The director behind Gillette’s controversial new ad is a woman whose past work includes an ode to female genitals and a short film that explores ‘toxic masculinity’ featuring a protagonist whose life crumbles when he becomes addicted to steroids.
The Gillette ad, called ‘We Believe: The Best Men Can Be’, takes aim at bullying and sexual harassment and has been viewed more than four million times on YouTube around the world, although it is only being shown fully in the U.S.
But while it has amassed 85,000 likes, it has also racked up 347,000 dislikes with some of the 98,657 comments below accusing it of being ‘anti-male and anti-white’ and of ‘spreading pure propaganda and indoctrination.’
Kim Gehrig, the director of the new ad, is an Australian mother-of-two who lives in London, England, and has a lengthy history of taking aim at social ills through her work.
Gehrig, who has also produced ads for Uber and Gap, is on the roster of creative agency Somesuch – an LA-based firm, whose founder Sally Campbell has been outspoken about championing women and has called out President Trump on Twitter.
Creators: Director Kim Gehrig (left) is the person behind Gillette’s controversial ad, which was produced by Sally Campbell’s Somesuch production company. Both have a portfolio showing their social acitivism
Brand toxic? Gillette’s high-profile and controversial ad has been accused by critics of being demeaning to men. One scene features a mom comforting her son after he was bullied
Uncovered: Kim Gehrig also produced a 2017 commercial for Australian lingerie brand Berlei, featured a diverse selection of women ripping off their uncomfortable and ill-fitting bras
Message: Director Kim Gehrig’s add for Australian lingerie brand Berlei, which was made to promote a new bra range called Womankind, described breasts as being ‘lumped together, forced apart, poked, pressured, pushed, oppressed, restricted, exposed’ before ending with the line: ‘No more. It’s time to be kind.’
Somesuch produced the ad for Grey, a part of the advertising giant WPP.
It was first shown at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month in a presentation fronted by Marc Pritchard, the chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble, Gillette’s parent company – a display of how keen the multinational is on the new campaign.
The commission for Gehrig was itself consciously social activism on the part of P&G, who found her through Free the Bid, a non-profit which tries to raise the profile of female and non-white advertising directors.
Somesuch’s portfolio shows that it shares Gehrig’s socially active approach, with notable campaigns that include Audi’s feminist 2017 Super Bowl commercial and an ad for feminine hygiene brand Libresse – which is sold as Bodyform in the UK – that offered a no-holds barred look at menstruation – including shots of blood and period sex.
Gillette has said it stands by the new campaign, which was informed by a survey in which it asked people across the U.S. what a man ‘at his best’ looks like.
According to the study, the most positive traits were honesty, moral integrity, being hard-working and being respectful to others.
The survey appears to have proved informative for Gehrig, whose film shows men stepping in to stop others harassing women on the street and breaking up fights.
‘We’re in a moment where these conversations about male behavior are becoming incredibly polarizing and they’re met with all kinds of outrage,’ Rachel Giese, the Toronto-based author of Boys: What It Means To Become A Man, told DailyMail.com.
‘Even the most reasonable conversations are met with a great deal of fear and backlash and outrage. So I’m not surprised [about the backlash] because of that.
‘What I think is surprising is that the content of the ad shows all kinds of men behaving in lovely ways so if I’m surprised by anything, it’s the very different readings of the ad that I have and the people that object to the ad have.’
While the film appears to have come as a shock to many men in the U.S. and elsewhere, Gehrig’s portfolio shows that for the director herself, the Gillette campaign is creative business as usual.
Born in Sydney, Australia, Gehrig has lived in London, England, for more than 16 years – beginning with a stint at art school, Central Saint Martins.
On graduation, she secured a role at ad agency Mother where she began as an art director and worked her way through a variety of commercial and creative projects before becoming a director.
Speaking to marketing business magazine Campaign in 2017, Gehrig described working at the firm as ‘so wonderful and inclusive and open’.
She added: ‘We got on without any shackles and didn’t think about what we couldn’t do.’
Gehrig’s first stab at directing came with a commercial for Amnesty International – a charity that campaigns against human rights abuses.
Outspoken: Kim Gehrig, the director of the Gillette ad, has previously been praised for ‘Viva La Vulva’, a commercial for feminine hygiene brand Libresse to the tune of hit Take Yo’ Praise
Comparison: Kim Gehrig’s campaign for feminine hygiene brand Libresse – known in the UK as Bodyform – was an ode to the genitals and featured objects resembling vulvas, including conch shells and oysters, singing along to Camille Yarbrough’s Take Yo’ Praise.
Since then, she has gone on to make films for companies and organizations as diverse as Uber, Honda, Gap, Libresse and IKEA internationally.
In the UK she has worked for Sport England and Eurostar.
Her Uber ad features a confident woman on an apparent date – with a man who cannot dance.
Many have socially conscious themes: her second campaign for Sport England was set to a poem penned by feminist writer Maya Angelou and took aim at negative body image, featuring the strap line: ‘I jiggle, therefore I am’.
Another film, produced in 2017 for Australian lingerie brand Berlei, featured a diverse selection of women ripping off their uncomfortable and ill-fitting bras.
The commercial, which was made to promote a new bra range called Womankind, described breasts as being ‘lumped together, forced apart, poked, pressured, pushed, oppressed, restricted, exposed’ before ending with the line: ‘No more. It’s time to be kind.’
Speaking to Muse after the ad won a Clio – an Australian award handed out for creativity – Gehrig said the film was ‘about women finally doing what is right for them and their bodies’ and not accepting ‘the male gaze’.
She added: ‘Not just accepting what has gone before, often for the male gaze, but thinking about what is right for them now. It is about being kind to their bodies, particularly their boobs.
‘Treating them with respect rather than shoving them into positions that are unnatural. It is about comfort as well as beauty. It is about women doing it their way.’
A 2015 ad for British department store John Lewis tackled the topic of loneliness among older people with its Man On The Moon theme, and became a huge popular success.
Anti-Trump: Somesuch founder Sally Campbell has made clear her views of Donald Trump on her social media feed and highlighted taking part in an anti-Trump rally at the ultra-elitist Sundance Film Festival last year
Political views: Sally Campbell tweeted her pride in voting for the left-of-center Labour Party in the last UK general election and highlighted her vote for Diane Abbott as MP
And a recent campaign for international feminine hygiene brand Libresse – known in the UK as Bodyform – was an ode to the vagina and featured objects resembling vulvas, including conch shells and oysters, singing along to Camille Yarbrough’s Take Yo’ Praise.
Along with commercials, Gehrig has worked on a number of music videos, including Calvin Harris’ ‘The Girls’ and a short film called ‘You Think You’re A Man’ that explores manhood.
The film was named after a 1980s song by Divine that was written by a drag queen and intended as an explicit attack on toxic masculinity but later became popular as a drinking song.
According to Gehrig, the 2018 film was intended to challenge the increasingly tough self-image of Australian men and features a protagonist whose life crumbles when he becomes addicted to steroids.
Speaking to Clash, she said: ‘Having grown up in Sydney, but residing in London, I couldn’t help but notice the changing size of men on each of my visits back.
‘Hanging at the beach I became aware of how pumped up Aussie men had become. I continued to observe a culture of young men who seemed to feel a kind of pressure to conform somehow. To be something quite specific.
‘Was it that they felt they needed to be ‘real men’. ‘Real Aussie men’. And what did that even mean?’
Message: In ‘You Think You’re A Man’, a young Australian boy is bullied, and turns to steroid-fueled bodybuilding with disastrous effect
Social critique: Kim Gehrig said of her short movie, You Think You’re A Man: ‘Hanging at the beach I became aware of how pumped up Aussie men had become. Was it that they felt they needed to be ‘real men’. ‘Real Aussie men’. And what did that even mean?’
Pumped up: The man in You Think You’re A Man by Kim Gehrig becomes an increasingly muscular and increasingly toxic example of Australian manhood with a violent finale
Despite her early success, Gehrig has long complained about the challenges of working in a male-dominated industry – even saying in a 2015 interview that having a unisex name had proved beneficial because clients agreed to meet her thinking she was a man.
She has also been outspoken on the challenges of being a mother in the advertising world and is an ambassador for Free The Bid – a campaign that aims to ‘give a voice to women filmmakers in advertising and TV’ and boost diversity.
Commenting on the campaign website, she said: ‘I feel a personal responsibility to help other women achieve their ambitions.
‘If that’s just by being visible, amazing, if it’s getting involved and mentoring or championing others work then I’m more than up for it.’
One woman who would certainly agree is her boss Campbell: a Briton who founded the Somesuch creative agency in 2007 and now lives in Los Angeles with her husband Tim Nash.
Like Gehrig, Campbell has made a point of championing female directors and told Ad Age in a February 2018 interview that her company operates by the mantra ‘We give a f***’.
She added: ‘Somesuch gives a f*** about ideas. It gives a f*** about craft. And in an industry notoriously known for giving male talent the choice opportunities, it continues to give a huge f*** that all its directors get a fair shot at doing a standout piece of work.’
Clients include Uniqlo, Gucci, AT&T, Amazon Prime and Audi – the latter commissioning its 2017 Super Bowl commercial from the company.
Motivational: In This Girl Can, Kim Gehrig encouraged women to exercise regardless of body shape or social background in a campaign for Sport England
Critics: The Gillette campaign has sparked a backlash with calls for a boycott because it is critical of men
Goingwokenotgoingbroke: Gillette parent company Procter & Gamble saw its share price increase Tuesday
In keeping with Campbell’s feminist ethos, the film was shot by a woman – Belfast-based director Aoife McArdle – and featured a father debating whether to tell his daughter about the challenges she will face as a woman in business, before trumpeting the car firm’s commitment to equal pay for equal work.
More controversial was another campaign for Libresse – this time directed by a man, Daniel Wolfe – called #BloodNormal that took a closer look at menstruation and included scenes showing menstrual blood and period sex.
According to Campbell, creative integrity is key – as is championing female talent, although not to the exclusion of men.
Speaking in the same interview, she added: ‘We had Kim and Aoife from pretty much the beginning and it’s very important to have a diverse roster, but also, we would never sign anyone purely based on gender, race or class.’
The Briton has also made a habit of airing her views on social media, taking aim at a British cable channel for including a close-up of Jennifer Lawrence’s cleavage during an interview in February 2018 and taking part in a women’s rally at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
She later posted a video of the rally on her Twitter account and fired off a tweet at President Trump that read: ‘61% of your country thinks you couldn’t organize a p*** up in a brewery, on this anniversary you’re on shut down, go back to reality TV.’
Despite her avowedly feminist ethos, Campbell’s company has not shied away from taking work from potentially controversial clients, among them Nike China – which is based in a country known for human rights abuses and inequality.
Nevertheless, Campbell says Somesuch will continue to champion inclusion and social causes through its work – recently producing a music video for feminist Chicago rapper Noname for a song called Blaxploitation.
Gehrig, meanwhile, continues to exhort other female directors not ‘to be spooked by the boys’ and power ahead in the ad industry.
She told Campaign: ‘There’s a large percentage of men in filmmaking, and it can be intimidating, particularly when you go on set for the first time to shoot.
‘Like my first experience, there were a bunch of men around seeing my demise, and you think, ‘God, how embarrassing, it’s raining and I don’t know how to save this.’
She added: ‘Stick to your vision. Don’t be intimidated and don’t let anyone spook you.’
Frame by frame, how boorish men are show the error of their ways
Three boys watching music video of women in bikinis in a controversial new Gillette Ad
‘We can’t laugh it off . . .’ That’s how a sombre voiceover intones the #MeToo message, as three youths watch a fictionalised Sixties-style U.S. sitcom, where a man makes a groping gesture towards the family maid.
The advert also features a man explaining what a woman in a meeting was trying to say
‘What I actually think she’s trying to say . . .’ A female executive sits in silent humiliation while the alpha male boss of the board — with his hand resting patronisingly on her shoulder — ‘explains’ her idea for his male colleagues.
‘It’s been going on for far too long,’ tuts the sonorous voiceover.
These men are repeating ‘boys will be boys’ as two youngsters fight on the grass
‘Boys will be boys . . .’ The air is thick with charcoal smoke, the smell of burgers and testosterone as a line of men watch two boys scrap.
But later, when the mood of the ad changes, an enlightened male breaks up the fight, saying: ‘This is not how we treat each other.’
One man then stops another from catcalling a woman as she walks past on the street
‘Bro, not cool. Not cool . . .’ The right-on message continues as a leering man outside a cafe prepares to move in on a woman passer-by, presumably to sexually harass her.
His friend restrains him, as the voiceover says: ‘Men need to hold other men accountable.’
Oddly, given that it’s a Gillette ad, neither of them has shaved.
A man confronts another who tells a girl in a bikini to ‘smile sweetie’ within the advert
‘Smile, sweetie . . .’ A poolside party is disrupted by lecherous louts, one holding a camcorder, who hassle two girls in bikinis.
Enter stage right a ‘woke’ male, who admonishes them by saying: ‘Come on!’ The voiceover rams home the message about masculine frightfulness: ‘The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.’