What startups can learn from Gillette’s new ad

Gillette ad

You’ve no doubt watched Gillette’s new ad about overcoming toxic masculinity, overhauling the way the brand positions its 30-year tagline ‘the best a man can get’.

Love it or hate it, this ad is a powerful reminder of the importance of change and the need to think bigger than the vocal minority. This is particularly applicable to startup founders, who are at the beginning of a long journey of building, managing and defending their brand’s reputation.

What can founders learn from Gillette’s new ad? A great deal, but here are a few thoughts to get you started.

Not everyone will support you and that’s a good thing

Commentary about the ad has been incredibly heated, and why wouldn’t it be? It challenges the very essence of populist masculinity and taps into the heavily scrutinised #MeToo era of accountability.

While your startup might not be so controversial, there is a growing expectation brands have an opinion on one of the many social and political issues dominating the news. In fact, a 2018 study found one in two people choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on social issues. As a new or growing business, this large portion of potential customers should be a real consideration when planning your marketing and content strategy.

Of course, taking a stand has implications. You’ll never please your entire customer base — in fact, much like Gillette, you’ll probably lose a few. But you’ll earn the respect and loyalty of those who support you. And you’ll develop a brand with greater depth and resilience.

Change is hard, but vital

Gillette’s ad reflects a very different position on masculinity to what it’s been known for these past 30 years. And this has been difficult for many people to come to terms with, because on the whole, change is hard. Our brains are even hardwired to prefer negative consequences over uncertain ones.

Does this mean a brand should never change? Absolutely not.

As your startup’s business model, customer needs, social expectations, technology and industry requirements change, so too must your brand position and narrative. If you fail to adapt, you run the risk of losing relevance while other more agile brands take the lead.

As a startup, you have a unique opportunity to create a business model and culture that thrives on change. Regularly evaluate whether your brand still fits. Consider broader social, political and news narratives to understand and respond to changing customer expectations. Look to industry trends and new technology to prepare for major disruptions in the future. Finally, look to the successes and failings of other brands and learn from their experiences.  

Never make audience assumptions based on a vocal few

If you scroll through the comments on Gillette’s Facebook announcement of its ad, you’ll see a backlash of aggressive, determined, soon-to-be ex-customers. Based on these comments, it would be easy to make assumptions about what Gillette’s customers think of the ad. It’s a flop. It’s too controversial. It paints all men with the same, destructive brush. Some media outlets would even have you think that “most people” hate the new Gillette ad.

But does this reflect the majority of customer sentiment? No, it doesn’t. In fact, social media analytics of online conversations indicate the large majority of comments about the ad have been positive.  

At some stage, you’ll no doubt experience a brand cynic, and justified or not, the negativity will sting. But don’t make a knee-jerk reaction until you know more.

Do your own analysis of customer feedback or if it’s large-scale, use one of the many social media analytics or research agencies to investigate whether these brand cynics reflect a growing customer sentiment. Once you have the data, plan your next step. Make it strategic and considered. This doesn’t mean ignore the vocal minority — in some instances, it’s better to address and manage them head-on. But whatever you do, don’t make assumptions. The reputational risk is just too great.  

As a startup, you have the unique opportunity to start fresh and learn from the experiences of brands across the world. While managing your startup’s reputation won’t always be easy, the right approach and mindset will help you to create a brand that’s fluid, responsive and resilient.

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