NEW YORK - Procter & Gamble said Wednesday its controversial Gillette ad targeting "toxic masculinity" was resonating with younger consumers and producing solid sales despite criticism from some conservatives and calls for a boycott.
Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller said the company was pleased at the attention surrounding the spot for the struggling shaving brand, which features images of men carousing and cat-calling at women, as well as examples of men reining in bullies and coaching children.
"We've received unprecedented levels of both media coverage and consumer engagement in that campaign," Moeller, said, adding that retail sales of Gillette had been stable since the ad was released January 14, while online sales had continued to grow.
"It's a part of our effort to connect more meaningfully with younger consumer groups. Early results when you look at the age group specifics both externally and internally reflect that we're accomplishing that objective."
The nearly 2-minute ad, the latest by a big brand on a hot-button social issue, comes as the more than 100-year-old product continues to struggle amid meager demand for shaving gear as more men grow beards and online competitors like Harry's contend for market share.
P&G's second-quarter earnings released Tuesday underscored these challenges, with grooming the weak link in otherwise good results that boosted shares.
Sales in P&G's grooming business fell nine percent compared with the year-ago period, by far the worst performance of the company's five divisions.
P&G -- whose brands include Crest toothpaste, Tide detergent and Bounty paper towels -- reported second-quarter profits of $3.2 billion, up 28 percent due to a one-time hit in the year-ago period from US tax reform.
Revenues were flat at $17.4 billion as the company boosted its full-year sales targets.
Shares finished up 4.9 percent at $94.84.
Moeller defended the company's actions to try to boost Gillette, which enacted price cuts in 2017 and new products prior to launching its "Me Too" ad, which went viral and did not require extra spending to be seen.
"As the CFO, I'm very interested in the financial effectiveness of the campaign," Moeller said.
"That campaign was aired once and has generated significant conversation and has generated a huge number of impressions."
The spot, "We Believe: The Best Men Can Be," has been viewed more than 25.2 million times on YouTube, with 693,00 giving it a thumbs-up and 1.2 million giving it a thumbs-down.
The campaign was mocked by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators, with some consumers posting #BoycottGillette hashtag on Twitter and complaining they felt "too masculine" for Gillette and characterizing the spot as "anti-male."
The ad follows an attention-grabbing Nike spot last September featuring the American football player Colin Kaepernick, who has not been able to secure a contract to play on a team following his civil rights activism.
Other big brands have taken stances on gun control and immigration.
The Nike spot also generated plenty of criticism, but was generally seen as a winner by marketing experts because it strengthened the brand's connection to millennials, who prefer brands that are committed to social issues.
Kelly O'Keefe, a professor of brand strategy at Virginia Commonwealth University, praised the intent of the ad but said Gillette could have executed it more effectively.
For example, he said an image of a row of men next to barbecue grills doing nothing in response to bullying by kids, reinforced stereotypes and fed the impression that it was "an indictment of men in general" rather than of bullying.
But O'Keefe predicted the spot would overall be a winner for Gillette.
"This puts them back into a conversation with younger consumers who had started to tune them out or just not take notice of them," O'Keefe said.
"What we are seeing is if you are trying to become a better company, you will become a better brand."