I do my best to avoid social media, and even when I do participate I consume a pretty narrow set of content. For example, my twitter is highly curated to focus on Indianapolis municipal happenings, Apple product rumors and javascript news. On the rare occasion I login to Facebook it’s mostly to respond to messages on my podcast page or to look at old pictures of Chicago North Western trains. I rely on my lovely wife and podcast cohort Jon to keep me in the know on the latest and greatest internet fads, at least the ones that stir up enough trouble to warrant a text. It really is a top notch curation system.

This week the Gillette “The Best Men Can Be” commercial somehow bubbled its way up into my view and I read reactions from both the political left and the political right on how wonderful and how terrible this commercial is. If you’re not familiar with the video you can find it on YouTube. Like so many things today it yielded truly polar reactions. Those that loved it applauded it for calling out what some refer to as “bro culture”. Those that hated it claimed it vilified all men universally.

Here’s what annoys me about this whole thing: Gillette won and everyone else lost. Anyone who thinks Gillette was somehow in pursuit of altruism forgets the age old axion that “any press is good press”. Gillette is owned by Proctor & Gamble, a behemoth of consumer goods based out of Cincinnati. It is a publicly owned and traded company whose sole purpose is to generate profits for its shareholders. Let that set in a minute. Gillette exists to make money, plain and simple.

In 2015 Gillette was the #1 shaving company in the United States, holding onto 64% of the market with runner up Schick. By all accounts both Gillette and Schick make crappy shave products. Both companies sell dull cartridge blade systems that generate an absurd amount of waste, but I digress. In recent years, Dollar Shave Club encroached onto Gillette’s market share by more than a razor’s edge, resulting in a 1 Billion dollar purchase by Unilever. Even beyond sub par subscription services like Dollar Shave Club, you have stores like The Art of Shaving popping up everywhere and a general interest in the more classical safety razor genre of equipment. All this is to say, Gillette is hurting. Its relevance is shriveling up and it needs some life kicked back into its blood. Don’t believe me though, take a look at Procter & Gamble’s stock prices. In a hugely volatile year on the stock market $PG is basically untouched. That’s not what share holders want to see, they want growth!

Gillette has to be loving all the PR it’s getting. Again, any press is good press. People who weren’t talking about Gillette are now, and a product that was not memorable is now gliding its way onto everyone’s social media feeds. So if you loved the video, maybe you’ll go out and buy some Gillette razors in support of the company and its bold position in this video. That’ll help Procter & Gamble’s quarterly sales, and that’s exactly what they want. Or maybe you hated the video, feeling like it unilaterally vilified half the population with stereotypes. If Gillette is lucky, you took to social media to complain about it, or shared some article or other post and further perpetuated their ad campaign. The best advertising is free, and you played right into Gillette’s hand. Either way, Gillette is on everyone’s mind, and that imprint will linger for a bit.

It really doesn’t matter where you stand on the issue, because in the end Gillette won. Nothing has changed, we’re just as angry and polarized as we were before the campaign, if not more so.

Gillette is in good company though. We hate to admit it, but this sort of appeal to our heart strings style advertising - which has absolutely nothing to do with the product being sold - is increasingly common. Tune in on a Sunday and the NFL is talking up fighting cancer and other diseases as well as supporting the military. Don’t be confused that these are somehow honest appeals. At the end of the day it’s just another ploy to get you to tune in and watch the real product, a football game. If you support our military and it appears like the NFL does, you tune in to support them, thus increasing their viewership and further increasing the cost of advertisement on one of the sacred NFL commercial slots. That’s the end goal of these heart string campaigns.

Don’t get me wrong, there are honest folks who mean well by participating in these campaigns their companies put on. I really don’t mean to discount the intent of both NFL players and Gillette employees, I just think we need to be honest about what drives campaigns like this. As much as I would love for it to be, it’s not altruism. We shouldn’t somehow project that onto the marketing departments of these big economic machines who ultimately have dividends to pay every quarter.


On an unrelated note, if you are either thinking of buying Gillette products because you loved the video or if you are thinking of no longer buying Gillette products because you hated the video let me take this opportunity to appeal to you. There’s a better way! Get yourself a good ol’ Merkur safety razor and some Astra blades and enjoy a better shave. Chances are you’ll support a smaller business in the process too, winning all around.