When is publicity bad for a brand?

Despite the old saw of their being no such thing as bad press, there is indeed such a thing, and knowing how to avoid it is increasingly paramount in today’s hot-take-driven media landscape.

But Gillette is discovering, as others have before, that taking a social commentary position has consequences. For the record, I stopped using cartridge razors back in 2013, and have only used double edged safety razors since (I use the Merkur Safety Razor and these blades), so my comments on the Gillette ad are not driven by any relationship to the company or it’s products.

Gillette is facing backlash over their ‘toxic masculinity’ ad, and that was something they could have avoided. Their parent company, Procter & Gamble, has seen their stock dip post-release. And there is a lot of chatter about switching away from Gillette products, which are a bit less than 50% of the shaving market.

So why do it? That is the question that a brand needs to answer before making a statement that can damage your market. Sometimes controversy is good – especially if you land early on the winning side. Bold statements can drive customers to you, as you show confidence and vision on an issue. This can also backfire, if you choose a position that is opposed to your customer base, or appears to be an attack on them (some analysis of the Gillette ad suggests that the tone is scolding or one of talking down to the customer).

My advice to the small business brand manager or brand decision makers is to avoid commentary on social issues at all costs. And if you feel the need, be sure to be aspirational, positive, and pick a safe topic. You won’t offend anyone by standing up for equality, but might if you choose a more fringe aspect of your issue.

The core function of business is to move a product, and make a profit. Taking social positions is not the function of a business, and has all too often caused harm. Gillette won’t be going anywhere, a 1 person shop just might.