By Gokul Krishnamoorthy
I have a confession. @ADWEAK posted this Tweet Sunday, 20th January 2019, following which I decided to finish this article brewing in my head.
The Tweet read:
BREAKING: Poll Finds Still Handful Of People In Advertising Industry Who Haven’t Given Opinion On Gillette Ad Yet
One look at the kind of commentary that has followed the P&G brand’s effort on completion of 30 years of its ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ tagline, and it is evident the kind of world we live in: ‘merciless’ towards what it wants to take on. And each critic has a voice, separately and collectively.
It’s not just the global advertising industry but also TV hosts and a host of others who’ve chosen to brand this campaign as Gillette asking men to ‘Shave their masculinity’. Among other things. There are also the usual, ‘Who is Gillette to…?’ campaigners. Who-aboutery and What-aboutery are what we are left with in a world where reason and empathy are drowned by the loudest bidders.
My perspective, and one shared by many others, is that it is a timely and earnest attempt to, as the brand says, “…help create a new standard for boys to admire and for men to achieve… Because the boys of today are the men of tomorrow.”
We may articulate it differently, but we know within that the time for this progressive leap for mankind is now.
Gillette India’s #SoldierForWomen, 2013
‘The Best A Man Can Be’ as a proposition was actually voiced as a potential direction for the brand by someone in India. Karthi Marshan, CMO, Kotak Mahindra Bank, while responding to ET Now’s show Brand Equity, gave the Gillette campaign #SoldierForWomen a ‘thumbs down’ — he also suggested that perhaps a shift to ‘The Best A Man Can Be’ was a lost opportunity. He will be delighted to see that his words have indeed been adopted, globally, albeit four years later. There were several others who saluted the 2013 campaign by BBDO India, including the author of this piece.
There will be all kinds of views coming one’s way when you take a higher ground or attempt to change the game. The most common is perhaps the ‘Making money by taking moral high ground’. That has failed to die as a response despite being killed many times over. What is good is indeed good for business.
Some feedback will be genuine, some biased — inadvertently or otherwise. They will come in all shapes and sizes too, including but not restricted to reviewers, strangers, friends, bedfellows, the uninterested, neighbours and certainly the client’s well-wishers. Agency or brand, if you don’t have a mind of your own, you will end up possessed and controlled by the most powerful of ‘influencers’.
Not All Trolls Are Online
Whether it is a news story or an ad campaign, the broader troll management principles should be the same.
As Kipling wrote, “If you can trust yourself when all men (and women) doubt you,But make allowance for their doubting too…”
Only, in the present circumstances, the brand needs to continue to do what it is convinced is right, until proven beyond doubt that it has erred.
Since this is the age of writing stories based on social media, let me lean on a couple to make my case.
Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications, N Ram, Tweeted this on 19 January 2019:
“I follow a simple rule on social media: Block anything that’s abusive, nasty, nonsensical or simply noise. I don’t wish to waste time and energy even scanning such posts.”
Brands can’t afford to follow that as SOP. But they can certainly stand for what they believe in. It’s heartening to see Gillette’s new campaign standing up against all kinds of nonsense thrown at it. Let’s pick one interesting comment:
“I have seen dislike/like ratios of 10 to 1 on this video yet their focus group had a positive reaction. This ad company is totally incompetent!”
Now, whether the ratio of likes to dislikes and such should even be a talking point is another story altogether. But the provocation is real. Should the brand give in? No, not if it is convinced about what it is doing.
Maybe the scenario up until now was one where the herd online was the one heard most fearfully. Perhaps we are at a tipping point where an equivalent of ‘speaking truth to power’ that the press is supposed to, can hold for brands: where their conviction can face and wear down criticism.
Dove‘s 2017 ‘Beauty Comes In all Shapes and Sizes’ campaign by Ogilvy London didn’t go down as well as its ‘Real Beauty’ sketches. The brand had introduced body washes in several bottles, shapes inspired by varying human forms. In that case, maybe it did touch a raw nerve or two. Some even lamented that there were no bottles of colour. I still wonder if the brand’s intent, consistency and bravery should have been celebrated at least by critics and ad watchers, if not anyone else. If two people were to have a conversation and one is misunderstood, that person should have a right to explain.
Closer home, a film from Havells that touched on reservation was pulled off the web in early 2016. The film portrayed a girl, accompanied by her father, picking up an open category form for her admission as against the reserved category form she is entitled to. It caused quite a stir. Everything from the community the company’s owners belonged to, was up for discussion on social media. A brand that had consistently taken a stand on several social issues was taking a beating for taking a stance.
The positive is that brands are not running away today. If they have to take two steps back, they do that, and move up again to stand and be counted among those putting out progressive messages and communication for good. That’s a truly one way street the world is taking and brands cannot afford look in the other direction.
A news agency report from the Detroit Auto Show made headlines across the world last weekend. A product specialist tasked with explaining the features of the latest car she stood alongside explained that the days of asking her, “Do you come with the car?” are over. Thanks to the #MeToo movement. If the impact is being felt on the ground at auto shows, can advertising be far behind?
As for the concern that brands may be overdoing it, let’s do just that until we see the change on the ground. That’s still some time away.
(The author is a freelance editorial and branded content consultant associated with TVNews4U.com on special projects. Views expressed are personal. E-mail: [email protected] / Twitter: @goks140)