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Going “woke” is bad for business – hopefully

There has been something of a trend, it seems, of big firms adopting “woke” or politically correct agendas (here is a definition of “woke” for the befuddled) in recent months and years. The latest example is that of razor and men’s grooming products business Gillette, part of consumer giant Proctor & Gamble. Here is the advert and a discussion around it by the Wall Street Journal. Here is another version of the advertisement.

So what’s going on here? In my view, this is an attempt by a firm that is keen to stem outflow of market share to rivals, and which also fears a reduced demand for its products at a time when a lot of men seem to want to grow beards these days (although they still will want to trim them and keep them neat, etc). The firm’s top brass have concluded that in the current culture, where masculinity is considered to be “toxic”, and probably a contributor of right wing views, global warming and competitive team sports, that a change of tack is required. Make men buy something by worrying about their primal urges! Get into the good books of the chattering classes and the distributors of ad. industry campaign awards!

The problem here is that this illustrates the disconnect that there now is between that segment of the chattering classes that is influenced by leftist ideas and the rest of the population. The CEOs of modern firms may not all tack in this direction, but they have become convinced, or been convinced, that going “woke” is smart for business. Also, the kind of folk most likely to rub up against CEOs are the consultants and advertisement gurus who imbibed such modish ideas in colleges and unversities.

We see this kind of agenda at work in the wealth management industry, where firms are keen to stress how much of what they do is to promote environmental, social and governance-linked investment, never mind actually making money for clients and owners. Entrepreneurs are as celebrated as much for giving their wealth away as for the grubby process of, you know, making it in the first place. (One of my least-favourite expressions used by business folk of a certain type is how they want to “give back” to the “community” – this implies that they “took” something initially that wasn’t fully theirs.)

Clearly, a lot of this may be incubated in Western universities, and you have to wonder what sort of business decisions will be made by the kind of “coddled” youngsters now going through universities. I have been reading the Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and what alarms me, as it should anyone, is what sort of future businessmen and women we will get if they are drawn from the sort of ranks these academics describe. What will be their desire to take risk, to invest wisely, to cater to genuine client needs? How susceptible will they be to political fads entering the boardroom and factory floor?

In the end, as some classical liberals say, the ultimate arbiter of all this is profit/loss. If Gillette’s market share rises after these ads, maybe the management will say “there, I told you so” and move on. I have made my own tiny vote on this by ensuring I buy from rivals such as Wilkinson’s Sword instead. Possibly, so will others of us “toxic males”.

31 comments to Going “woke” is bad for business – hopefully

  • terence patrick hewett

    This is just a symptom of Gillette pricing themselves out of the market – there are now a number of 3 and 6 blade razors available as good as Gillette’s models at a fraction of the cost of Gillette.

  • Stephen K

    I’m using up my remaining Gilette’s, then switching. It’s a trifling response, but then they’re trifling with us.

  • Itellyounothing

    I have money and need to shave. They have razors and like money.

    At no time does a faceless moral free multinational get a free opportunity to offer judgement on me.

    Fuck em, I’ll happily buy from a competitor.

    Can you imagine the complaints if you gender flipped this advert.

    A woman is smugly contrasted with different woman moaning about her period and go to work because she bought a Cherokee hair tampon……

    Hope they go bust.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    “Can you imagine the complaints if you gender flipped this advert.”

    Yes, I can. And the bad apart about this is that if you are a male, you are supposed just to “take it” from people who think that males, certainly who are “manly” in various ways, have had it coming.

    Of course some will just roll their eyes and say life’s too short to worry about some supercilious advert, but this is how political ideas spread: from the culture. Ask yourselves who gains from a culture that regards male aggression and competitiveness, even when channeled constructively, as potentially harmful? Who benefits if men are less stoical, disciplined and physically/mentally robust? Answer: totalitarian-minded folk who want a docile, passive population.

  • Brian Micklethwait (London)


    Strongly agree with you about that “give back” stuff.

    Also, I agree that this is a business decision, based on a (probably mistaken) guess at the state of public opinion and about where public opinion is going, rather than pure, so to speak, politics overriding all business considerations.

  • bobby b

    I think it’s overblown.

    Gillette’s marketing campaign hasn’t changed. Same ads, same packaging, same themes. I’m guessing someone decided to impress a specific slice of the market by funding/sponsoring/hiring a very targeted message, took in submissions from independents, and chose this one. They put it out as an outlier special ad investment.

    If their share rises in response, we’ll see more of these from all over. If their share takes a hit, then not so much.

    It’s just as likely that these decisions were made by a conservative as a progressive. If it’ll bring in more customers . . .

  • George Atkisson

    Yeah. Tossed all my Gillette and Proctor & Gamble products. There are alternatives. They don’t want my business. Done.

  • Stonyground

    Presumably sales of Gillette products are now going to be a useful barometer of how screwed we are. If their sales take a hit there is still hope. If their sales go up due to all the publicity that would suggest that lots of men are suitably chastened and will buy from Gillette to make amends.

    In order to do my bit I’ve just bought a new razor from Harry’s. I ordered it on Sunday evening and it arrived on Tuesday. I’ve tried it and it is very good.

  • Martib

    I already use Hydro 5 Wilkinson Blafes already. By sheer luck, I have to admit. But the only way Gilette could convince me to buy their product now, would be if they could make Wilkinson do something even stupider. Which is sorta unlikely…

  • pete

    I can’t see a problem with a firm playing the social responsibility card if it convinces more people to part with their money.

    It’s a cynical ploy but advertising is a cynical business.

  • In Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”, the publisher of a newspaper (urged by his friendship with the hero, and even more by his wife who is a fictionalised Ayn Rand) tries to use his paper to defeat an activism-101 hit narrative on the hero. To his astonishment, he slowly learns that a highly-placed subordinate, who is also a socialist activist, has exploited his many years of influence on hiring other senior staffers to so much effect that – after putting up quite a fight (and helped by the fact that it was easier to fire subordinates in 1943, when the book was written, than today) – the man nominally in charge is nevertheless compelled to yield, and to resume letting ‘his’ paper push the fake-news narrative.

    These days, chance’d be a fine thing as regards many newspapers, but I suspect an attempt by a senior person at Gillette to fight back – supposing, just for argument, anyone still there wanted to – would encounter similar phenomena. One important difference is that “Get woke, Go broke” (an advantage which Rand’s fictional scenario withholds from the side of right) may matter here.

  • Mr Ed

    On the razor front, I decided some years ago to move away from high-margin disposable razors and went for a German-made ‘permanent’ razor, c. £55 in Bond Street, and packs of 10 disposable blades, and I save around £100 a year by so doing. I am thinking of getting the young male adults in the family to do the same, having pointed out the potential savings over a life time. I certainly won’t go back.

    And the other ‘scam’ is shaving foam, it’s totally unnecessary, a tip I got from Lewrockwell.com of all places. Just use fairly hot water with a drop of bleach left in it to improve infection control.

    And generally, I avoid any hectoring, political companies as best I can. And these multi-product companies are not really interested in making things, but (quite sensibly given human behaviour) exploiting brand loyalty to charge as high a margin as they can get away with, with you paying for the adverts that make you want to buy the adverts. There’s an obvious way to cut through that.

  • Snorri Godhi

    WRT the specific issue of Gillette: i have not shaved for about a decade, and therefore am more indifferent to this issue than women who shave their legs+armpits. Instead, i use a trimmer with the guard off, about twice a week. My current trimmer is a Philips, if you need to know.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Aside from Gillette, this post is connected to the question raised by Paul Marks a few days ago:

    Why do [capitalist corporations] want to EXTERMINATE CAPITALISM?

    I did not answer Paul’s counter-reply to my reply, because i felt that it was orthogonal to the issues that i raised in my reply; but i take this opportunity to stress that capitalist corporations tend to act in such ways as to increase
    **the coercive power of the ruling class**
    as opposed to their earning power.

    Paul Marks is quite correct in saying that it would be rational for a capitalist corporation to act in such a way as to increase its earning power — but, for whatever reason, corporations do not act in their corporate interest: they act in the interest of the ruling class as a whole.

  • Stonyground

    Having read quite a bit of commentary on the subject of this ad I finally got around to watching it and I have to say that it is pretty insulting. I can’t see how insulting your customers in this way is going to improve your sales. I am now quite fascinated to see what happens. Actually, on reflection, it won’t surprise me that much if the ad is a success, people aren’t too rational generally.

  • Get woke, Go broke

    Sounds like the disease is its own cure.

  • former user

    I have used Gillette shaving products since I was a teenager.
    Never again.

  • Flubber

    Well it makes it easier to replace you doesn’t it?

  • What worries me is how small the hit is that these companies take when they go woke.

  • Eric

    Having read quite a bit of commentary on the subject of this ad I finally got around to watching it and I have to say that it is pretty insulting. I can’t see how insulting your customers in this way is going to improve your sales.

    Are you sure you’ve correctly identified their customers? In the US, at least, women spend 80% of household budgets. Somewhere in P&G there’s a spreadsheet from marketing which estimates the number of men who’ll get insulted and leave the brand, and the number of women who’ll start buying Gillette products as a result of the ad. They’ve estimated the first number is smaller than the second, and if I had to put down my own money on the prospect I’d say they were right.

    Women have a much stronger in-group preference than men, and P&G thinks it’s found a way to exploit that preference to drive sales. This isn’t so much about a company going “woke” as it is a company cynically exploiting the current social landscape.

  • Agammamon

    In the end, as some classical liberals say, the ultimate arbiter of all this is profit/loss. If Gillette’s market share rises after these ads,

    As I like to say, if they lose money on men’s products because of the backlash from calling out ‘toxic masculinity’ they can always count on the income from their pink lady razors – the margin on those is pretty decent I hear.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Quoth Johnathan:

    “(One of my least-favourite expressions used by business folk of a certain type is how they want to “give back” to the “community” – this implies that they “took” something initially that wasn’t fully theirs.)”

    Bless you, Johnathan! I said all along you was one of the good guys!

    😀 😀 😀

    P.S. And bright besides. :>))

  • bobby b

    “Give back” ranks right up there with politicians “serving.”

  • Stonyground

    Eric January 24, 2019 at 1:38 am

    I think that you might be doing the women a disservice here, just because they are women doesn’t necessarily mean that they buy into this stuff. The reality is that some men are dicks but the vast majority of us are not. The implication of the ad is that the non dicks are a tiny minority that are encouraging the rest to change their vile dickish ways. I don’t think that you have to be male to see the distinction.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I sort of saw two UTs of the Gillette campaign. Really, I couldn’t bear to watch more than brief glimpses of either. Gillette got along without me, somehow, all this time, and they’re gonna have to continue to get along without me now.

    On the whole, I think the Great Frog gave men to us women as a rather bounteous consolation prize for being stuck in this mortal condition. A great good deed, for which I and lots of girls I’ve known am exceedingly grateful. Almost makes living worth the effort. :>)))


    One thing I do really detest is the male fashion, which should have been buried alive 25 years or so ago, for the Three-Day Stubble look. It’s unattractive as the devil, and whenever I see it my reflexive response is always to moan, piteously, heartrendingly, Get a shave!

    It calls to mind not the I-can-handle-anything strong male cowboy, but rather the guy in the beer-stained wife-beater undershirt who hasn’t shaved in three days and probably hasn’t bathed in three months.

    Since I’ve only seen photos of about five of the gents who frequent these quarters, and who have all been clean-shaven, I trust no one will be offended or hurt by my giving my unvarnished opinion. After all, I know you all have been breathlessly awaiting it. ;>))

  • Stonyground

    I will endeavour to change my vile dickish ways and to shave a little more regularly Julie. To be honest, when I grow stubble I’m not going for a look exactly, it’s just that shaving is a bit of a chore and sometimes I’m just too lazy to be bothered. Still, now I’ve got my new Harry’s shaving kit I might feel a bit more motivated.

  • Paul Marks

    Good post J.P.

    And, in the end, whether these “woke” films, television shows and advertising campaigns (even for razors now) LOSE MONEY will indeed be the test.

    Are the general public as brainwashed (as “educated”) as the elite? The political and BUSINESS elite.

    If the answer is “no” – then EVENTUALLY the “wokeness” will stop, because business enterprises that go down this road (and insist on continuing on it) will go bust.

    But if the answer is “YES” – that the general population is just as brainwashed (via schools and universities) with Frankfurt School of Marxism ideas as the elite (including the BUSINESS elite – they go to schools and universities to, indeed they tend to be the “best students” absorbing the collectivist ideas like sponges) then these “woke” films, television shows and advertising campaigns will be a success.

    If that turns out to be true the only logical alternative left is suicide (and, no, I am not using a figure of speech) – we should know by the end of the year.

    Let us hope the saying “Go Woke and Go Broke” will prove to be the truth – it is a empirical matter.

  • Albion's Blue Front Door

    Gillette advertise as “the best a man can get.”

    Surely that should be “the best a person can get” to avoid being sexist? I bet there are bearded ladypersons who need a good shave, too!

  • Lord T

    The problem really is that these people don’t speak to their real customers. Some snowflake thinks this is good passes it around his pals, most who don’t buy the product, and they say ‘This is Great. Makes me want to buy Company X’. They will get a few dissenters from the builder across the road but phtt they expect there are a few dinosaurs but look at my manly mates as they sip carrot juice environmentally sourced and guaranteed PFT free.

    This is what happened with Brexit, Trump and several film financers and until the financers of these *cough* men recognise that they are being advised by people in the minority and with an agenda then this will continue. Let them bankrupt themselves and let the snowflakes get real jobs. Maybe even manly jobs Whooooo.

  • JohnK

    And the other ‘scam’ is shaving foam, it’s totally unnecessary, a tip I got from Lewrockwell.com of all places. Just use fairly hot water with a drop of bleach left in it to improve infection control.

    Mr Ed:

    Shaving with hot water and bleach? Clearly, you are a man amongst men. I salute you.

    Personally, I am quite happy with my Palmolive shaving cream, just like my father used to use. However, I do notice now that it says “For Men” on the tube. I am shocked. How long can that last?

    Luckily, I have a good stock of Wilkinson Sword FX Diamond blades, so I won’t have need of Gillette products anytime soon. Sadly, these blades are hard to find now, despite being excellent, because they are so old fashioned that they only have dual blades, and four or five is now de rigueur. As Kingsley Amis so rightly said, “more will mean worse”.

  • Stonyground

    I’ve been to Asda today. Gillette’s entire range of shaving products is marked down.