Hold the phone friends, Gillette just dropped a new ad campaign that’s making waves! If you’ve been following the #metoomovement in the United States, you’ll know that sexual assault and violence has come to the forefront of our cultural conversation. Gillette’s response, its stand against toxic masculinity and the strategy to leverage a social cause in their storytelling, is a near perfect example of brand activism in action.

I’m breaking down what worked (and a few tips to implement activism in your brand storytelling) today.

Gillette brand activism

Gillette takes on #toxicmasculinity in the wake of the #metoomovement

For the past few years there’s been a flood of stories of high-ranking officials, doctors, executives and celebrities being held accountable for their actions related to sexual assault and abuse toward their victims.

In what is now a monumental shift in American culture, the #metoomovement allowed tens of thousands of women (and men) to finally bring voice to the horrendous sexual violation they have encountered or still encounter today.

The #metoomovement was a wakeup call for many – both for those wielding irresponsible power and the silenced victims – signaling a change of times.

In the wake of this movement, toxic masculinity has become the primary focus of the behavior associated with the perpetrators.

So what’s this got to do with Gillette?

In the aftermath of trials and accusations, Gillette’s chosen to take a stand.

I talk about this quite a bit in my business. The idea is simple: by standing for something, you stand out.

With markets going global and competition becoming more fierce, the latest strategy in the Marketing Wars is to find a social cause and become an activist.

Wait, What Exactly is Brand Activism?

Brand activism is when a company seeks to have an impact on a social, economic, environmental, or political problem.

In business for over 115 years, Gillette is a leader in shaving and personal hygiene products for men. Positioned as the go-to man’s man brand, Gillette was a market leader until month-to-month subscription boxes catering to beard enthusiasts took center stage.

With declining sales and outdated positioning, Gillette took a calculated risk. (for more on the crisis caused by beards see this & this)

“It’s time we acknowledge that brands, like ours, play a role in influencing culture. And as a company that encourages men to be their best, we have a responsibility to make sure we are promoting positive, attainable, inclusive and healthy versions of what it means to be a man. With that in mind, we have spent the last few months taking a hard look at our past and coming communication and reflecting on the types of men and behaviors we want to celebrate. We’re inviting all men along this journey with us – to strive to be better, to make us better, and to help each other be better.”


Additionally, Gillette vows to donate $1M for the next three years to non-profit organizations dedicated to helping men of all ages be their best.

According to early analytics, their ad is already paying off:

  • Gillette has 1.5 million social media mentions since 1/14 compared to less than 10,000 for the same period last week
  • 1.1 million of these mentions happened in the last 24 hours
  • The hashtag #TheBestMenCanBe was used 187,400 times over that same period
  • On Twitter, the brand’s original tweet has been shared over 167,000 times
  • The video within the post has been viewed 19.7 million times
  • Gillette’s YouTube video of the ad has been viewed 1.3 million times with 104,000 interactions

Nike Example: The Cost of Brand Activism & the ROI Gamble

One of the greatest marketing campaigns of 2018 was Kaepernick for Nike. While the backlash was substantial, the returns clearly indicated a home run.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.”


Estimates place Nike’s financial ROI at $6 billion with a 31% increase in sales on the weekend the ad debuted (source). While some called for a complete boycott, most agree that Nike’s gamble paid off.

The cost of brand activism might be backlash from the far right (or left) but the potential return on investment often outweighs the risks.

See also Ben & Jerry’s use of brand activism here, here and here.

Brand Activism + Your Brand Story: Tips for Success and What to Avoid

If you’re inspired by Nike, Gillette or Patagonia (read about their massive donation here) then perhaps it’s time to bring activism into your brand story.

But how?

Whether it’s standing up against big pharma, Monsanto or even an outdated viewpoint, adding activism helps you stand out, get seen and attract like-minded individuals to your business.

3 Ways to Succeed as a Brand Activist


Consumers are savvier than ever and can smell foul-play from a mile away. Avoid coming off fake by aligning with a cause or campaign that truly matters to you. Your passion and enthusiasm will naturally translate and your customers (or clients) will come to trust what you have to say on the subject. You’ll also attract individuals who also care about the topic and repel people who don’t (remember, that’s a good thing!).


Blog posts, Instagram Lives or donating a portion of your profit on each purchase are all ways you can include brand activism in your business or marketing plan. Talk about what fires you up with your customers, set up a booth at a local charity even or become a sponsor for one of the many campaigns needing donations throughout the year. Make the cause a leading advantage of your brand positioning and you’ll quickly move away from the overcrowded pack.


If you want to save the planet, you’ll reduce the amount of paper you print at work. A small carbon footprint will be a priority for you. If equal rights are your jam then you’ll want to make sure you include an inclusivity clause somewhere on your website or hiring pages. Your brand values must align with the cause you choose to campaign for….and you must live those values every single day.

The #1 Way to Fail as a Brand Activist

Once you align with a cause, stick to it.

No backtracking or wishy-washy commitment. Either you’re all in or not.

Which means if you face backlash from clients or even family for blending your work and activism, you’ll need a plan to stick to it. It might not be easy but it can definitely be worth it.

The #1 issue I see and hear is fear of the scrutiny associated with standing up for something.

Listen, being called out for something or having someone disagree with you is not exactly fun (especially in an era where anonymous online bashing is all-too common) but why let that hold you back?

If you’re truly passionate about something and you want your business to be inline with those values, by all means go for it!

You’ll only gain more like-minded customers who think and believe like you, which not only makes being in business a whole lot easier but fun too.

Does your brand stand for something? Tell me what it is in the comments below!


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