Nike vs Gillette: Who did it best?

Cause marketing, a type of advertising that promotes a non-profit message, has the ability to align brand values with an ethical or societal issue. Both Nike and Gillette have released ads focusing on the social injustices surrounding western feminism. Both ads carry the same undertone that reflects the 2019 stance of ending gender-based inequality. But, while the Nike ad was massively praised, the Gillette ad split opinions, evoking both applause and outrage. What most people don’t know, is that despite the very different reactions to each ad, both were directed by feminist Kim Gehrig. So, what makes these ads so intrinsically different?

First, watch them here:

The Best A Man Can Be — Gillette

Show Them What Crazy Can Do — Nike

1. Messaging

Gillette’s ad questions traditional masculine ideologies, but also focuses on a number of topics that can all be encompassed under the feminist umbrella; #MeToo, sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, and inaction. Instead of focusing on one issue, they spread their message thin by trying to cover multiple areas without any real depth. The male-focused narrative seemingly condemns traditional masculinity, without exception. There’s an element of guilt attached to the ad’s early stories, leaving little room for the audience to emotionally adopt the aspirational ones at the end. Ununified messaging and shaming has ultimately caused confusion and stirred anger. As a consequence, the ad hasn’t resonated with a large proportion of the audience and has even stirred rejection, with many opting to boycott the brand.

2. Audience

Alternatively, the Nike ad is largely aimed at women. Using women to talk to women has been an element of Nike’s success. The ad could also speak to men, asking them in a subtle way to reflect on the ideas and language they project onto women.

3. Emotion

On the other hand, Nike induces strong mirroring emotions. When the featured women are emotional, upset, furious, elated, there’s a sense of consent for women to embrace those feelings, and use them to advantage, rather than shutting them down.

Ultimately, both ads draw upon negative emotions, but where Nike succeeds in quickly uplifting that into a positive message, Gillette fails to bring the emotion out of darkness for a large proportion of its audience. This failure has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, either because they feel it’s unfair to lay blame at men’s feet or because they aren’t willing to confront the guilt the ad is drawing upon.

4. Heroes

In contrast, the majority of Gillette’s ad was staged. They weren’t real people, but actors following a script, all emotion is fabricated and therefore harder to relate to. By nature, we strive to be like others that we hold in esteem, we don’t want to be like everybody else. Gillette focuses on the everyday man, demonstrating the unexceptionally mundane, while Nike zoned in on the exceptional.

5. Relatability

In comparison, the Gillette ad, while receiving praise from some women, has caused a boycott from a large stream of men. They’ve used a male-focused ad to solidify an anti-masculine movement, whilst not considering that traditional masculinity isn’t always toxic. The representation of some of the more extreme masculine behaviours trivializes more subtle sexist behaviour. The ad has also completely bypassed the very people they should be empowering; women. The ad has removed the voice of women from the equation, denoting that without male censorship nothing will change. They attacked a male identity and disregarded the female.

6. Commitment

However, with a deep enough look at Nike, you find cracks in their momentum. Nike is known for using sweatshops, which thanks to the like of The True Cost documentary, demonstrate the oppression of women on a disgusting scale. Even closer to home, Nike has experienced a mass of allegations of discrimination, harassment, and bias. The CEO has even pledged to address the hostile workplace.

Gillette literally smashes through one of their own past misogynistic ads, a reference to their own hand in shaping a misogynistic society. Whilst they are trying to make amends by scripting a message to call for better, it is just that… scripted. The majority of this new ad was a fabricated script, it didn’t showcase the stories of women and it didn’t directly relate to their product in the way Nike managed to pull off. In fact, Gillette continues to price women’s razor blades higher than men’s!

Overall, it feels like both are capitalizing on a valid movement, without wholeheartedly committing to helping it move forward, but Nike did it in a more tangible way.

7. Dialogue

While the Nike ad has inspired many, Gillette’s The Best A Man Can Be ad has done more to engage conversation. Some women praised the ad for highlighting important issues while others feel it’s message was unnecessary. There are dozens, if not hundreds of media stories and articles covering Gillette’s ad, which is largely down to the divide in reactions. This range of dialogue feeds the movement towards gender equality and forces engagement between genders.

Final Thoughts

Activist and organizer with Greenpeace Vancouver. Writes about climate and social justice, fossil fuel fuckery, feminism and greenwashing.

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