The Best Ads Can Get: How Gillette's New Ad Changes the Narrative

Edited by Tasmiyah Randeree

Classic rock music, a desert backdrop, heavy lifting, beads of sweat and ripped abs. Where can you find all of these things at once? Basically, any advertisement geared towards men.

Recently, Gillette, a popular razor brand, decided to change the narrative of male-oriented advertising with an ad that sparked positive reactions and negative controversy. The ad directly tackles the issue of 'Toxic Masculinity' which takes many forms including sexual harassment, physical violence between boys, cyber-bullying and the prominent #MeToo movement. A key feature of the ad is that it refrains from portraying all men as villains and bullies. Instead, it highlights both good and bad examples of masculinity in men and boys from diverse demographic backgrounds.

Throughout the history of advertising, the public has most often been presented with material that feeds the idea of toxic masculinity, which can be defined as “a practice that legitimizes powerful men's dominant position in society and justifies the subordination of the common male population and women, and other marginalized ways of being a man.”

These ads often portray women in sexualized ways, sometimes going as far as removing their faces from the ad so that only their bodies are showcased, furthering the idea that women are simply objects. These advertisements are not only problematic for women, but for men as well, as they often portray men in unrealistic ways in terms of wealth, physical fitness and popularity.

 

This ad by Dolce & Gabbana does just that. Although the woman’s face is not cut out, it is placed at the bottom corner of the ad and is de-emphasized in proportion to her legs and torso. The men are shown to have highly unrealistic bodies, most with exposed abs and oiled up skin, which can set up problematic standards that boys and men feel they need to achieve. Studies show that young boys who view disproportionate male bodies in advertising and children's toys are more likely to suffer from poor body image as adults.

 

Unfortunately, this type of advertising is not new. This Tobacco ad from 1960 shows us how old toxic masculinity in advertising really is. This ad for cigarettes subtly states that cigarettes are a 'men's product', however, they can be used to attract women. The ad is highly sexualized with the message of “blow in her face” as well as the submissive positioning of the woman’s body and the inclusion of her low-hanging chest which was intentionally included in this ad. 

This ad by American Apparel takes the 'classic' approach to hyper-sexualization: the removal of the female face. By doing this, it becomes harder for the viewer to sympathise with the woman as she is seen as less of a human being and only as a pair of legs. 

Many might argue that Gillette’s most recent ad “took it too far” in its message against toxic masculinity. Many men feel that the ad does, in fact, villainize all men as "rapists" and "bullies". However, if one looks back at the overall history of advertisements, it would be clear to see that previous approaches have been harmful to both men and women. If Gillette is breaking away from those ad norms, I'd say they're taking a small step in the right direction and hopefully other companies will follow in their footsteps too!