Television is the most popular form of media in America. Nearly every American has a TV in their home. The things you watch are meant to keep you entertained so that you can be showed an advertisement later on. Most of these commercials are used to sell you something through the use of rhetorical appeals. Appeals to your emotions, your sense of credibility, and your sense of reason are what will make you truly appreciate or feel for what is being advertised. Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” short film is only trying to sell basic human decency and respect to men everywhere, in an anti-bullying, anti-misogyny and anti-sexual harassment ad campaign. The producers do this through the use of these appeals.
Gillette’s North American brand director, Pankaj Bhalla, says that the video “is not about toxic masculinity [certain norms of masculine behavior in North America and Europe that are associated with harm to society and to men themselves]. It is about men taking more action every day to set the best example for the next generation. This was intended to simply say that the enemy for all of us is inaction.” The purpose of Gillette’s ad is to encourage men to call out bullying and harassment when they see it happen. To discourage violence in young boys will teach them how to treat everyone with respect. When these young boys also see harassment and bullying put down rather than excused, it will show them that it is wrong. By showing this ad both on television and on YouTube it can easily reach men and boys of all ages, who are the primary audience. It also specifically targets fathers and encourages them to provide the best example for their sons. Through the usage of ethos, pathos and logos getting Americans’ attention, the people behind Gillette believe this goal can be achieved.
The short film begins with a few older men looking into mirrors while news stations covering various social issues play in the background. Issues such as bullying, the #MeToo movement, and toxic masculinity. A voice over asks “Is this the best a man can get? Is it?” which uses Gillette’s slogan: The best a man can get. Bhalla says “Our tagline needs to continue to inspire us all to be better every day, and to help create a new standard for boys to admire and for men to achieve.” An old Gillette commercial showing a freshly shaven man being kissed by a woman is playing through a projector onto a large screen. The screen is ripped as a young teenage boy runs through it, being chased by what we presume are several bullies. The teenage boys run through the house of a distraught woman who is comforting her crying son, showing text bubbles he has received from cyberbullies, calling him a “freak”, “loser” and “sissy”. This part uses the rhetoric of pathos to make the audience feel bad for the two boys being bullied and to appeal to parents who care about their children. Seeing a mother worried and confused for her child is very heart breaking for many.
“We can’t hide from it. It’s been going on for too long.” says the voiceover. A television cuts from a very old cartoon showing a woman being objectified, to a reality show where a husband sexually harasses the maid, to a new hip-hop music video full of nearly-naked women dancing around a man. Three teenage boys are sitting on the couch shifting through these channels and don’t bat an eye at what they are being shown. The boys’ reaction – or lack thereof – to women being disrespected this way in media is very telling to the way our society sees women, and will later affect the way men treat them. This part of the short film appeals to logos, since most people who watch television or have seen old television shows know that women are almost always treated wrongly as jokes or for a status. The audience may not be fully aware of it, but they have been affected by the way women and men are constantly portrayed in media. There is also the fact that the way fiction and representation affects reality is common sense. If the media portrays this behavior as normal and not wrong, the people who see it constantly will be conditioned to it.
“We can’t laugh it off.” as a live studio audience laughs at a family television show that portrays the father sexually harassing the maid. It cuts to a formal conference meeting compiled of one woman and several men. The man at the head of the table puts his hand on the shoulder of the woman who had just finished speaking and says “What I actually think she’s trying to say…” as the woman stares down, disoriented. This scene appeals to pathos, seeing the woman interrupted and her idea being taken and “mansplained” [to explain something to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing] by another makes you feel bad for her, especially how she looks extremely upset.
“Making the same old excuses.” Two very young boys fight on the ground at a barbecue. The fathers all say “Boys will be boys.” A long line of fathers standing at their grills all say “Boys will be boys will be boys will be boys.” “But something finally changed…” Clips from several different news stations are shown, all talking about the topic of sexual assault and harassment. “And there will be no going back, because we…we believe in the best in men.” The men looking in the mirror appear to get younger and younger. This scene could appeal to both pathos and ethos. “We believe in the best in men” gives Gillette a good character, since they say they want what is best from and for men. Showing teenage boys looking into their mirrors makes you feel for them wanting to be their best.
The video cuts to Terry Crews who is speaking about the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, he says “Men need to hold other men accountable.” This uses the rhetorical appeals ethos and logos. Terry Crews is a well known activist, a loving father, a great football star, and a famous actor. People who enjoy his movies and/or trust in his activism will better appreciate the short film’s message due to his credibility. It is common sense that anyone should be held accountable for their actions, so this falls under logos.
A man tells two young women in bathing suits to “smile sweetie” while filming them, and another man says “Come on!” in disgust to discourage this behavior. “To say the right thing, to act the right way. Some already are, in ways big…” a man breaks up a fight in the street and tells the two men to act like men, he makes them shake hands. “…and small.” A father tells his 4 year old daughter to say “I am strong.” into the mirror and she does. The father at the barbecue breaks up the two young boys fighting and tells them “That’s not how we treat each other, okay?” These two scenes can fall under pathos and logos respectively. The first, showing a father with his four year old daughter appeals to a love for children, pathos. The father obviously cares for his little girl and wants her to know how strong she is. The second, showing the father telling the two little boys “That’s not how we treat each other.” appeals to logos. Teaching children that they shouldn’t be violent and should be nice to others is common sense. Letting them continue to fight without intervention will let them believe it is okay.
“But some is not enough,” A man walking with his young son runs after the teenage bullies and pulls them off of the boy. I believe this scene uses the logos appeal. If you were to see someone, even in public, being hurt then you should do something about it. This also teaches the son who was following the dad that bullying is not okay. If the father were to ignore the trouble, for example, then the son would think bullying is acceptable.
“Because the boys watching today…will be the men of tomorrow.” The video shows several young boys looking into the camera. The last boy has the following words printed over his face: “THE BEST A MAN CAN GET.” The screen cuts to blue with the words “IT’S ONLY BY CHALLENGING US TO DO MORE THAT WE CAN GET CLOSER TO OUR BEST”. This final scene uses both pathos and logos appeals. Again, through the use of children, since everyone wants what is best for their children and to make a good example for them. Logically, the kids will grow up and their views will impact society and other people as they do.
To most the argument that men should strive for the best future possible would seem like common sense, but this advertisement has received an insane amount of backlash. The first comment that stood out under the video on YouTube says “STAND UP AGAINST THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT” by a user named Chad Hartkopf. The comment could suggest that the video has ingrained feminist beliefs, however it is only telling men to be the best they can, for themselves and for their children if they are not already. Because of this video, apparently, this man wants to be rid of the movement whose sole purpose is to achieve equal rights for women. The next comment found under the video says “‘Social Justice’ is never about equality, and the ‘justice’ is really about payback. In this case… it’s just Misandry.” by user Andre Bartmes. He believes that the new wave of social justice [justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society] will bring about misandry [dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against men] when again, the video is only about telling men to be responsible for what they do and how they carry themselves and their children. The final comment says “Best marketing strategy? attack your customer” by user Cole S.
To bring these comments into perspective, Sophia Harris in a CBC news article writes that most advertisements about self improvement products are aimed towards women. Weight loss pills and meal subscriptions, visible age reduction creams, expensive makeup and hair products. If you were to open a women’s magazine you will be bombarded with these sort of advertisements, the idea that women should look their “best” due to the western beauty standards brought on by society. Men often do not see advertisements for self improvement directed towards them, so when they do see one they feel they are being attacked, even if the advertisement simply tells them to be nice to other people (Harris).
In January 2018, the SSH (Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault) commissioned a nationally represented 2,000 person study, conducted by GfK (Growth from Knowledge), a well trusted analytics company. The survey found that “81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime”, says Holly Kearl. Kearl authored The Facts Behind the #MeToo Movement: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault. This text offers insight to nationwide statistics on sexual harassment and assault, and also found that men were the main perpetrators of these problems. So while yes, women can and do sexually harass men, the majority of perpetrators are men therefore it is appropriate for the Gillette video to be directed towards them.
To reiterate, Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” commercial could be summarized to say that women and men alike have been mistreated, bullied, sexually assaulted, etc. over many years and it is time to change the way we treat each other. Specifically to give young boys good examples of what it means to be a man in America; treating other men with respect, not harassing women, or simply being nice to other people.
Ella Cerón, “MRAs Outraged After Razor Company Asks Men to Show Common Decency”, The Cut, January 15 2019, https://www.thecut.com/2019/01/gillette-the-best-men-can-be-commercial-backlash.html, April 19 2019
“We Believe: The Best Men Can Be | Gillette (Short Film)”, YouTube, uploaded by Gillette, January 13 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koPmuEyP3a0
Kearl, Holly. “The Facts Behind the #MeToo Movement: A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault”, http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Full-Report-2018-National-Study-on-Sexual-Harassment-and-Assault.pdf, Stop Street Harassment, January 2018
Sophia Harris, “The best a man can get? Why some men are brushing off Gillette’s ad campaign”, CBC News, January 16 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/gillette-ad-toxic-masculinity-outrage-1.4979651