Gillette’s We Believe campaign earned its place on the first level of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder where Influential Ideas attract attention and controversy, writes Lucy Aitken.

The first level of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder, a joint WARC/Cannes Lions initiative, focuses on Influential Idea campaigns. These campaigns use creativity to maximise engagement and sharing, resulting in the campaign over-achieving on campaign metrics and media efficiency.

You’ll be familiar with these campaigns: they get widely shared on social media, covered in mainstream media and frequently pulled apart by industry commentators. They often feed into wider issues in culture and society. And they often attract more than their fair share of controversy.

The spark that started a conversation

One example from WARC’s CaseFinder database is Gillette’s controversial We Believe, which changed its long-standing ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ tagline into ‘The Best a Man Can Be’. Launched in January 2019, it elicited an avalanche of likes, dislikes, comments and shares. It was meant to. This was an important evolution for Gillette and an overt puncturing of what the P&G-owned male grooming brand itself described as “toxic masculinity”. At the Cannes Lions Festival in 2019, Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, described it as “the spark that said: ‘We’re going to put a point of view out there and start a conversation.’”

A necessary leap

Using a YouTube film to transform a classic tagline into a provocation around the future of masculinity in the post #metoo era was a big leap. And while Gillette realised that this approach would attract criticism, it was a leap that was needed: the brand was at risk of losing relevance with younger millennials. As a market-leading brand that had stood for ‘the best’ for decades, it spotted an opportunity to lead a conversation around a new ‘best’ for the next generation of men and acted upon it.

Campaigns like this one are often on this first rung of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder because they have recognised the value in taking a stand on a particular issue, even if it will attract some negative sentiment: the Gillette work continues to split opinion to this day.

Defying expectations

In The Effectiveness Code, a report that accompanied the launch of The Creative Effectiveness Ladder, James Hurman, author and marketing effectiveness expert, points out that many campaigns found on this rung of the ladder swim against the tide in terms of how big companies normally act. That’s certainly true of Gillette. No one saw it coming. No one expected it. No one predicted that Gillette would be taking a stand on the very issue to which it had contributed over decades of communications depicting square-jawed, clean shaven men.

Making - and measuring - a statement

One way to unlock Level One of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder are strategies such as capitalising on a major moment, taking the side of the consumer and fighting against injustice. Gillette was aiming to do all three. Hand in hand with that goes a dedication on the part of marketers to track and measure campaign-level metrics such as recall, social shares and earned media value.

According to the case study, the video received 110 million video views across all digital platforms and earned more than 19.5 billion media impressions worldwide. Eighteen months since its release, it has generated more than 34 million views on YouTube and a lot of comments, many of them far from positive.

However, as Pritchard said in Cannes last summer: “Gillette had been about masculinity for 110 years… it was time to make a different statement.”

A starting point

Level One of the Creative Effectiveness Ladder can serve as a powerful starting point for brands to climb higher up the Ladder in terms of effectiveness. The challenge is to go beyond attracting short-term attention or controversy and move the needle in terms of brand and commercial metrics.

Although most of the metrics in the paper are definitely Level One, the Gillette case study hints at more: 65% of viewers were more likely to buy Gillette products and the brand experienced a sales spike: double-digit growth in online sales in January 2019, when the film went live.

“Where we can really discern our greatest impact has been in our e-commerce business,” Pritchard noted. Gillette’s repositioning helped lure customers away from DTC rivals such as Harry’s and Unilever-owned Dollar Shave Club.

Short- and long-term success

While a steely resolve is required to press play on a campaign that will split opinion, marketers can be reassured that it is more likely to reach at least level one on the Creative Effectiveness Ladder. For brands with a well-established heritage, such campaigns will cause ripples – but sometimes that’s what’s required to kickstart a profound shift in brand reputation.

As Pritchard summarised at Cannes 2019: “Gillette is probably the only brand that could have done it because of its long-term credibility. This was the right thing for this brand. It’s about role modelling. It’s about positive behaviour. The message was a good message and it was timely for Gillette.”