Just a few weeks into 2019, the release of Gillette’s “We Believe” spot gained so much attention it was sure to become one of the most talked-about ads of the year.
The ad, which was about “looking at masculinity in today’s world,” according to Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble (Gillette’s parent company), covered several topics that affect a man’s life: in-person and online bullying, sexual harassment and misogyny, and unfair gender norms and treatment. Immediately after it was released, the ad drew a number of reactions on social media. Though many were positive, some were also negative and threatened boycotts against the brand for its stance on modern men and masculinity.
Pritchard said that although the naysayers were loud, they were in the minority.
“The reality is that most people love that ad,” said Pritchard, on stage at the Lumière Theatre today at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. “[They] thought it was a great ad that shared their values. The problem was there was a very small but vocal group that really hijacked the conversation on social media which was then translated into a media storm.”
Journalist Katie Couric, who was speaking with Pritchard, noted that the “media storm” can be good for publicity.
The creation of the Gillette ad was fueled by conversations with real men, Pritchard said.
“A lot of men said, ‘You know, look, I guess I reject the harassment and objectification,’” he said. “But what we wanted to show though is that it’s not enough just to reject it. We also want to show role models, role-modeling good behavior.”
Couric said that she was gratified to see companies like P&G trying to challenge gender norms with its advertising. Sexism is something she’s faced throughout her career, whether it was criticizing her capabilities or even belittling her accomplishments in a veiled manner, by calling her “America’s Sweetheart,” which she felt implied that she wasn’t serious and couldn’t handle important topics.
“When I went to CBS, even though Tom Brokaw had done a morning show and Charlie Gibson then transitioned to an evening newscast, people judged me,” said Couric. “[They] said, because I’d worked in the morning, I lacked the gravitas to do an evening newscast, which I decided is actually Latin for testicles.”
“That’s why, a lot of the work we’re doing, we want to talk about gender equality,” she added.
Through her company Katie Couric Media, the veteran anchor talks to successful women and men who are “doing it right.”
Pritchard was joined by musician John Legend and Couric at the Palais today to speak to a packed house about the CPG giant’s advertising, and how the company uses its position as the world’s largest advertiser to change the conversation around topics such as gender norms, racial prejudice and more. Beyond the Gillette spot, the trio also discussed the P&G spots “The Talk” and its follow-up, “The Look,” both of which tackle internalized racial biases.
Legend said he saw his own life experience reflected in the spots, and recalled his years as a college student at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Black students at the school would feel sometimes that both the university and city police would treat us like we were imposters if we were in that area,” said Legend.
Many of these biases are so ingrained we don’t think about them on a daily basis, said Pritchard. But the hope of spots like “We Believe” or “The Look” is that they’ll give an opportunity to open the dialogue.
“The conversation we’re having now, this is intended to change perspective, to promote introspection, to think about things,” said Pritchard.