Gillette, whose razors shave a large share of the men in America, just issued a controversial commercial that accuses many of its customers of poisoning our society with John Wayne-like “toxic masculinity.”
In this ad, Proctor & Gamble (which acquired Gillette in 2005) changed the company’s slogan from “The best a man can get” to “The best men can be.” This ad, say experts, is the new ideological direction of future advertising and perhaps of American capitalism itself.
But what would King Gillette, who founded the American Safety Razor Company in 1901, think of such advertising if he were here today? Surprisingly, he might like it.
Gillette was a utopian and a socialist. In 1894 he wrote a book, “The Human Drift,” proposing that all industry be controlled by a single public-owned corporation. In his vision of the socially-engineered future, everyone in America would live in a city called Metropolis, powered by electrical current from turbines at Niagara Falls. Gillette expanded this idea in 1910 in his book “World Corporation,” and in 1924 in “The People’s Corporation,” which he co-authored with fellow socialist Upton Sinclair.
Safety razors made Gillette a wealthy capitalist, but ideas of how to create a socialist future were what filled his dreams. And, ironically, in doing this ad, Proctor & Gamble may have had similar considerations.
A decade ago, Gillette controlled roughly 70 percent of the market in razors, but in 2018 its market share had fallen below 50 percent. This ad, said marketing expert Allen Adamson, was a “Hail Mary” pass to win young Millennial and Generation Z customer brand loyalty against a rising tide of competitors. These rivals include successful small razor makers and Schick, which now sells a less expensive replacement cartridge for Gillette razors.
The logic of business used to be to avoid saying anything that might offend the customer, who is “always right.” The new advertising readily gambles with offending customers who are right, because young people who are making lifetime preferred-brand decisions hold views on the left.
“The intention was not to be political at all,” Gillette’s North America brand director Pankaj Bhalla told the Atlantic magazine. Companies, according to Bhalla, “feel pressure from Millennial and Gen Z shoppers to step beyond the bounds of straightforward consumer-product marketing.”
“I think it is important to stand for more than the product’s benefit that you provide,” adds Bhalla, “and I think that’s the expectation of our younger audiences.”
In other words, everything is becoming politicized, so what a company says must be political or ideological, too. This may alienate older customers, but it will win a lifetime of loyalty from young ones.
“As trust goes down in institutions, people are looking for somebody to step up to the plate,” according to Peggy Simcic Bronn of the Norwegian Business School in Oslo. “[G]overnmental institutions, which we depend on to address bad things, they’re not doing it. So who’s left to do it? That’s business.”
“Commercial life is so much a part of the cultural landscape, compared to 20 or 30 years ago,” Tulin Erdem of New York University told the Atlantic. “Given that fact, and given that Millennials are looking for meaning, if you put the two together, I think that’s why we’re seeing [ads such as Gillette’s].”
The younger generations, writes the Atlantic, now see “a leadership void left by ineffectual government and cultural leaders.” These young buyers react positively when companies fill this social void by taking strong left-of-center positions as advocates for social justice.
To older observers, capitalist companies embracing socialist progressive ideology seems suicidal. As the founder of the late Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, said: “We will hang the last capitalist with a rope sold to us by a capitalist.” Businesses during the 1960s profitably sold young radicals buttons that read: “Down with Capitalism!”
Most of those Sixties radicals went on to become capitalists. Will the same be true of Millennials and Generation Z, a large share of whom reportedly love more government – and even outright socialism? Will these men even shave, much less use Gillette razors? Nearly a third of Millennials, up to age 34, still live in Mom and Dad’s basement – with little sign of getting a job, buying a home, getting married and having babies.
Or was Proctor & Gamble’s attack on “toxic masculinity” designed to sell more overpriced pink razors to women? Its undermining of masculinity may continue America’s rapidly-declining sperm, testosterone and fertility levels and cost P&G more in lost Pampers diaper sales.
Lowell Ponte is a former Reader’s Digest Roving Editor. His articles have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and other major publications. His latest book co-authored with Craig R. Smith, “Money, Morality & the Machine,” reveals how bad money drives good morals out of society and how you can protect your family from the future of “Star Trekonomics.” For a free, postpaid copy, call toll-free 800-630-1492.