Gillette – Shifting Archetypal Narrative


By now, you’re likely part of the 25+ million individuals who have seen the new Gillette ad: “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” which redefines who the ‘Gillette Man’ is. It also redefines the lenses in which its consumers see themselves. You don’t need to search long to find a myriad of articles, blogs and other opinion pieces praising or condemning P&G for taking such a bold step in what they represent as a brand to their consumers.

Gillette’s shifting brand focus is an example of how to effectively use and tap into the universal, unconscious archetype. The archetype transcends culture and instantly links a consumer with a brand. What Gillette did was shift its narrative frame around its brand archetype. Even if you don’t think your brand has an archetype you’re curating, consumers see it and expect the brand to deliver on the promise.

As a company, Gillette is resilient to lasting negative feedback. We surveyed 200 respondents across the U.S. and found that even with all the backlash, the Gillette ad was liked by more than half of those who watched it (64% loved or liked it). Even more telling is that only 15% of consumers feel more negatively about the brand overall than they did before. However, there seems to be a shift in potential purchase behavior, with 20% on the fence when it comes to future Gillette purchases and another 26% will look to another brand. This is not likely due to a conscious dislike of the brand; it’s possible that they don’t feel a strong connection. While this won’t spell disaster for Gillette, there is a lot that can be learned about what this means for your brand.

Below, using Gillette as an example, we show important ways to weave culture and the archetypal narrative into your brand successfully.

Cultural Relevance Matters

It appears that some of the negative feedback comes from the fact that Gillette waited too long; their message comes off as being reactive, not proactive. Being on the pulse of what is happening around us culturally means tapping into more than just a talking point–it means keeping brands relevant.

Make a Narrative Connection

Consumers don’t simply buy products – they buy the narrative of what they believe the product to be, along with the associated emotions. They see themselves and make an unconscious connection. This connection often comes through via an archetype. Archetypes work because they are already hardwired into our psyches. The universe has done the work for you already. Psychologist Carl Jung identified 12 archetypes that tap into the collective unconscious and act as a model image and have been used in branding, movies, TVs, mythology and storytelling for years. For Gillette this is Jung’s archetype ‘The Ruler.’

Understand Your Brand’s Archetype

Up until now, Gillette’s archetype (The Ruler) has danced around what it means to be male within a cultural context. But with this latest ad they have boldly associated themselves with a more explicit definition of other facets of their archetype.

Let the Archetype Evolve

The Ruler archetype can easily fall to either of its endpoints: The Tyrant or The Weakling. With their new brand evolution, Gillette wants to be more centered. This means: Leading by example, protection, order and inspiring creativity and creative aspects in others. Essentially, the archetype is now asking men to start seeing the impact they have on others and act accordingly. In other words: ‘be the good ruler.’

Link the Archetype to Cultural Narrative

This co-mingled shifting of how consumers view brands comes directly from shifts in the cultural narrative on masculinity and an archetype that stays relevant for today. The reaction to the revisioning of ‘Gillette Man’ shows just how powerful archetypes can be, and how important it is to be finely attuned to them. The lesson here is, if you want to build true empathy with someone, there is no better way to feel what they feel – short of being them – than knowing their archetype.

We love to talk about cultural framing, how it’s uncovered, and what it means for our clients’ products, service design, and communication strategies! To learn more, please contact us.


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