Recently throughout the last year, Gillette, Dollar Shave Club, and Harry’s all put out ads centered around masculinity as an attempt to forge better connections and brand loyalty with their audience. Appealing to emotion is clearly a common form of persuasion in advertising no matter the product, so these ads don’t surprise me. The question is, why now?
I think to understand this, we should begin by looking at how Gillette advertised throughout the 20th century since they created the demand for household shaving in the first place.
In the early 1900s, Gillette patented the safety razor with disposable blades, positioning itself as an alternative to the time consuming straight razor. They used the slogan, “no stropping, no honing” and emphasized the convenience, ease, and hygienic benefits of shaving at home with a safety razor and disposable blade.
This ad below is a great example of this form of rational persuasion, reading “Perfect in a practical way.”
Gillette’s ads stayed mostly in the realm of the rational, but it wasn’t until they started appealing to a man’s sense of masculinity that they found their greatest advertising successes. In the 1940s, Gillette started focusing on sports marketing, identifying with a man’s passions and using prominent sports figures to sell their products. These successes led to the well known “The Best a Man Can Get” ad that aired during the 1989 Super Bowl which would continue to air for more than a decade after.
It’s not surprising then that we’re seeing a resurgence of an appeal to masculinity since it proved to be so fruitful. The question though is, why now? I believe it’s a combination of a highly competitive marketplace and a time of vocal social awareness. Shaving companies looking to connect with their audiences emotionally saw an opportunity at a time when traditional masculinity is being redefined.
Harry’s started off this revival in early 2018 with the release of their ad “A Man Like You”. The team behind the ad comments, “Harry’s was not trying to sell a product at all. The best way to get people engaged is to connect with them on an emotional level. We wanted to make something that makes you feel and makes you think.”
DSC answered with their “Get Ready” ad in July of 2018. They use their humorous brand persona to create a light hearted ad with a feeling of inclusivity around masculinity, creating a group identity that welcomes their customers.
Finally, Gillette got back in the game in early 2019 with a nod to their earlier “A Best a Man Can Get” ad. Whoever made the Gillette ad clearly went for a.. controversial approach, to say the least.
In my opinion, Dollar Shave Club got it right– humor is a great play, especially when trying to tie in greater themes of masculinity, a topic that is by no means straightforward. What's interesting is that none of the companies went for a direct approach towards masculinity as an ideal, but instead tried to redefine masculinity– a trend that has been in the works for years. And as for Gillette? I’m not sure why they put out that ad, especially as their market share dips below 50% after historically dominating the market for the last century.
The biggest wet shaving companies today barely have an advertising budget in comparison so we haven’t been able to see what their approach would be in this conversation. I’d imagine a wet shaving ad would try to appeal to masculinity through nostalgia for the traditional man or about the bonds created between father and son during his rite of passage.
Creating appeals to masculinity is tough to do as it can easily come across as unoriginal, but when done well can create an emotional bond between the company and audience. I’m curious to see how these big shaving companies continue to manage public relations and how the public’s perception of these companies evolves over time. I’m also hopeful that the wet shaving movement can pick up steam and a wet shaving company can join the conversation with the masses.
Honestly though, when it comes to appealing to masculinity, this is how it's done: