Analysing the Twitter conversation around Gillette’s controversial ad, we found that the backlash might have been overstated by traditional media and that the brand’s campaign was successful in terms of reach and customer engagement. In addition, we identified several other brands which were at the forefront of the discussion.
Not many brands have made national headlines and triggered such strong consumer reactions with their corporate messaging as Procter & Gamble’s Gillette with its new “We Believe” ad. Putting a twist to its three decades old tagline “The Best A Man Can Get”, the nearly two-minute ad, created by the brand’s agency Grey, focuses on the #MeToo movement, bullying and “toxic” masculinity, asking: “Is this the best a man can get? Is it? We can’t hide from it. It has been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses.”
P&G is no stranger to value-based marketing: it’s one of the companies that have promoted their stance on topics such as gender equality, immigration and gun control via their advertising efforts. Their best-known marketing exercise in this domain is the “Like a Girl” campaign for feminine-care brand Always and “Stress Test” for deodorant brand Secret.
The new “We believe” ad ran only online and was watched more than 2 million times in just 48 hours. By now, it has more than 28 million views and 400,360 comments. It was covered by almost all major media outlets and extensively analysed by journalists, marketing experts and celebrities. Most headlines centred around the negative reactions to the ad and contain words such as “backlash”, “outrage” and “anger”.
All because of Twitter
The strategy consisted of posting 30-second and one-minute-30-second versions of the ad to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The controversy has generated an immense amount of views and engagement across social media platforms, but the ad’s performance has been notably strong on Twitter, with over 100,000 posts referencing the ad. Interestingly, the long version was viewed most often across all channels, and the one on Twitter had the greatest number of views.
Analysing the conversation, we’ve put in numbers the campaign’s reach on Twitter:
Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette brand director for North America, told the Wall Street Journal: “This is an important conversation happening, and as a company that encourages men to be their best, we feel compelled to both address it and take action of our own. We are taking a realistic look at what’s happening today, and aiming to inspire change by acknowledging that the old saying ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ is not an excuse.”
The negative reaction did not make P&G pull the spot. A spokesperson for the brand told CNBC that it’s a matter of responsibility: “We expected debate — discussion is necessary. For every negative reaction we’ve seen many positive reactions, people calling the effort courageous, timely, smart, and much-needed. At the end of the day, sparking conversation is what matters. This gets people to pay attention to the topic and encourages them to consider taking action to make a difference.”
As part of the campaign, Gillette also announced that it would donate $1 million per year for the next three years to US non-profit organisations which deal with helping men become role models for the next generation by inspiring respect and accountability.
Critic and essayist Kyle Smith wrote in the New York Post that the ad hasn’t caused a backlash but rather a “hacklash” because journalists deal with pretend outrage, even citing tweets from anonymous Twitter accounts. For instance, the BBC claimed that “there have been calls for Gillette to post an apology video”, but their source was a Twitter user with 18 followers, while another supposedly angry party cited by the media outlet turned out to be an anonymous Twitter user with six followers. Such examples of overstating the negative reactions made Kyle Smith think that journalists exaggerated the volume of the backlash.
Meanwhile, a survey of 2,201 adults, conducted by Morning Consult, also suggested that the backlash has been overstated. The survey concluded that 61% of those who watched the ad said they had a positive opinion of it. Furthermore, 56% of the people who said they used products from rivals Harry’s or Dollar Shave Club said they would be more likely to buy from Gillette after watching the ad.
To check if the backlash has been exaggerated, we conducted a sentiment analysis of tweets from genuine active users followed by more than 500 people:
We discovered that most of the tweets were actually carrying a positive sentiment and that most shares and comments were also with positive connotations, especially those by younger users. Some thanked the brand for its campaign and pointed out that the negative responses show the need for it. Others remarked that real men realise that respecting women and being masculine are not mutually exclusive.
Users with negative opinions called the ad anti-male propaganda produced by radical feminists and post-Marxists. Some tweeted that they’ll even boycott the brand because they thought it’s calling white men racist and toxic, while others suggested that Gillette is saying men are the only ones who do anything wrong, asking why the ad didn’t feature non-white men who are disrespectful to women.
A prominent critic of the ad whose opinion was retweeted multiple times was Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan, who tweeted that he has used Gillette razors his entire adult life but now “this absurd virtue-signalling PC guff” may drive him away “to a company less eager to fuel the current pathetic global assault on masculinity”.
Another critical view which enjoyed a large number of retweets was the one by conservative commentator and political activist Candace Owens, who claimed that the ad was the product of mainstream radicalised feminism and was emblematic of cultural Marxism.
The Twitter discussion was also amplified by users sharing pieces of the extensive coverage provided by major media outlets. In fact, retweets of articles and other people’s opinions constituted most of the conversation:
The most retweeted post was the one in which Gillette originally announced the campaign itself. Most of the users who retweeted the message tended to express a positive opinion. The volume of support for the ad can also be deduced from finding the most commonly used hashtags:
Consumers who supported the message tended to use the hashtag #thebestmencanbe, Gullette’s new slogan. Those with strong negative opinions used the hashtag #boycottgillette, and we can see that they are a relative minority (2.7%).
The majority of users who took their opinion to Twitter were male, and they were more likely to criticise the ad.
There were also male users who approved the message but didn’t like the way it was presented by the brand. Female users, on the other hand, reacted overwhelmingly positively. However, there were some female users who addressed the so-called pink tax problem: women paying higher prices for their products than men.
Other brands in the mix
Many Twitter users talked about brands other than Gillette and Procter & Gamble in their tweets. Analysing the conversation, we found the ones mentioned most often:
Dollar Shave Club, which delivers personal grooming products by mail, was bought by Unilever for $1 billion in 2016 and became one of Gillette’s main rivals. Some users who threatened to boycott Gillette asserted that they would turn to Dollar Shave Club’s products.
Harry’s, which offers a similar service, is also a buzzy new startup and It was recommended by Twitter users disappointed by Gillette’s ad. Meanwhile, Phillips, Wilkinson Sword and Old Spice were also mentioned by dissatisfied consumers as possible alternatives to Gillette, but they didn’t prove that popular. Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s emergence as the most popular Gillette alternatives was fortified by the fact that many users mentioned the two brands together.
Others pointed out that these rival brands have used marketing strategies similar to Gillette’s. Most of these users shared an old Harry’s tweet about International Men’s Day, which claimed that being a man demands introspection, humility and optimism.
Nike and Pepsi were mentioned because of their own ads which sparked similar debates on social media. Nike’s marketing effort, part of the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign, involved former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had participated in racial justice demonstrations during national anthem ceremonies. In a similar fashion, the campaign’s results were polarising, with consumers divided between praise and calls for boycotting the brand.
It seems that the campaign was successful, with the company’s Finance Chief Andrew Campion saying that the ad “reignited brand heat in North America.” Nike also reported a 10% rise in sales in the latest quarter. Some Twitter users thought Gillette had a similar approach.
However, marketing professionals were quick to point out the differences. Susan Cantor, chief executive of branding firm RedPeak, told the Wall Street Journal that Gillette had actually taken a different approach: “The difference between this ad and Nike’s controversial ad is that Nike is saying, ‘Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything’. It’s an endorsement of conviction, but not telling you what to believe. They weren’t explicitly supporting a certain behavior or admonishing a certain behavior.”
Video marketing agency Tubular Insights claimed that while both ads make very bold statements about divisive social topics, Gillette’s commercial came out on top in terms of generating talk, reach and reactions: “Nike’s ad obtained 153K positive likes on YouTube, whereas Gillette’s ad on that platform pulled in 540K positives. Gillette also managed to generate more engagement and online discussion about its YouTube ad, which saw a solid 2.5x engagement rate after three days (1.5x higher than the platform’s baseline average); Nike’s ad, on the other hand, only saw a three-day engagement rate of 0.4x.”
Pepsi‘s case was a bit more dramatic: the general opinion of Twitter users was that its move was not properly calculated. The company’s 2017 ad featuring Kendall Jenner giving a can of Pepsi to a policeman during a protest was accused of offending the Black Lives Matter movement.
The soft drink giant ended up pulling the ad from TV networks and its YouTube channel and apologising: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize.”
The Twitter users approving Gillette’s ad tended to criticise Pepsi’s, while those criticising Gillette expressed negative opinions of Pepsi as well. Pepsi’s main competitor, Coca-Cola, was mentioned for its 2018 Super Bowl commercial, titled “The Wonder of Us” and aiming to celebrate LGBTQ diversity, including gender-neutral pronouns.
The Egard Watch Company was under the spotlight because of its own ad which was a direct response to Gillette’s:
The nearly two-minute ad featured statistics highlighting men’s contributions to society. Egard Watch tweeted that it’s time for society to start celebrating each other instead of tear each other down. The company’s YouTube page said the spot is “dedicated to all those who sacrifice everything to make the world safer and better for all of us,” adding: “We agree that issues of abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and bullying are serious issues and stand behind those issues being dealt with and getting the attention they need. Please share this message.”
Unsurprisingly, Twitter users who strongly opposed Gillette’s message shared a positive opinion of Egard Watch‘s ad. Ilan Srulovicz, the CEO and founder of Egard Watch Company, explained: “I can’t blame Gillette for their ad because that message is the norm. It has become pervasive. I can even understand how they believed full well this ad was a great idea and would drive tons of sales. Maybe it will in the end with all the attention it received. We have become so obsessed with defining each other based on these factors that we no longer even communicate properly.”
The rise of value-based marketing
It seems that brands become more and more confident about value-based marketing and are more willing to take the risk of addressing controversial issues. Gillette ensured it would be in the centre of a heated conversation by tackling a topic about which consumers usually have strong and divided opinions.
Procter & Gamble CFO Jon Moeller said Gillette’s post-ad sales were “in-line with pre-campaign levels” and called the campaign a big success, citing the “unprecedented levels” of media coverage and customer engagement. “It’s a part of our effort to connect more meaningfully with younger consumer groups,” he said. “That campaign was aired once and has generated significant conversation, which is important and has generated a huge number of impressions.”
Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business, told CNN: “The ‘woke’ business strategy will be big theme in 2019, as that’s where the money is.” Indeed, a research conducted by Edelman found that nearly 2 in 3 consumers are now belief-driven buyers – a trend which is now mainstream around the world, spanning different generations and income levels.
A brand’s stand is one of the main drivers of interest – 43% of consumers express purchase intent after viewing a product or brand communication relating to the brand’s stand, and 32 % express intent to advocate for the brand. In addition, 60% agree that brands should make it easier to see what their values and positions on important issues are at the point of sale.
As value-based marketing strategies prove to be most successful on social media, it’s imperative for brands to employ sophisticated social media analytics to measure their results and carefully plan future endeavours.