Abid Hussain Barlaskar

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

A look at Gillette's Indian rendition of 'The Best Men Can Be' - Meet the barber girls from Banwari Tola, a village in UP.

Personal care brand Gillette's latest ad film for its twin-edged blades is unlike any of its previous razor ads. The ad plays out a warm story over two-and-a-half-minutes instead of showcasing macho men shaving and CG visuals of blades scraping off facial hair that are packed into a 30-second format.

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

Gillette #ShavingStereotypes - The Barbershop Girls of India

Conceptualised by Grey Group this ad does not feature the urban man and the story is built up around a saloon (barbershop) in rural Uttar Pradesh. The ad captures the story of two girls - Jyoti (18) and Neha (16) - from a village named Banwari Tola. After losing their father Dhruv Narayan to a paralytic attack, the girls defied social norms and started working as barbers in his shop, in the guise of boys.

The ad highlights the issue of gender equality in the country and how a child's experiences influence the man-to-be. It seems like a natural extension of the brand's global #TheBestMenCanBe campaign that recently took the ad-marketing fraternity by storm. This ad takes on a host of evils from bullying and objectification of women to mansplaining, and sexual harassment. It picked on the sentiment of 'boys will be boys' and called on men to hold men accountable.

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

Gillette's global campaign #TheBestMenCanBe

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

Gillette ad featuring cricketer Rahul Dravid from 2015

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

Gillette fusion ad from 2014

Also, with the twin-edged blade, the barber and the 'saloon' in one frame, Gillette has subtlety pushed its B2B presence in India. "As leading manufacturers of double-edge brands like Wilkinson Sword, 365, and 7 O'Clock blades, used by Barbers all over, Gillette is proud to have been part of their journey," says a press release.

As part of its ongoing 'Safalta Apni Mutthi Mein' programme, Gillette will be providing skill-set training for styling and grooming to the Narayan girls. "We will enrol them in top salon academies to get full-fledged training. After this they will get a chance to work in India's most esteemed and well-recognised salon," reads the Gillette 'Safalta Apni Mutthi Mein' website.

Expert speak:

S Yesudas, co-founder and managing director, Y&A Transformation opines that the ad is "all-in-all a winner" and is a way to reinvent the brand and stay relevant.

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

S Yesudas

"Although the set-up is rural, the execution will connect with all. There's also a core business proposition and multiple messages, chief among them is their positioning - the best a man can be. It is good that Gillette is taking the high ground, but it is multiple stories around purpose that will help the brand stay more relevant than the "come and buy me" campaigns. This will surely put pressure on their agencies," Yesudas states.

"The platform (safaltaapnimutthimein.org) shouldn't end up as a tactic. It can be a far more meaningful destination for consumers to witness actual action and testimonial, instead of the single, English-only html page of long texts and number claims. The platform can be used for men to make pledges and for more such stories of grit to come up. Gillette has the potential to build a very engaged community here, if they have a long-term vision, as a purpose-oriented business," he adds on Gillette's initiative.

Speaking on the brand's B2B play, Yesudas explains, "It is exactly how a typical barber's razor works; with half of the twin-edged blade. They have also focused on the ability of the blade to give a clean shave in just a single swipe. But in such a piece of content that creates involvement in the story, only some elements of what's around it are usually registered like the red and black colour of the foam container. Consumers then relate to it during real exposure within a very limited time frame, triggering a purchase or pride of usage."

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy

Brand and consumer expert Sita Lakshmi Narayan Swamy, says, "It is a beautifully made ad with amazing execution and is worlds apart from Gillette's previous ads with the macho, go-getter male. But the question is about the brand's commitment to the cause. It's the brand's shift from 'the best a man get' to 'the best men can be' and that's a big difference. My only concern is that it's a very quick and radical shift. It would be unfortunate if the brand just rides the wave and fails to live up to it."

She adds, "The global ad was more of a holistic sort approach to many issues (bullying, objectification of women, mansplaining, sexual harassment) with a possibility of future executions. In this case, I cannot see any such possibility and it looks like a one-off story."

Speaking about the brand's projection of the twin-edged blade, Swamy says, "Is the story about the brand or the blade? The brand smartly shows that its philosophy applies to its lowest end product and its highest. If the brand stands for something, all of its products stand for it. The idea that applies to the boy growing up in the village also applies to a boy in the city."

Speaking about the execution, Swamy further mentions that the ad's copy, instead of putting the onus of acceptance on the razor, could have put it on the father of the child who visited the girls' shop for a shave.

P&G's Gillette brings a story from rural India to shave gender stereotypes

Chetan Mane

Chetan Mane, VP - Business and Strategy at Whyness, says, “The core of this communication is a very strong social message that is absolutely the kind a men's grooming brand should be propagating to bring about a change in the way Indian men think. While it doesn't have the typical multi-blade, close-shave sequences, it will have a long-lasting impact even on urban consumers compared to the typical Gillette advertising because of its eye-opening/disruptive messaging.”

“The product placement is a bit unnecessary. This communication is all about the brand's point-of-view about gender stereotypes. The rural, lower SEC setup actually works for Gillette and makes it look like an inclusive brand that cares about issues that matter to the entire nation. This is also in-sync with their wide product line-up which ranges from double edged blades to the high-end five-blade razors. This communication will definitely help Gillette strengthen their B2B sales, especially in the lower end of the saloon category. They already enjoy a share fair in the mid and upper segment saloons,” Mane adds.

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