Gillette’s retaliation may give Shick razor burn

Takeaway: For years, the makers of men’s razors have focused on improving their products’ engineering specs, namely by adding blades. Shick has finally broken this cycle of one-upmanship by focusing on the needs of their customers, which center around comfort.

However, in making this potentially breakthrough move, Shick has awakened a giant. P&G’s Gillette will be quick to follow with a relaunched Fusion razor aimed to address the same needs as Shick’s product.

Will Shick’s launch provide the company with a first-mover advantage in comfort positioning? Or, will Gillette’s brand recognition, enormous advertising support, and best-in-class distribution system leave Shick all cut up?

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Excerpt from New York Times, “New Razors Place Focus on Comfort, Not Blade Count” by Andrew Adam Newman, April 18, 2010.

When Gillette introduced the first three-bladed razor in the United States in 1998, it struck some as absurd, and “Saturday Night Live” at the time pitched a 14-blade razor in a parody commercial. But blade escalation continued: Rival Schick introduced the four-bladed Quattro in 2003, and Gillette struck back with the five-bladed Fusion in 2005.

Schick is introducing a new razor, the Hydro, however, and this time it is not raising the blade ante. The new razor is available in both five- and three-blade versions, and advertising focuses less on blades than how a moisturizing gadget reduces irritation.

New television commercials show men getting an unexpected splash from a boxing glove or a soccer ball exploding like a water balloon, drenching the player.

“As you continue to add more blades, there are diminishing returns because more and more blades make a bigger cartridge and that makes it hard to shave in all the nooks and crannies on your face,” said a Schick brand manager. “So instead of more blades, we’re providing a more lubricious, smoother, more comfortable shave.”

The razor replaces the moisturizing strip on the razor’s head with a gel reservoir that exudes aloe and vitamin E.

“It’s by far the biggest launch we’ve ever done, our largest capital commitment for R.& D. and marketing, and by far the best technology we’ve ever come up with,” said a company representative.

Schick, which was bought by Energizer in 2003, is dwarfed in the razor category by Gillette, a Procter & Gamble brand. Gillette has 66 percent and Schick has 25 percent of the nondisposable razor segment. In the $781 million replacement cartridge segment, Gillette commands an 83 percent share, compared with 14 percent for Schick.

“In brand marketing, when you do something and it works, you keep doing it until it stops working, and that’s what it felt like was happening when companies went from one to three to five blades,” said marketing professor at New York University. “They added so many blades that they have unwanted effects, like more irritation. It was absurd, frankly, and it got to be a marketing gimmick.”

While razor makers tend to stress technological advances and performance, which can make razors seem more like racecars, the new Schick campaign focuses more on how it treats skin.

Schick says its internal research found that only 30 percent of men shaved five or more times a week. The company is publicizing a poll it commissioned which found, conveniently enough, that men who shave five or more times a week have sex twice as frequently as the stubbly, and that 82 percent of women prefer cleanly shaven men.

Gillette, meanwhile, will introduce a razor in June that, rather than add another blade, similarly promises to make shaving with five blades less irritating. The Fusion ProGlide, as its name makes clear, will not be an entirely new razor, but rather an extension of Fusion, a brand that Procter & Gamble reports grew faster than any other in its history, earning $1 billion within two years of its introduction.

“If you’re going to address comfort, the place to start is not by adding blades but rather to work on the engineering of the blades themselves,” said Stew Taub, associate director of male premium systems at Gillette.

The ProGlide makes seven comfort-related improvements to the Fusion, including using thinner blades with improved friction-reducing coating. The company also will introduce a preshave facial scrub that causes a warming sensation, as well as a postshave cooling lotion under the ProGlide label.

“Consumers vote with their purchases and have overwhelmingly said Fusion is best, and we’ve chosen to take it up a notch,” said a Gillette spokesman.

Mr. Jones said the innovations in the ProGlide had been in development for years. But some industry analysts think Gillette is rushing a comfort-driven product to market to steal Schick’s thunder.

“It looks like a fairly quick and defensive move on Gillette’s part,” a marketing professor at NYU said. “For me the big news is that Schick, after being almost an afterthought in the category for many years, has staked out some smart territory, and is acting like a real brand marketing company.”

Edit by BHC

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