Last year, Procter & Gamble won an Emmy award for “The Talk,” an ad showing African-American parents discussing racism with their young children.
It didn’t promote a product. The ad was released as part of the company’s “My Black is Beautiful” campaign.
A new P&G ad for Gillette this week comes from the same socially conscious playbook, and asks men to take a look at their own toxic masculinity.
It’s not unusual for P&G advertisements to address social issues rather than plug products.
More companies may soon follow suit, because customers want to see strong stands on politically charged topics like race, immigration, gay rights, guns and the environment.
“The ‘woke’ business strategy will be big theme in 2019, as that’s where the money is,” said Scott Galloway, founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business.
P&G is trying to position itself as a brand that can connect with younger consumers looking for companies that align with their beliefs.
“P&G is in business to sell products. They’re looking at what the long-term reputation of the company is,” said Andrew Gilman, CEO of CommCore Consulting. The spot was a message to current and future employees about what the company stands for and expects from its workforce, he added.
P&G (PG), which acquired Gillette in 2005, has a history of using unconventional advertising to emphasize the company’s principles.
P&G has also won praise for advertisements such as its Always “Like a Girl” campaign that challenges stereotypes about young girls and women, and Pantene’s “Strong is Beautiful” campaign that shows NFL players braiding their daughter’s hair.
Its deodorant brand Secret showed a transgender woman in 2016. “There’s no wrong way to be a woman,” a narrator says in the ad.
“Important discussions can be tough discussions and we’re not shying away from that,” said Damon Jones, vice president of global communications and advocacy at P&G.
’Is this the best a man can get?’
In 1989, when Gillette introduced its “best a man can get” slogan, it ran an ad during the Super Bowl showing men playing sports, at the office, getting married, and with their sons.
“You’re looking sharp … You’ve come so far … Father to son … You’re the champion. Gillette. The best a man can get,” the anthem sings in the commercial.
P&G’s new ad, “We Believe,” includes a voice narrating over scenes of bullying, catcalls, sexual harassment and masculinity. “Is this the best a man can get?” the ad asks.
“We can’t hide from it. Its been going on far too long. We cant laugh it off, making the same old excuses.” Then, in a direct reference to the #MeToo movement, the spot says, “Something has finally changed.” It closes with scenes of men breaking up fights, standing up for women and being attentive fathers.
Bryan Reber, professor in crisis communication leadership at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism, said that Gillette was acknowledging its role in creating a problem. “Gillette is implicitly saying, ‘We get it. We’re part of it.’ That is the most unusual thing.”
P&G is not the only company that has recognized the benefit of putting a stake in the ground on controversial issues.
Nike (NKE) recently featured Colin Kaepernick in ads, drawing on its own history of edgy advertising to stand out in the market. In 2017, it launched an “Equality” campaign featuring athletes like LeBron James, Serena Williams, and gymnast Gabby Douglas. One ad featured Alicia Keys singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
By making Kaepernick a face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, the company tried to earn support from its core customers: Young shoppers in big cities across the globe. Nike calculated that Kaepernick’s loyal following and popularity with star athletes would outlast boycotts and short-term stock pressure.
Nike’s strategy paid off. CEO Mark Parker told analysts in September that the ad resonated with consumers both in North America and around the world.
“We’ve seen record engagement with the brand as part of the campaign,” he said.
Gillette and Nike’s advertising have been successful because there are a clear links to the brands, said Reber, who also heads the University of Georgia’s advertising and public relations department. “This type of advertising will become increasingly common,” he added.
“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize,” the company said in a statement at the time.
Ram Trucks used a Martin Luther King Jr. speech in a Super Bowl commercial last year, which was also widely panned for being artificial.
The risk for Gillette is not immediate backlash on social media, but what its ads will look like in the future, and how it will use its slogan.
“It will really hurt them if they don’t walk the walk, after making the promise,” Reber said. “If they don’t show through their future advertising that they get it, then it’s a problem.”
CNN Business’ Heather Kelly contributed to this report.