Razor’s Edge: Will Consumers Change Purchase Habits Due to Gillette’s New Ad Campaign?


Will Consumers Change Purchase Habits Due to Gillette’s New Ad CampaignRebecca Brooks and Mike Dickerson, Alter Agents

As a market research company that specializes in shopping journey and brand research, we think a lot about things like brand authenticity and connecting with target audiences. For example, Patagonia recently made a large donation to environmental causes in the wake of the November report on climate change. This fell in line with long-standing environmental and sustainability beliefs for the company. But what about the most recent – and much discussed – ad by Gillette?

Gillette has decided to rebrand their version of masculinity. Traditionally, the “best a man can get” is to have his smoothly shaven cheek stroked by a sexy woman. This new campaign throws out this approach, going to far as to discard it completely – and clearly – at the beginning of the new advertisement.

It’s a bold move – and could potentially be a risky one for the brand. Gillette is staking out a new position on a controversial topic – masculinity itself, especially as it relates to treatment of others. Unlike when Cheerios had a gay couple in their ad (and stirred up a bit of controversy), this stance by Gillette directly goes to the heart of their brand. It isn’t window dressing, it’s a fundamental shift in how they are asking their customers to view the brand and to view themselves.

Are they alienating their core customers who prefer the brand’s traditional approach? The new message essentially puts a stake in the ground and says “we don’t want certain people as our customers.” In contrast to more traditional big-brand advertising, Gillette is not trying to appeal to everyone with this ad. Instead, they are creating aspirational brand imagery through controversy, making a bet that the group of men who like this ad is more valuable for their bottom line than the group of men offended by it.

That’s not the only perceived risk they are taking with the ad. A second big risk is that Gillette may not have the credibility to pull off this pivot. As they themselves acknowledge within the heart of this new campaign, the history of Gillette’s “Best a man can get” tagline is one that often draws on the images and ideas that this new ad criticizes. They take this metamorphosis further, closing out the ad with a explanatory statement (with a nod to the company’s tagline) that “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best.” Accusations of hypocrisy may ring true to some men who are used to a very different Gillette brand, one that relies on objectification of women and intra-masculine hierarchy to sell products.

The massive shift of brand promise is nothing if not brave. And while risky, it may not be as much of a jump as we used to think in the brand marketing world. Our recent research has revealed that consumers don’t buy based on values as much as we once thought, especially when it comes to mass CPG brands. In fact, only 10% of respondents in a recent study we conducted with Buzzfeed said that a brand supporting their values contributed to their recent purchasing decisions in the personal care and grooming category. This kind of mindset could bode well for Gillette, as the controversy won’t necessarily sway purchasing decisions in the category but it will put their brand in the news for a few cycles.

We personally hope that this approach will resonate with men, because the brand is addressing important societal issues that matter. 

About Alter Agents: Founded in 2010, Alter Agents is a full-service market research consultancy grounded in the belief that we need to redefine research in the age of the promiscuous shopper. Alter Agents focuses on the needs, context, and priorities of shoppers, diving deep into how consumers are making their decisions, what influences them, and how context of their purchase affects the outcome. Our research has helped brands like Hyundai, Viking Cruises, eBay, Google, and CA Lottery better intersect with consumers through custom methodologies, tailored, story-driven reporting, and our consultative approach. www.alteragents.com