Because why not? Welcome in to PG today, where we will be attempting to dissect the much-ballyhooed new advertisement that is making the rounds across all of social media. If you’ve been living under a rock or off the grid…then you’re probably more content and self-assured than the rest of us and you may have missed this:
Given the explosive and elated support alongside uproarious outrage, I admit that I was a little underwhelmed when I finally gave in last night and viewed the commercial: it really doesn’t seem all that egregious or, conversely, monumental. What is unassailable, however, is that it was a marketing masterstroke, preying on the sensitivities of the times. There’s a very large group of Gillette executives and shareholders standing tall on the top floor of a glass office building, giggling with delight as supporters and detractors alike drive public attention to a brand that has been bleeding market share since the introduction of Dollar Shave Club and other similar competitors. Well played, Gillette, very well played. That rustling noise you may have faintly heard as the commercial concluded was the sound of all of the companies who have purchased Super Bowl airtime scrapping their current ad designs and stepping into line to capitalize on the controversy niche. Expect dozens and dozens of similar themed commercials throughout the year. We are not, however, here to talk marketing; this is ParentalGRIT, so what the heck does all this have to do with moms and dads? Before continuing, please understand that I’d rather lacerate my own kidney than talk politics on my blog, but I do believe there’s a non-political parenting undercurrent to the ad that could use some unpacking.
Once again, if today happens to be your first exposure to news and culture in the last decade, you may have missed this little cultural wave known as the #metoo. If you missed it, go drop yourself down a Google rabbit hole because it’s a bit too much to cover here. Anyway, one of the positive evolutions of social media and increased transparency is the accountability it can potentially provide. Poor behavior and actions can more easily be exposed, and we’ve seen a sweeping trend of celebrities and politicians exposed and and scandals emerge. Which, generally speaking, is good. Boorish behavior needs recognized and, depending on the act, offenders may need prosecuted. Gillette capitalizes on the attention currency and makes immediate allusions to both #metoo and the various news cycles that contained similar content. “Do better men” is a strange encouragement to find in a razor commercial, but regardless could serve as a positive and harmless message to the masses. Fantastic Gillette, no issues here.
What piqued my interest and led to my writing today was the commercial’s sudden shift into fatherhood. All of the sudden, we’ve got an unending line of pot-bellied fathers grilling burgers and laughing at two boys beating on each other. Ummm…what? How did we suddenly shift from talking about legitimate sexual assault issues to watching fat dads finding delight in watching an underage Fight Club? Perhaps I’m too naïve since my children are still young, but I haven’t yet felt any peer or societal pressure to encourage my kids to fight with others–though if I do, I guess I’ll be sure to bring snacks.
Perhaps I’m reading into the scene too much, but when I see a father grilling food in the backyard, I’m under the assumption that this is a dad that is engaged with his family. If you really want to condemn fathers for bullying, you might better point the finger at the men not cooking for their families and not there at all. Would you believe, Gillette, that 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (5 times the average)? That 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes (20 times the average)? Or, since we’ve already alluded to sexual assault, that 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes (14 times the average)? But I suppose it’s much more visually appealing and congruent with the greater message at large to include the fictionalized fairytale that presumes present and engaged fathers actually enjoy their sons punching each other in the face. Psst..dads…I thought we were going to keep our toddler fight clubs a secret?!? (Dramatic eyeroll).
While all the support for and vitriol against the ad is focused on men, I think the scene above is eminently relevant to mothers as well. In the past several years, there’s been an online explosion of ‘mommy-shaming’ accusations, articles, and explanations. Mommy-shaming, at least as I understand it, occurs when judgmental people or entities ‘shame’ mothers for how they feed their kids, sleep their kids, discipline their kids, and so on and so on. The point, missed within all the condemnation, is that mothers who are trying are mothers that are winning. And, though Gillette implies otherwise, fathers who are trying are fathers that are winning.
Juxtaposing a fairytale version of fatherhood where boys are treated like roosters in an illicit cockfighting ring against rape, sexual assault, and misogyny undermines what I assume to be the intent of the advertisement. The real cultural truth, lurking in the shadows of the watered down, shotgun message Gillette actually produced, is that strong parenting actually is the solution. Strong fathers do produce strong, respectful sons. Strong fathers do produce strong, undaunted daughters. Strong mothers do raise strong, compassionate sons. And strong mothers do raise strong, resolute daughters. This is the message we need because intentional and attentive parenting is absolutely, unequivocally our answer to stronger young men and stronger communities at large.
Finally, in defense of Gillette, I did appreciate the almost-redeeming moments towards the end of the black father holding his daughter and the father and son breaking up a fight on the street. I find it much more constructive to highlight the good in fathers than fictionalizing some bad.
As a man, I don’t see anything too impactful or offensive by the ad. As a father? No thanks Gillette, I think I’ll pass.
(Sources: US Dept of Health/Census, Center for Disease Control, Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)