I have seen some decent tweets about the Gillette ad on toxic masculinity and the attendant risks of a sharp razor against thin skin.
All chuckles aside, once I step away from the peanut gallery, I can’t help but think how Gillette, Dove, and other brands have mastered the public discussion on social issues of our day as they market progress one product at a time.
Emotive ads with a cinematic tinge and viral appeal are aimed at empowered women—who are also the ones usually making the household purchasing decisions. Handy, that.
So, isn’t it a good thing if advertisers address gender issues? After all, commerce occupies so much of our public and digital space, so it should be relevant. And for years, ads preyed on women’s insecurity.
Yes and no.
A better dialogue is an improvement, of sorts. I just wish social impact organizations could take up so much public space and be the ones to shift the conversation—no razor sales required.
These conscious purchases may seem like socially committed gestures, but they are largely an apolitical lifestyle choice that is more about signalling than shaking things up.
It’s a big hoodwink to think that consumption is part of the solution, when it’s just a proxy or some false logic in the way that buying pink things helps to cure cancer. Solutions are complex and need to be systemic.
For one, couldn’t we remake the planet around less disposability and use of plastics?
Corporations are built to create a profit and with viral campaigns, we’re all doing the work.
For example, if one signs up for Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, joins in on hashtags and online calls to action to share your story, then the consumer becomes the media producer and contributes to the profitability of the corporate brands—many of whom happily speak with forked tongue.
Much has been spoken about Dove parent company Unilever, which also owns Axe, whose advertising is less feminist friendly. The mega-corp also produces skin lightener Fair & Lovely, which really tells you that the skin you’re in isn’t the right shade.
Moreover, advertising in general tends to normalize a self-centred, shallow view of the world by emphasizing the triumph of the self and of our private worlds, as opposed to collective values and public actions large and small, from voting, to everyday exchanges in public and private spaces.
Let me sidle up to my high horse and say this: If the resistance is commodified, the agenda gets determined by multinational corporations and brands interested in building better consumers, not better societies.
That’s up to us.