In 2019, it’s not only people who are heeding the call to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Brands are stepping up, too. Most recently, Gillette debuted a touching spot featuring a father teaching his transgender son how to shave for the first time. The ad was a continuation of the campaign the brand launched earlier this year, in which Gillette encourages a new definition of masculinity, flipping its famous tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get” to “The Best Men Can Be.”
The ad, as those that tackle sociopolitical topics often do, sparked debate. Supporters championed it as inclusive, praising Gillette’s representation of a challenge faced by the trans community and engagement of a real family (rather than actors) in the work. Detractors questioned why Gillette was co-opting a cultural conversation to sell products. Others simply disagreed with the brand’s inclusion of a trans man.
It’s easy for marketers to look at the controversy an ad like this can generate and decide that championing social and political issues isn’t right for their brand. But consider the fact that almost half of U.S. consumers believe companies have a responsibility to do social good, and 28% actively think about what a brand stands for when it comes to making purchasing decisions. After all, debate about everything is standard for 2019, an age when Americans can’t seem to agree on much at all. (And it’s not getting any better — less than one-fifth of U.S. consumers believe we’ll find some common ground within the next year.)
The activist role isn’t right for every brand, but when done right, it can produce results. For Gillette, CFO Jon Moeller reported that its first ad tackling new definitions of masculinity (which debuted in January of this year) received “unprecedented levels” of media coverage and customer engagement. While sales didn’t go through the roof, the threats of those saying they would flush their razors down the toilet don’t seem to have come to pass — sales after the spot were reported to be in line with pre-campaign levels. For what it’s worth, our research suggests the same; a scant few 5% of consumers said they would destroy products they already own if they disagreed with a brand’s stance on an issue. It remains to be seen how the latest Gillette spot will perform, but it has certainly generated conversation and debate already.
The risks of brand activism are heightened in a time of polarization, but if a brand has a deep understanding of its consumer base and their perceptions of the issue at hand, the chance for rewards is just as great. For more on how to navigate this new normal, check out “Best Practices for Navigating Brand Activism in a Polarized Era.”