Nike, Pepsi and Gillette: Why did one ad work while others failed?
Updated: May 9
Gillette needs to think outside the box when doing crisis management
Only a few days into the new year and some experts already declared Gillette’s #MeToo-inspired ad the worst marketing move of 2019. In it, Gillette attempts to inspire men to be better – better with women, better with one another, and just better at being better.
Critics say the ad did nothing to inspire, but rather, shamed men.
Playing off its slogan, The Best a Man Can Get, the ad shows various scenes: men barbequing, men belittling women, and boys engaging in school-yard fights. Part way through the ad, the tone changes and shows men encouraging other men to be better.
Some have complimented Gillette for continuing the #MeToo conversation. Most, however, have condemned the brand’s ad as stereotyping and patronizing of its main consumer group, sparking a public relations crisis for the long-time brand. Among those providing public opinion are celebrities like Piers Morgan who have boycotted Gillette’s products, calling the ad a “war on masculinity.”
This isn’t the first major brand to try tackling social justice issues. Nike and Pepsi recently used celebrities to engage in causes. For Nike, the returns were massive. For Pepsi, not so much.
In 2017, Pepsi created a crisis for itself when it used model Kendall Jenner in an ad encouraging unity and racial harmony. It failed grossly in calculating how it undermined the Black Lives Matter movement, in particular, the part where Jenner acts as peacemaker between civil rights activists and police when she hands an officer a Pepsi and he smiles.
In the words of the daughter of civil rights’ leader Martin Luther King: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of Pepsi.” Along with that comment, she tweeted a photo of her father being confronted by a police officer during a march.
In doing crisis management, Pepsi pulled the ad and made a public statement: “Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.”
On the other hand, Nike used the star-power of Colin Kaepernick to sell shoes. As you likely know, Kaepernick is the football player who refused to stand during the American national anthem, his protest against the oppression of black people and others of colour.
Why did the Nike ad work, while Pepsi and Gillette failed?
An ad is a short story, and like a story, it has characters, a setting, theme, plot, conflict and resolution. Characters can be heroes or villains. Nike’s character is a hero to many, and the theme of boldness supported the brand’s long-time ethos, which has always appealed to customers. Pepsi used the wrong character – casting a white model as the hero bringing peace to civil unrest.
Gillette’s ad didn’t have one central character. Rather, the “character” is its very customer base cast, not as heroes, but villains.
Certainly, in the #MeToo movement, men are the villains and women largely their victims, but was this ad necessary or the right forum or marketing strategy?
Reaction to the ad is largely divided along gender. If Gillette were to engage in traditional crisis management by apologizing to those the ad offended, it may contradict the very point of its ad and dishonour women. However, if Gillette chooses to do nothing, it will continue to be bashed in the court of public opinion and lose more customers.
Gillette’s crisis management should strike a careful and honest balance, while demonstrating real action. Here’s a potential crisis statement: “With this ad, rather than focusing on negatives – and engaging in stereotyping and shaming – we should have focused on the awareness that has come from the #MeToo movement. While not minimizing that there is still a long way to go, perhaps we could have featured men engaging with women in positive scenarios, showing the kind of change that has come from the movement. Instead, we focused on the negatives and perpetuated male stereotypes. Stereotyping any gender, especially in an age of awareness, is wrong. For that, we apologize, and as such, we have removed the ad. This whole experience has brought gender bias to the forefront for us and we know that real change is required. We owe it to our customers to be better and lead by example As such, we apologize profusely for the so-called pink tax on our products for women and will be eliminating it immediately.”
Now, that's action!
Let’s face it. Gillette’s ad is contrived and a bit of a delayed response to the #MeToo movement, so perhaps focusing on the here and now would have been the best approach.