Good morning. David Meyer here, filling in for Alan from Berlin.
When it comes to businesses boldly asserting their values through their marketing, Procter & Gamble’s Gillette just made Nike’s headline-grabbing “Believe in something” Colin Kaepernick ad look coy by comparison.
For the last three decades, Gillette has offered “The Best A Man Can Get.” Now, to mark the switch to its new “The Best Men Can Be” tagline, the shaving-equipment operation has released a lengthy ad that tackles issues around toxic masculinity—bullying, sexual harassment, sexist media, and the boardroom diminishment of women—head-on.
The ad explicitly hails the #MeToo movement as a turning point for men and—through the inclusion of some old Gillette advertising material—it implies that the company’s own messaging hasn’t always been on the right side of history.
“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,” reads a message on Gillette’s website. “From today on, we pledge to actively challenge the stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a man everywhere you see Gillette. In the ads we run, the images we publish to social media, the words we choose, and so much more.”
Predictably, there has been an instant and vocal backlash, particularly from conservative and “alt-right” commentators who see the campaign as a finger-wagging lecture or—to quote Piers Morgan—”virtue-signalling PC guff.”
Most marketing could be described as “virtue signalling”—that’s sort of the point, though it really depends on what the observer sees as virtuous. In the self-care industry’s messaging, self-improvement has always been the goal. Gillette is continuing this tradition while adding another aspirational dimension: help other men be better men, for example by stepping in when friends start to creep on women and when boys start to fight one another. This is a full-on call for societal change.
Whatever one’s view on masculinity and what qualifies as toxic or not, P&G has charged into the current culture wars with—manly metaphor alert—all guns blazing. There’s nothing subtle about this ad: no room for interpretation; no arms-length allegiance. Gillette is making its new moral stance fundamental to its identity, and judging its success in doing so will be a long-term endeavor.
More news below.
Disgraced former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn isn’t getting out of jail anytime soon—Tokyo’s District Court denied his bail application, following the levying of further charges against him last week. Ghosn’s criminal trial may only begin months from now, so he has a lot of uncomfortable waiting ahead of him. Al Jazeera
The Trump administration has hit another roadblock regarding its plans to allow employers to opt out of giving workers health insurance that covers birth control. A federal judge temporarily blocked the rule-change’s implementation yesterday, as it may violate constitutional principles. Various states are suing the administration over the matter. Wall Street Journal
For the last seven years, the Justice Department has opined that only online sports betting is illegal. Now, it’s decided that all online gambling is illegal—that would even include online lottery ticket sales. So look out for lawsuits over the rule change. Bloomberg
Chinese foreign direct investment in the U.S. fell off a cliff last year. We’re talking a mere $4.8 billion, compared with $29 billion in 2017 and $46 billion the year before. This isn’t just about the trade war—it’s also about Beijing trying to get Chinese companies to stop taking on so much debt and to reduce their overseas holdings. CNBC
Around the Water Cooler
Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei has denied claims that his company provides an espionage conduit for the Chinese government. Ren’s daughter, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada last month over alleged sanctions-busting, and Huawei just sacked an employee who was arrested on spying charges in Poland. Ren: “I support the Communist party, but I will never do anything to harm any country in the world.” Financial Times
Germany’s economic growth last year ran to 1.5%, the slowest rate in five years. Its economy actually shrank slightly in Q3 2018—thanks, trade wars—but there isn’t yet enough data to ascertain whether that contraction extended to Q4. Early indications are that it did not; if it did, of course, that would technically signal a recession. BBC
Is Ivanka Trump really being considered as the White House’s nominee for World Bank chief, as was recently reported? No, but she is helping to manage the nomination process “as she’s worked closely with the World Bank’s leadership for the past two years,” said a White House official. Reuters
If last year was the year of the price-pegged cryptocurrency, a.k.a. the “stablecoin,” then what’s going to be big in the cryptocurrency world this year? Fortune‘s Robert Hackett has some predictions, including regulators reeling in a big fish, and Facebook minting a “WhatsApp coin.” Fortune