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Gillette ad stirring online uproar

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NEW YORK—A Gillette ad for men invoking the #MeToo movement is sparking intense online backlash, with accusations that it talks down to men and groups calling for a boycott.

But Gillette says it doesn't mind sparking a discussion. Since it debuted last Monday, the Internet-only ad has garnered nearly 19 million views on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—a level of buzz any brand would covet.

The two-minute ad from Procter & Gamble's razor brand shows men and boys engaging in bullying and sexual harassment, and encourages men to “say the right thing" and "act the right way.”

Taking on bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity is a big task for a razor brand. Many critics took to social media saying it was insulting to men and laden with stereotypes.

The uproar comes as Gillette battles upstarts like Harry's, Dollar Shave Club, and others for millennial dollars.

Gillette controlled about 70 perCent of the U.S. market a decade ago. But last year, its market share dropped to below 50 percent, according to Euromonitor

Allen Adamson, co-founder of branding firm Metaforce, called the ad a “Hail Mary” pass from the 117-year-old company.

But he added that online buzz, whether positive or negative, rarely makes a long-term difference for a marketer since memory fades quickly.

“Getting noticed and getting buzz is no easy task, and they've managed to break through,” Adamson noted.

“Most advertisers advertise, and no one notices because there is so much noise in the marketplace," he remarked. "So just getting noticed is a big win, especially for low-interest category like a razor.”

On the flip side, it probably won't sell many razors either, Adamson added.

Gillette's ad echoes other attempts by major advertisers to take on social issues.

Pepsi, for instance, pulled an ad in 2017 showing Kendall Jenner giving a cop a Pepsi during a protest and apologized after an outcry that it trivialized “Black Lives Matter” and other protest movements.

Nike polarized the nation with an ad featuring ex-NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who started a wave of protests among NFL players of police brutality, racial inequality, and other social issues.

Sales weren't affected in either of those cases. When controversy does affect sales, it's usually over something more substantive than an ad.

Lululemon saw sales tumble in 2013 after a string of PR disasters, including manufacturing problems that caused their pricey yoga pants to become see through and fat-shaming comments from their founder.

But even that was short-lived.

Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, said that much like Nike's Kaepernick ad, Gillette likely knew the ad would garner online debate.

“Nike knew what they were getting themselves into," Torossian said. The ad with Kapernick was "making a lot of noise and it can't be a surprise to [Gillette] that this is making a lot of noise.”

Pankaj Bhalla, North America brand director on Gillette, said the controversy was not the intended goal of the ad, which is part of a larger campaign that takes a look at redefining Gillette's longtime tagline, “The Best a Man Can Get,” in different ways.

While he doesn't want to lose sales or a boycott over the ad, “we would not discourage conversation or discussion because of that,” Bhalla said.

“Our ultimate aim is to groom the next generation of men and if any of this helps even in a little way, we'll consider that a success,” he added.

But Larry Chiagouris, marketing professor at Pace University, is skeptical.

“Treating people with respect, who can argue with that," he said. ”But they're kind of late to the party here, that's the biggest problem.

“It's gratuitous and self-serving.”

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