It’s a $270-million cutthroat battle: Can anyone catch category leader Gillette?

The razor giants are squaring off in an increasingly cutthroat war - a growing battle for Canada's whiskers valued at $270 million. The question is: can Gillette maintain its edge?

The razor giants are squaring off in an increasingly cutthroat war – a growing battle for Canada’s whiskers valued at $270 million. The question is: can Gillette maintain its edge?

Certainly Gillette believes it can, brandishing its brand with a flick to the past and plenty of tub-thumping attitude: ‘Gillette. The best a man can get,’ the ads proclaim from the TV screen. Meanwhile, click to another channel and the battle cry is just as pitched: ‘The power of 4,’ a voice declares while Quattro, Schick’s newest weapon in its arsenal of high-tech razors, flashes across the screen.

What’s going on? A scuffle the razor category hasn’t seen in years. But few believe that Gillette will soon be toppled from its perch as category king. Indeed, with a 76% share of the Canadian razor market – measured in terms of dollar value – the company’s juggernaut is staggering.

Still, there’s been good news for the second-rung competitor, too. According to ACNielsen’s most recent figures, Schick has been quietly building its market share, climbing four points to 14% in the past five years. Players such as Bic and Revlon, and a host of generic manufacturers share the remainder of the market.

If Schick gets its way, it will continue to chip away at Gillette’s market share. ‘We’ve become a formidable competitor over the past few years,’ explains James McIntosh, marketing manager for Schick Canada in Toronto. ‘Our target is to keep growing. We envision a day when we could outpace Gillette.’

For its part, Gillette says it welcomes the newly heightened competition.

‘We think competition is good for the entire category,’ says Iain Chalmers, marketing director for Toronto-based Gillette Canada. ‘That competition will help grow the entire market.’

The battle lines were re-drawn in January 2003 when Energizer purchased Pfizer’s Schick-Wilkinson Sword razor business, bringing a new buzz to the competition. Energizer – confident it could build market share in Pfizer’s once underperforming razor business – set off a new wave of technological innovation, an area once dominated by Gillette.

‘Certainly that was the turning point,’ explains Dino Galati, senior analyst at Dominion Bond Rating Service in Toronto. ‘Gillette has been the real innovator over the years. And here comes Schick, just bought by Energizer, and almost immediately, we see them creating a new razor. From that point, the battle was on.’

The category has undoubtedly come a long way from when men shaved with flint blades as far back as 30,000 BC. In fact, it has always been driven by technological innovation, according to the experts.

Over the past two-and-a-half years, the two major companies have been locked in a tooth-and-nail fight to see just how many blades can be crammed into a disposable razor. Gillette’s flagship product, the three-bladed Mach 3, has been scraping for turf against Schick’s latest salvo, the four-bladed Quattro. This month, Gillette will unleash its first battery-operated shaver in Canada. The price tag? Somewhere between $19 and $22 – a steep jump from today’s razor prices that run at the upper end to $16.

Gillette’s Chalmers says research has shown that consumers will ante up.

‘We’ve proven it time and time again. Consumers are willing to pay for technology and for a closer, more comfortable shave.’

However, DBRS’s Galati believes there is a limit to what consumers will pay.

‘I think Gillette’s problem is that further innovation will take them to a price point that people won’t cross for a better shave,’ Galati says.

Meanwhile, the two brands are also duking it out on the airwaves. Gillette, which just signed a US$50 million sponsorship deal with soccer great David Beckham, has reached into the past for the inspiration for its current branding messages. Chalmers says the ‘Gillette. The Best a Man Can Get’ tagline has been resurrected for the first time since the mid-’90s. ‘We are re-emphasizing Gillette as a male heritage brand. We do know that there is a halo effect that we need to re-emphasis.’

Developed by BBDO New York, the TV spots were launched in early 2004 and have been appearing during big event shows such as The Apprentice and the Stanley Cup playoffs. One 30-second ad is full of black-and-white images, including a shot of Muhammad Ali in the ring, as well as men playing soccer and climbing mountains. At one point, a man is shown shaving in the presence of an angel, the message being that shaving with Gillette razors is like having an angel by your side. Another commercial depicts a red sports car zooming along, interspersed with shots of a red Mach 3.

Meanwhile, Schick Canada has been emphasizing product innovation with ads for its four-blade marvel, Quattro. Its tagline is ‘The Power of 4 for an incredibly close, smooth shave.’ J. Walter Thompson in New York originally developed the TV and radio spots, which were adapted for the Canadian market through JWT Toronto.

All told, Schick is spending $2 million in television, supported by a radio campaign in Toronto. It is also running webisodes on Canwest Global’s sites, and a consumer sampling program tied to a contest for a motorcycle.

Strategy assembled a panel of experts to critique both the strategy and campaigns of the two major companies and assess whether there remains room for growth.

Ken Wong, marketing professor, Queen’s University School of Business, Kingston Ont.

Neither company is doing a good job in marketing their innovations and both are missing opportunities for innovations in both their blade and non-blade areas. I find it interesting that while Gillette has a toiletries line (including a new higher-end line of men’s skin care products that includes shaving lotion) they no longer sell them as a ‘system’ the way they once did with Trac II.

Maybe they’re worried about having too many lines given the frequency of new razor introductions. Regardless, the absence of cross-selling and cross-promotion may be leaving money on the table. They could be developing toiletries specifically around the capabilities of their razors. Instead, we get double-kill, i.e., a razor with an aloe strip and a shaving cream with aloe in it.

Both firms seem focused on men’s faces and women’s legs. The only differences in the razors are how many blades are in the razor head. They could be developing specialized versions, say for shaving heads (a surprising omission given that Andre Agassi was the Schick spokesperson at one time), men’s bodies (given that hairless is now considered fashionable) or legs (athletes that need to shave legs before getting their ankles taped up). They could also be developing blades of different length to accommodate smaller or larger faces (which have nooks and crannies that a standard-size blade doesn’t accommodate).

The firms could be into a broader array of shaving accessories like shaving mugs (especially popular with the environmental set), brushes, razor holders for home, cases for travel, etc. This would open up a whole gift segment for Christmas, Father’s Day, etc.

Rob Tarry, associate CD, Rethink, Vancouver

I think I’d like to see razor ads employ some of the creativity and humour used to hawk other male-centric products. Why are these ads stuck in the past? Chiseled pitchmen, hot babes, manly cars…sure these work, but so do chemical weapons.

Come on, this category embarrasses me as a gender. How do our wives/girlfriends/sisters keep a straight face when these ads air? Give it up my stubbly brothers, we’re not going to be astronauts or jet fighter pilots or race car drivers.

What are we, nine?

Besides, there’s only so much real estate on the end of these sticks to cram in yet more stunning breakthroughs. And with that swollen Schick and voiceovers from Gillette blathering on about ‘angels on your shoulder’ or hyping to the highest mountaintops that their new razor is – you better sit down for this – red, the shark has officially been jumped.

Sadly, I’d guess the most effective ads equate these razors with virile, potent extensions of one’s manly manness.

Okay, fine – with no more swords, huntin’ rifles or caveman clubs to wield, we men are reduced to fetishizing these pricey little plastic phalluses – but can’t we do it with some style and wit?

Right now the whole category is just a few flashy effects away from cave paintings of raw steak and large-breasted mastodons.

The last creative razor ad I can remember starred a black and white Fidel Castro in a fake voiceover pitching the Gillette Trac II.

David Cravit, EVP, Padulo Integrated, Toronto

I think both Gillette and Schick are doing a good job. It will be interesting to see how Gillette makes out with its new M3Power, the new battery-powered version of the Mach 3. I don’t know if a battery-powered razor will do it – particularly one that crashes through the $10 price range. But it shows that Gillette is seriously committed to product innovation.

The big opportunity, I think, is to more strongly link the razor with the wider – and more important – issue of skin care and, in turn, personal appearance. I think this is where the real action is in the men’s grooming market – men are spending much more on skin care, hair care and colouring, and other grooming-related products.

I know Quattro kicked serious butt last year and we’ll just have to wait and see how well Gillette comes roaring back.

I presume Gillette did a lot of pre-testing on the current campaign with the sports car-to-Mach 3 analogy, and that they have strong evidence to support its effectiveness.

For me, however, the analogy is silly. It’s just a razor, for heaven’s sake, and I can already buy a store brand with triple-blade technology.

In one venue – the Internet – I think Schick is a hands-down winner. Their Web site is much edgier and more interesting, and features interesting marketing partnerships: logical tie-ins in sports (with ESPN) and lifestyle (with FHM), even featuring news of other ‘hot’ or ‘techy’ products. Gillette is dull and linear. Obviously they don’t care about this communication channel.