This week, I wanted to do a marketing breakdown of the recent, controversial commercial from Gillette.  However you felt about the ad, if you are marketing a business, it will help to understand what they did from a technical standpoint.  Many companies experiment with affiliating with causes or controversy.  This type of tactic lives on the fine line between great marketing and disaster.  Today, let’s analyze Gillette’s approach so you can understand how to stay on the right side of the line for your business.

You might be wondering if this is relevant to you.  If you have ever debated about revealing something personal, some element of your story, or connect with a meaningful cause within the context of your brand, it is relevant. When this approach works, it yields terrific results.  But it can also destroy a business if you’re not careful!  This post is a bit longer than usual, to show you how this all connects with your own business.

If you haven’t seen the ad yet, you’ll want to start with that:

Public Relations vs. Marketing

The first thing you need to know is that this Gillette ad leverages public relations.  Procter & Gamble focused less on the product they sell and put the attention into the image, the story, and the values of the Gillette brand.  They are positioning Gillette’s values for the public.

As a business owner, you may have competitors with similar products or services.  So does Gillette.  But since they are selling their values here, they are changing the conversation from being a comparison of razors, razor price, razor durability, and other razor questions to a timely national question.  This puts them in a category of their own and automatically sets them apart from competitors.

Brand Positioning

What cause did they choose?  They chose one that has logic to the brand they already have.  It’s not random.  Brand positioning should not be random.

Brand positioning should not be random. #brand #marketing #business #smallbusiness #smallbiz #smb Click To Tweet

If this Gillette ad dealt with ADHD, they would have to walk us through the link between Gillette and ADHD in a way that makes sense.  If they didn’t take that time to build the connection, they would lose the audience.  What does Gillette have to do with ADHD?  The question would derail us from the point they want to make.

Gillette was already talking about “the best a man can get.”  This has long been their slogan.  With this ad, they are just reframing a slogan we already know and connecting it to a national conversation around masculinity vs. toxic masculinity.  They are reaching men who share this mindset.  They are also reaching the women who resonate with this question and movements like #timesup and #metoo – if they are picking up a razor for their partners at the supermarket, they may very well give a longer look to the Gillette razor.  In the rolling out of this campaign, there was a target market in mind.

I want to underscore the importance of this point.  Over the years, I have watched quietly as many small businesses tanked their brand on social media by connecting strongly with a controversial topic that was too far a stretch away from their values or their mission.  Most often it seems to happen with politics, but it can happen with personal admissions/confessions or affiliating with charities that don’t seem to have any bearing for the target market.  (If this sounds familiar, you’ll want to read about crisis communications here!)

Years ago, there was a page I followed on social media that showed pictures of the beach everyday.  We went there to see relaxing pictures of beaches.  Then one day the beach pictures stopped and all we got were political rants.  That wasn’t the page any of those followers had followed.  In fact, the comments on the posts were a lot of, “I thought this was a page about the beach.”

What I can’t speak to here is whether P&G’s position in this video is consistent with how people saw Gillette before.  Are the values they are sharing here similar to the values they were sharing earlier?  I have seen remarks to this ad about how Gillette or P&G have sponsored events in the past didn’t share the same message as this ad.  Where there is a lack of alignment, there will be confusion for some consumers, and that is a risk they took here.

Free speech doesn’t come without repercussions.  This is about making choices that make sense for your brand and the business you worked hard to build.  And if you do, the repercussions may even work in your benefit.  Read more on that next!


When P&G launched this ad, they were taking a chance.  They made a decision to address a big topic head on, knowing that some people would love them and some would hate them.

Was this a good calculated risk?

First of all, we can assume that P&G had a sizeable budget for this ad and had every intention of leveraging their team and their resources to make this a far-reaching campaign.

Knowing that they were going to reach a high volume of people, they faced a reality.  They are talking to three types of consumers:

  • People who are already buying Gillette razors that are going to ban Gillette razors from their homes from this point forward.
  • People who already buy Gillette razors who will continue to buy Gillette razors (maybe they loved the ad or maybe the ad has no impact on their razor-buying decisions).
  • People out there who weren’t already buying Gillette razors who will now start buying Gillette razors because of this campaign.

Was this a good calculated risk?  It was a good calculated risk if the number of people in category 3 is more than the number of people in category 1.

It’s as simple as that.  It doesn’t matter how many people took to Twitter and said, “I’m never buying another Gillette razor ever again.” If more people were motivated to start buying Gillette razors because of the ad, it was worth it. If the number who won’t buy outweighs those who will, it wasn’t.

Is the calculated risk right for your business?

THIS is the question I want you to be asking from this point forward.  Next time you are thinking about risky ways to expand your reach, I want you to assess whether it is a worthwhile risk for you to take.

If you are connecting yourself with a topical question that is nothing but positive, then you may very well be able to leverage it to strengthen the position of your brand with your audience.

If you are connecting your brand with something controversial, you have some hard questions to ask.  Will you lose a percentage of your audience?  What percentage?  Will you get a strong enough reach on the campaign you are running where you are going to replace that volume you lost with brand new customers?  What if only 5% of people you reached will become loyal customers – will you reach enough to replace the ones you lost?

These are the types of calculations you want to consider.  It’s not just about going out and embracing controversy.  Only embrace controversy if you have assessed that the reward will outweigh the backlash.

Only embrace controversy if you have assessed that the reward will outweigh the backlash. #publicrelations #business #smallbusiness #marketing #smallbiz Click To Tweet

As a marketer, there was definitely a plan and a logic to the campaign P&G rolled out, and they have still struggled!

I write this as a Marketing Tip of the Week, because I have seen so many small businesses get into sticky situations over the years by making declarations or affiliations that damage the brand position they have worked hard to build.

This was a longer tip than usual, but I am hoping that it gives you a new look at this case study and makes it relatable to the decisions you are making in your own business.

If you want to know more about this topic – perhaps you are grappling with some announcements or reveals you are thinking about making for your business – I encourage you to check out this tip on Mixing Business and Personal in Your Marketing.