In the last five days, the “We Believe” ad by Gillette, which purports to tackle toxic masculinity, has garnered more than twenty million views on YouTube.
It has also made hundreds of thousands of men take to social media to post pictures of themselves flushing their Gillette razors down the toilet, throwing them into bins, and generally channelling their limited creativity towards innovative ways of disposing of the brand’s products that they deem photo-worthy.
Conveniently for the brand, it has warmed the hearts of armchair activists, whose social media gushing indicates they will make up for the boycott the toxically masculine have called, by using Gillette blades to shave off their own unwanted hair, along with some of their habitual bitterness against the world.
Even as a bunch of men prove the point the ad was making by asserting their right to be toxically masculine, the media has latched on to newsworthy headlines like “The women behind the Gillette ad”.
When one sets out to make an ad that will go viral, reinforce the brand name, sell the product, and win awards at the end of the season, one must make sure all the parameters are right. It’s useful when the ad can be blamed-on-slash-credited-to women.
We know the ad was created by the brand’s ad agency Grey, and produced by Somesuch, which was – handily – founded by a woman with liberal street cred, Sally Campbell. We don’t know who wrote the script and who cleverly decided that Kim Gehrig, who has a history of making “radical” ads, should direct it.
For a long time, men have been rescuing puppies and damsels in distress to prove themselves sensitive and reliable enough to make their already-desirable ruggedness irresistible.
More recently, men have been marrying women who are dark, women who are old, women who are fat – women who are “real”, or more real than fair, young, fit women.
None of these commercials would create a ripple if they were real life incidents. Unattractive people marry each other all the time; attractive people marry unattractive people all the time.
In real life, though, when the “real” people get a health check, they will be told they are “morbidly obese”; the “unreal” people will be told they are “dangerously underweight”. In real life, the “real” people would not have beautiful jaw lines when they are morbidly obese, or have fat packed into just the right places. The “real” women are models too. When they are “real” women from “real” life, they have been pulled into the commercial to score “woke” points.
In real life, people know that fitness is not simply about appearance; it is also about health.
Now, the Gillette ad tries to be unlike its predecessors. Products targeted at men – deodorant, aftershave, underwear, shoes, formal clothing, you-name-it – tend to show women falling for the men swaggering along in these products, or men wearing these and having fun with their mates, all on testosterone overdrive. Of course, they occasionally rescue puppies and damsels.
This ad, though, has men rescuing people from each other, and in the process, “rescuing” each other from toxic masculinity. Wokeness overdrive.
The film shows bullying, gang fights, sexual harassment, and workplace patronisation. All the “victims” are saved by men.
For some reason, though, the target audience did not relate to the rescuers, who were as male as the offenders.
It says something about the consumers that this fact entirely escaped them.
And it says something about the nature of advertising that this commercial was so removed from real life.
Where are the women, one wonders. There was one woman in the entire ad, and she was comforting her son, helplessly crouched over him, as bullies tore into their home and self- esteem.
Anyone who has been bullied in childhood knows that the bullies are not just male. When the victim is male, the bullies are typically of both sexes. When the victim is female, too, the bullies are typically of both sexes. But, as anyone who has been bullied in childhood knows, the bullies of the victim’s sex are typically more venomous, more sadistic, more into the nastiness. Among the best films on the subject, in recent times, is Después de Lucía(2012), which explores the psyche of the bully while staying with the mind of the victim.
The bully – who is also the patronising boss, who is also the stalker, who is also the gangster – wants to see his or her victim fold, succumb, cry. When the victim stands tall, the bullying becomes meaner; the bully calls for backup, and they attack in numbers.
If Gillette were portraying a real-life situation, there would be more than one woman in the ad; and she would not be a figure of silent benevolence.
No advertisement is commissioned with the altruistic notion of changing the world. But the conversations it sparks off could. Unfortunately, they rarely do, and this ad is unlikely to be an exception. But it will win awards, as it set out to do.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
The G.O.A.T vote: When opinion offends
The hooligans in our homes
Why the Ambanis should rule India
Five statues the government should build
Killing Nature: Where science and religion colludeWhy bother saving the tiger?