Proctor and Gamble is a massive company. With a market cap around $292B, it is safely amongst the 15 largest companies in the world. For reference, it is larger than Mastercard ($275B), Disney ($255.3B) and AT&T ($249B). Under its sizable umbrella rest brands like Charmin, Pampers, Fabreze, and Gillette. It is this last property that landed them in trouble today.
During its earnings report for the quarter, P&G admitted that it had lost $8 billion on Gillette products. In a flimsy attempt at an excuse, the company cited a rising interest in facial hair and rising competition from subscription companies like Dollar Shave Club. While those issues are certainly factors, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to recognize what’s really to blame.
The Best a Man Can Get?
Early this year, Gillette decided to run an ad targeting the concept of “Toxic Masculinity.” These kind of virtue signaling ads are becoming more commonplace. They appeal to a wide swath of (typically liberal) viewers, while, more importantly, insulating a company from the scolding of the social justice Left.
But Gillette’s commercial, which showed generations of men participating in stereotypically “toxic” forms of masculine behavior — bullying, fighting, sexism — immediately raised the hackles of many conservative and moderate viewers. Analysts like Ben Shapiro slammed the commercial for condemning masculinity, when it should be demanding more genuine masculinity.
The video instead chose to shame men, alienate them, and blame them for society’s problems. Predictably, that sparked an immediate backlash from thousands of potential customers, who used the hashtag #boycottgillette to indicate their dissatisfaction with the ad campaign. The first reply to the video on Twitter best summed up this dissatisfaction: “Hope it was worth losing thousands of customers for your stupid identity politics calling all men bad.”
And that responder was not alone. Thousands upon thousands of potential customers, who were sick and tired of identity politics and male-shaming, swore off the product. But this sort of thing has happened before, and many predicted that, like in the past, the bark of the Right would be bigger than the bite.
Why Gillette is Different
As we’ve seen, many companies have scored victories with similar campaigns, or at least survived them mostly unscathed. Nike has made a habit of raising the ire of conservatives by supporting athletes like Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe and backing away from manufactured controversies like the Betsy Ross sneaker fiasco.
But Gillette is different in a pretty obvious way: its consumer base is predominately male. For decades, the company’s slogan has been “the best a man can get.” It produces razors to shave the male face. It was inconceivably self-destructive for them to design an ad shaming their own consumers.
Now, at the end of the day, the virtue of taking a political stand may be more valuable to Gillette than the $8 billion it lost. No one but them can make that calculation. But the excuse that this loss is the result of less interest in shaving and increased competition won’t hold water. Those may play a factor, but when you shoot yourself in the foot, you can’t blame someone else for the blood.