The latest in the trend of socially-aware ads sees Gillette take on toxic masculinity

Screengrab from Gillette's "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be"

In the past few years, the #MeToo movement has become an increasingly significant buzzword, gaining widespread traction both in the social media space and in real life. Its latest venture, however, has been in making waves in the field of advertising — that is, at least, in Gillette’s latest ad, entitled “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be.”

In a span just shy of two minutes, the ad addresses a handful of much-buzzed about issues, including the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment, and traditional masculinity in a voiceover covering shots of men encountering, understanding, and eventually confronting sexist acts in various situations: from sidewalk catcalls to workplace mansplaining to outdated sexist media tropes, at some points even employing real-life newsreels — Terry Crews even makes an appearance — to drive their point home: men need to do better, and they need to do so now.

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Indeed, the message is a simple one, and an inherently good one at that — timely, progressive, with a relevant and virtuous point. The ad itself plays more like a short film in its drama, gravitas, and filmmaking technique — a far cry from the cheery, straightforward commercials of old.

All this is not exclusive to Gillette, either. “We Believe” comes at the heels of a new wave of socially-aware, advocacy-inclined campaigns seemingly currently taking over the field of advertising. Other notable instances of such include Always’ #LikeAGirl ad campaign back in 2014, targeting feminism in young girls.

And in local spheres, Max’s recent ad lineup for its #EveryKindOfFamily campaign has addressed issues from alienation to unity amidst hostile times, and Levis’ tearjerker of a Christmas campaign highlighted the parental devotion of a father to his blind son.

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What marks Gillette’s “We Believe”, however, from the rest, is its tackling of a highly controversial and divisive issue — and, most contentious of all — its clear picking of a side: that of the progressives. It’s hard to ignore the very logistics of the ad, too, with its release during an already massively divisive sociopolitical climate, particularly in the US. And as with all things controversial, the ad has, of course, garnered incredibly varying reactions — there are those who wholeheartedly declare their support for the brand’s undertaking of a social cause, and those who flat-out refuse to support the brand in wake of it (It is, perhaps, noteworthy to mention that a large part of this demographic are men).

In the local advertising scene, similarly socially-aware ads have also been released, but have all, so far, stayed on the safe side of such issues, focusing more on emotional heartstring-tugging rather than addressing outright relevant and influential issues. Whether or not that remains to be true in following years remains to be seen.

A new, socially-aware age in advertising

The case of Gillette, however, and all those socially aware ads now gaining traction leaves us one question: does all this signal a new age in the field of advertising? Much like films or television shows, advertisements have the capacity and capability to influence discussions on popular, controversial issues. Unlike films or television shows, however, advertising’s sole, main goal is to generate profit, usually for large companies. Whereas film and television have artistic merit — their inherent values as an art form — as reasons to exist, ads are created for the singular purpose of earning money. Hence, the new surge of socially aware ads further blurs the line between media for creative integrity and media for generating profit.

That isn’t to say that advertisements taking note of the social issues that matter is anything wrong — it isn’t. But with advertisers taking on social cause after social cause, it’s important to remember more than ever that advertisements, at the very core, are still just advertisements, that underneath it all still carry brand names to promote and products to sell. Gimmicks like those of Gillette’s or Max’s are undoubtedly admirable in their effort and creativity to contribute to progressive social discourse — Gillette’s particularly with their risky dividing of their main demographic, men — but advertising activism, in the end, is just advertising taking advantage of the latest trend in its consumers, which in this case just happens to be activism.

The #GilletteAd hashtag, as of right now, is currently trending on Twitter, and is amassing hundreds of tweets an hour. Eventually, this will not ring true, and its hype and controversy will inevitably die down, as all trends do. What remains to be seen, several weeks from now, is if its socially-motivated message remains in our memory and social discussion. When all the hype has died down, will its significance still remain? The answer, inevitably, remains up to us.


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