January 28, 2019

Toxic publicity? Controversial ads like Gillette’s gaining popularity, especially during Super Bowl

corporate ads Companies are not afraid of a little controversy when it comes to advertising, said Josh Boyd, an associate professor in Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication and an expert in corporate rhetoric and public relations. (Stock photo/ Denys Nevozhai) Download image

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Gillette’s controversial advertisement denouncing toxic masculinity earlier this month had the look and feel of a Super Bowl commercial, yet the men’s hygiene supplier came out on top of other companies hoping to capitalize on social movements.

“During the last three Super Bowls, there’s been this move toward having some socially responsible ads,” said Josh Boyd, an associate professor in Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication and an expert in corporate rhetoric and public relations. “But Gillette took a step ahead and successfully managed to get people to watch their video for free.”

The viral video, viewed millions of times on Youtube, is interspersed with depictions of men shirking negative masculine stereotypes – such as bullying, fighting and sexual harassment – and of TV news coverage of the #MeToo movement. It’s the most recent example of an emerging form of advertising appealing to emotions and appearing mostly online and in social media, Boyd said.

Dove’s “True Beauty” campaign featuring ordinary women and Nike’s “Believe in Something” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick also sparked debate by focusing on social issues, translating to conversations about the companies.”

Josh Boyd More and more companies are capitalizing on social movements in their advertisements and commercials, said Josh Boyd, an associate professor in Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication and an expert in corporate rhetoric and public relations. (Purdue University photo) Download image

“Companies are not afraid of a little controversy because they’ve seen what happened with Dove, they’ve seen what happened with Nike, and they’ve  jumped in the same kind of conversation,” Boyd said. “Whether people like Nike’s ads or not, they’re considered to be a leader in this way of thinking, and Gillette has managed to put themselves in the conversation, as well.”

Although the ad drew backlash mostly from men, it was viewed positively by women, according to Adweek.

“I’m sure Gillette knows their market and who goes to the store much better than I do, but it does make me wonder if the men that are upset about this ad are not really the audience that Gillette is trying to reach,” Boyd said. “I don’t think it came as any surprise to them that some people hated it, but from the strategic perspective, it reflects what’s happened in American culture in the last 15 or 20 years.”

Gillette’s video struck a reasonable balance by attracting a newer, younger audience without repudiating its masculine brand and target demographic. The company likely is looking beyond short-term criticism to cultivate a new generation of consumers, Boyd said.

“Dove, Nike and Gillette are all brands that have been around for decades, so I think they take a pretty long view,” he said. “If you’ve got 50 or 100 years of history, it’s easier to look forward and think, ‘How are we still going to be relevant in 20 or 30 years, not just next year?’”

Writer: Joseph Paul, 765-494-9541, paul102@purdue.edu

Source: Josh Boyd, 765-494-3333, boyd@purdue.edu

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