U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Christopher Callaway

Gillette is the latest corporation to capitalize on the culture wars

On Monday, shaving company Gillette released a new ad in which the corporation called out men for a variety of bad behavior, from bullying to sexism. The campaign—dubbed the “the best men can be,” a riff on their longtime slogan “the best a man can get”—immediately drew a strong, polarized reaction, with some praising the message that men should do better and others calling it an attack on traditional masculinity.

Oceans of digital ink have already been spilt analyzing the merits of the message and the character of those who objected to it. Taken in sum, all of this content has only reinforced existing political positions; right wing morons tossed their razors in the toilet and left wing libtards continued their assault on men.

As a result, a sensitive, nuanced cultural issue was reduced to political ashes almost instantaneously, a stack of newspapers tossed into the already raging fire of the culture wars. Therein lies the root cause of what makes this campaign so objectionable.

Pardon my cynicism, but I am highly skeptical that Gillette sincerely cares about this (or any other) social issue. If they did, they might consider removing their name from a gladiatorial arena of toxic masculinity, or the asses of models.

Instead, what Gillette cares about is being PERCEIVED as caring about issues, a fact they transparently admitted when launching this campaign.

“Successful brands today have to be relevant and engage consumers in topics that matter to them,” a Gillette spokesperson told NPR, adding that brand-building “means taking a stand on important societal issues.”

Sit with that for a moment, especially if you agreed with the message of the ad. Like Nike—which has seen a surge in North American revenue since the release of their Colin Kaepernick campaign—Procter & Gamble, Gillette’s parent corporation, is intentionally inserting itself into the middle of a contentious social issue for the sake of brand-building.

This tweet sums it up nicely:

The reason these brands are willing to alienate a large percentage of their consumer base over a tangental political issue isn’t because they’re morally courageous, it’s because brand awareness in the form of “trending topic” has become the most valuable currency on social media. And it IS currency: According to a report on Forbes, “Nike received more than $43 million worth of media exposure, the vast majority of it neutral to positive,” in the 24 hours after the launch of the Kaepernick campaign.

Gillette has seen a similar boost in exposure. Marketing Dive says that the brand “has racked up more than 1.5 million mentions across blogs, forums, news sites and social media” since the spot debuted, including 1.1 million mentions within the first 24 hours, “a 214.9% increase in mentions for the brand compared to the previous 24-hour period.” Setting aside your own feelings about the content of the ad, it has been a success by any measure.

That’s bad news for those of us hoping for solutions to the real problems in America.

The #MeToo movement has raised valuable and vital questions in regard to gender relations, just as the Black Lives Matter protests have shined a light on serious issues facing black Americans. It is precisely because of this that we should be wary of large corporations attaching themselves to these causes, or worse yet, steering the conversation.

When protest becomes just another commodity for corporate exploitation, what’s left of the movement?