kind of intensity. While The Economist recently suggested that Gillette will benefit from this video financially, there was never any guarantee of profit in its decision-making process, as this kind of “woke” advertising in the same vein as Nike’s controversial Colin Kaepernick ad is still extremely risky.

The second factor that shows the campaign’s true colors is behind the scenes. Procter & Gamble partnered with Free the Bid, an initiative that works to “give female directors a voice in advertising,” to hire Kim Gehrig to direct the video. This is something the typical viewer would not notice, because they would have to look to find it, but it is another example of Gillette’s dedication to making this campaign genuine at all levels of creation and implementation. Decisions like this help to ensure it doesn’t lose the poignancy of the message in a sea of similar “woke” advertising campaigns.

Millions of people watched the ad, and controversy surrounding it was vast. But Gillette was both aware of and prepared for the backlash before going live. It’s what the company was trying to do in the first place — launch conversations, spark engagement and get people thinking differently about not only its brand, but its place in the world.

Written by Emily Hillhouse, vp of promotions.


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