Editor’s Note: Marc Pritchard is chief brand officer at P&G. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Our team at Gillette sparked an important worldwide conversation with the new “We Believe” ad. The film shows men being role models by stepping in to stop bullying and harassment and demonstrating how to treat people with respect. It has gotten nearly 100 million views on social media. We’re proud of the ad’s message about what it means to be a good man today, and how men can step up to reject bad behavior and take positive action.
Not everyone agrees with the message and there have been some vocal detractors. Some said the ad attacks masculinity, while others said it sounded like a lecture.
We respect different viewpoints and we’re paying attention to all of them. But it’s important to distinguish between actual consumer sentiment and some of the social media reaction that does not represent the majority opinion. Independent research from multiple sources indicates a far more positive response than what has been reported. Most consumers — men and women alike — support the messages, particularly younger Millennial and Gen Z consumers. The majority who’ve seen the film feel that Gillette shares their values and indicate they feel better about the brand and are more likely to purchase its products. If nothing else, we hope people take time to view the entire film, and even if they don’t agree, they will have a constructive conversation about it.
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And that’s really why we made the film. Gillette’s “We Believe” was intended to promote positive action by inspiring conversations about the best men can be. Our team constantly talks with men who say they believe being a good man means not only rejecting bad behavior, but also being a role model for positive behavior. The film is causing people to pause, reflect and consider what they can do to set an even better example — especially for the next generation of men. It is being used in school classrooms and universities to educate and encourage discussion on masculinity and culture. And academics, psychologists, non-profits and community organizers have lauded the messages and expressed their support.
“We Believe” was hardly the first time Procter & Gamble used its marketing messages for good. Ariel in India and France show men “sharing the load” in household work by doing the laundry. Dawn features men doing the dishes — like many men do every day. Pampers highlights dads lovingly sharing diaper duty. Gillette has shaped perceptions of masculinity for more than 100 years — including the iconic line “The Best A Man Can Get” — so it was time to express a more modern, positive view of what it means to be the best in today’s world.
Why do we do this? Why does one of the world’s largest and most successful consumer goods companies get involved in social or cultural issues?
The answer is simple: Consumers expect more from brands than just selling products. They want to know what brands believe in, the people behind them, their values and views, and the actions they’re taking on important issues. In fact, nearly nine of 10 consumers expect brands to take a stand on social and environmental issues, and half say they make purchase decisions based on shared beliefs with the brand. People of all ages — from Gen Z to Baby Boomers — expect brands to take a stand. And 60% of millennials make purchases driven by their beliefs.
It’s also becoming clear that doing good — like Gillette’s commitment to donating $3 million to nonprofits promoting positive role models — is good for growth. The UN indicates that achieving its sustainable development goals represents a $12 trillion economic opportunity for businesses through a fairer, broader-based and more sustainable economy. McKinsey goes further in estimating that full economic equality between women and men would add $28 trillion to the world economy.
What’s more, brands have an impact on culture and social norms through advertising. The images and portrayals of people in advertising affect perceptions because they embed memories into our minds that in turn, form bias. That’s why ad exec Madonna Badger’s 2016 Women Not Objects challenged the advertising industry to eliminate the objectification of women in advertising. And more than 75 top marketers and 1,000 brands have stepped up to join the Association of National Advertisers’ #SeeHer movement, pledging to eliminate bias by accurately and positively portraying women and girls in advertising.
Brands touch people every day, so it’s important for them to make a positive difference in the world wherever possible — including in relevant social or cultural issues. Brands are arguably the most pervasive forces in the world for business growth — and they can also be used as a force for good. Not everyone will agree with a brand’s point of view and it may be subject to criticism. But if intentions are good, brands have a responsibility to step up, take the heat and keep going — and those good intentions will eventually prevail.