The Best an advert can get?

5 months ago, Esther Yeung


WE BELIEVE: The Best Men Can Be - What the Gillette Commercial Controversy Means for Recruiting 

Advertising is back, Terminator-style.  Last year it was Nike’s “Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything.” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick that made waves across the marketing world for its stance on racial injustice.  This year is starting with Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” ad shedding light on what is being called toxic masculinity.  Some decry the Gillette ad as needlessly polarizing and making unsubstantiated claims about men writ large.  Others see in it an important, progressive step toward delineating between appropriate vs. inappropriate male behaviour.  Still, others view it as a call for better male role models in familial and professional settings.  Here it is, for those who haven’t seen it:

Your own views on the present condition of masculinity in today’s world notwithstanding, there are important lessons here recruiting for consumer goods businesses.

1. Meaning matters.  Legacy brands like Proctor & Gamble (which owns Gillette) are statistically becoming less relevant among younger generations of consumers.  If such brands want to sell to younger generations, they need to appeal to the value system that drives their consumption.  And for millennials, that value system can be found in the alignment between meaning and branding

2. Advocacy attracts.  The need for legacy brands to re-fresh their image is because their most profitable market segment (baby boomers) will eventually pass away, literally.  And if they aren’t finding favour with up-and-coming generations, the situation becomes ripe for disruption.  The most successful brands among millennials are making explicit and constant appeals to values that matter to younger consumers (e.g. Starbucks and their stance on ethical sourcing and environmental protection, or The Honest Company’s stance on product transparency and healthy families).

3. Purpose is profitable.  Whole Foods’ higher purpose statement starts with, “With great courage, integrity and love, we embrace our responsibility to co-create a world where each of us, our communities and our planet can flourish.”  There is a discernible purpose to Whole Foods’ existence, and that purpose is profitable.    

What does all of this mean for recruitment companies sourcing personnel for consumer goods businesses?  Here are three important takeaways:

1. Interview candidates for their awareness of what matters to a given placement company’s clients or consumers.  Marketing in retail is increasingly about meaning and experience, not only about product quality and price.

2. Prepare candidates by equipping them with case studies on why values-based marketing is strategically relevant. Their willingness to make public their convictions (as the Gillette team has just done) may prove necessary for positioning a placement company’s brand profitably in the market.

3. Brand your agencies to communicate a values-based approach to recruitment.  Making explicit the purpose of your agency in clear and compelling terms will help attract the kind of clients who share your values.

For opportunities in the consumer goods industry in Hong Kong, please contact me at