Is Gillette’s PR Looking at Death by a Thousand Cuts? Not Likely

Heath Fradkoff, Ward 6 Marketing

First things first: as a lifelong Gillette razor user, as the son of a former Gillette employee, and as the father of a young boy, I fully commend the company’s most recent ad campaign, “The Best Men Can Be.” I’m not the only one.

However, as with any marketing that discusses more than a product these days, it has stirred up some controversy. While clearly meant as a call-to-action for concerned consumers everywhere – as noted by the end of the piece – some have taken the ad as a slight against men in general. There have been threats of boycotts and calls to switch to competing brands.

There has also been some hand-wringing in the marketing community. How could Gillette, a company that has for decades promoted itself as a brand that can help you “get the girl,” suddenly do such a 180° and cite the learnings of the #metoo movement? How can a brand that has signed sponsorships with professional football players suddenly condemn a little “roughhousing” between boys? 

[As a quick aside, I’ll argue that these are false comparisons. The desire to be attractive to women does not excuse disrespectful behavior toward them. Contact sports are intended to promote teamwork and the pursuit of excellence, not meant as a gateway to violence or bullying.]

I’ve heard people remark that the PR machines over at Gillette and P&G must be going out of their minds, stomping out fires, and holding emergency meetings. Personally, I doubt it. Cool as cucumbers over there, I say. I promise you: all this “controversy” is a feature, not a bug.

It’s important to remember that Gillette – and by extension, P&G – isn’t a small, altruistic, mom-and-pop operation. They’re a global company. They don’t make a single move without doing research, looking at the numbers, and focus-grouping everything. After that whole process, their conclusion must have been this: the consumers “outraged” by the ad’s message – the suggestion that men can do more in their daily lives to promote equality and civility – will be far outnumbered by the consumers who support the message.

Also, market research tells us that 70-80 percent of consumer purchasing is in the hands of women, with many of those female consumers shopping for their entire households. There’s a financial benefit in making the brand more emotionally appealing to them, especially when you’re selling men’s grooming products at a premium price. I’m sure the quants over in Cincinnati factored this into their campaign reasoning.  

Put simply, the PR strategy here is to stay on-message. Sure, there might be some negative press, and even some scrambling in the media to manufacture a narrative (for example, this BBC take cites some curiously uninfluential Twitter users as sources). However, when asked for comment, the Comms team need only point out that this is meant to be a call to action, not a condemnation. At the end of the day, it’s meant to get consumers thinking, which it clearly has.

Is Gillette’s PR Looking at Death by a Thousand Cuts? Not Likely.About the Author: With over 20 years of diverse communications and marketing experience, Heath Fradkoff is Founder & Principal for Ward 6 Marketing. Much of his work has been in technology and B2B practices, along with consumer media and product brands like PBS, Associated Press,, Conde Nast, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi. His written pieces on behalf of clients have appeared in Advertising Age, Fortune, Forbes, Financial Times, VentureBeat, and TechCrunch as well as numerous industry trade publications.