Advertisements: an agent for social change?

Written by Editor's Picks, Lifestyle

Last January 2019, the shaving company Gillette released an advertising campaign promoting positive masculinity. The advertisement called “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” focuses on sexual harassment, bullying and toxic masculinity. The advertisement featured news footages of Hollywood sexual assault allegations and beyond, sexism in workplace and films, and reports from the #MeToo movement.

The campaign received mixed responses online, and immediately went viral 48 hours after its launch. Amongst the supporters, Bernice King, the daughter of the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King considers the advert “pro-humanity”. She adds that “it demonstrates that character can step up to change conditions.”

Others found offence on the advertisement, pledging to boycott Gillette products. Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan tweeted: “I’ve used @Gillette razors my entire adult life but this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff may drive me away to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity. Let boys be damn boys. Let men be damn men.”

Toxic masculinity originates from the mythopoetic movement of the 1980’s and the 1990’s as a reaction to second wave feminism. The movement challenged views of masculinity, which included being intellectually dominant and stoic.

According to the movement, men’s frustrations were rooted from such views that deny men to show their true personal selves.

Gillette encapsulates the revolutionary shift in advertising and marketing. Corporate brands no longer simply sell their products; they also stand for a bigger societal purpose. Men are stereotypically expected not to express their emotions. The advertisement presents a positive narrative about masculinity and brings light to the voices that were not expressed before due to cultural stereotypes.

In the twenty-first century, companies are in constant competition to those making similar products, fixing the same problems and meeting the same needs. In order to stand out, advertisers had to craft stories that connects with their costumers on an emotional level. In the Gillette advert, neither features or benefits of the razor are mentioned. Gillette builds a deeper connection with their target audiences in a more personal and human way.  They use shared values to create a strong bond with their consumers and the wider community, whereby profit and good intentions coincide.

It was beyond unimaginable years ago that marketing and advertising can become an accelerator for societal progress. We are constantly bombarded with advertising everywhere. When advertising promotes an inclusive picture of society, advertising can become a powerful tool for changing preconceived conceptions and giving a voice to those outside the mainstream.

The campaign highlights the irony of challenging toxic masculinity. The word ‘toxic’ generates values and patterns of behaviour that men must follow.

The term critiques one’s personal sense of self, which in turn reproduces a desired perception of men. Gillette is certainly not a solution to this problem. We still need to look at alternative frameworks that allows men to freely aspire who they want to be.

In all, Gillette’s advertisement is a good start to challenging the patriarchal structure. It undoubtedly moves the discourse about masculinity into another level. It allows the public to consider how stereotypes of men can be provoked, so that the future generation does not have to endure them.



Last modified: 9th March 2019

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