The campaign ‘The Best Men Can Be’ (wordplay on its tagline) takes a bold stand on bullying, cat-calling, and sexual harassment.
The campaign ‘The Best Men Can Be’ (wordplay on its tagline) takes a bold stand on bullying, cat-calling, and sexual harassment.

The tolerance test: why India is not ready for Gillette’s #MeToo-inspired ad campaigns

  • The campaign ‘The Best Men Can Be’ (wordplay on its tagline) takes a bold stand on bullying, cat-calling, and sexual harassment
  • In India one is never sure how audience will react, says Rohit Raj, co-founder, The Glitch  

Gillette, the personal grooming brand from American corporation Procter and Gamble, which had recently severed its ties with cricketer Hardik Pandya for his misogynist comments on the talk show, Koffee with Karan, has been in the eye of a storm for a #MeToo-inspired ad, which has polarised consumers on social media and offended many.

The campaign ‘The Best Men Can Be’ (wordplay on its tagline) takes a bold stand on bullying, cat-calling, and sexual harassment. It may be Gillette’s most courageous campaign, meant to start a conversation, it has ruffled many feathers and has got 1.2 million dislikes out of the 24 million views on the brand’s YouTube handle since 13 January.

The bold commercial is restricted to the US market as opposed to India, where it chooses to stay safe creating functional campaigns on grooming.

Advertising experts in India believe that while the Gillette advertisement raises relevant issues around toxic masculinity urging men to hold each other accountable, it would not work in India where brands walk on egg-shells, fearing legal battles or social media backlash for taking a tough stand on any socio-cultural issue.

“Advertising is a by-product of society. Indian culture, by norm, is not extremist," said Jitender Dabas, chief strategy officer, McCann Worldgroup India. “As a society, we are polite unlike the British society where sarcasm works or the US society where there is freedom for blatant self expression. Therefore, it is not fair to compare what Gillette is doing in the US with what it does in India," he said.

Rohit Raj, co-founder and creative chief of GroupM-owned digital agency, The Glitch, said in India one is never sure how people will react to a powerful campaign and social media amplification can add to the damage.

“We are a very easily offended country where a joke can turn into a death threat easily. Unlike the US, brands in India are extremely careful when they are taking a stand on any socio-cultural issue. We are never sure how viewers are going to take it," said Raj.

Indian advertising has churned out multiple campaigns on gender equality, but unlike the aggressive tone of the Gillette ad, they have been more subdued. The focus is mostly on empowering women and celebrating men who support this change. P&G, for instance, has been running a series of gender equality campaigns for its detergent brand Ariel (share the load), which urges men to divide household chores. Others include Havells’ Hawa Badlegi ad, wherein a man takes his wife’s last name at a registrar’s office as well as the Titan ad showing a confident single woman in her late 30s asserting her choices. “We are always trying to take the middle-path in terms of messaging and execution. It is always a nudge, but we never go full throttle on an issue," said Raj.

Last year, the scrapping of Section 377 by the SC was supported by multiple brands, but with caution, and mostly through social media posts.

In fact even personal opinions expressed by brand ambassadors could unleash public fury on a brand he/she endorses in the country. The Aamir Khan and Snapdeal controversy is one such example where the actor’s comment on increasing intolerance in the country led to a social media backlash where multiple users uninstalled Snapdeal app forcing the company to end its association with the actor.

“As a society we need a certain level of maturity from questioning our beliefs to even laughing at ourselves. Brands tend to face a lot of backlash while taking a tough stand on an issue and more often than not it has hit their business as well which forces them to become cautious," said Shamsuddin Jasani, managing director at the digital marketing agency Isobar.

Isobar’s campaign for sports brand Reebok on women empowerment ‘Girls don’t fight’ takes down the stereotype that girls are not suppose to fight. However, it is not enough to keep the conversation going, feels Jasani. “We need to do much more on gender especially which transcends geographical boundaries like the Gillette ad," he adds.