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Gillette Loses Its Way in Mustache Flap
Posted on February 7th 2014
“P&G Blames The Mustache.” That was an actual recent headline in the Wall Street Journal after Procter & Gamble Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller blamed slumping sales of Gillette products on a “reduced incidence of shaving.” Mr. Moeller suggested the booming popularity of mustaches for slumping sales of P&G’s shavers, which while possibly true to some degree, leaves out a much broader marketing debacle for the consumer products giant.
Now, just to initialize credibility in this discussion, let me clarify two things: First, I’ve been marketing for, and building the reputations of, major brands for some 20 years. Second, I know a thing or two about mustaches and facial hair in general, but don’t take my word for it – this Atlantic piece or thisTelegraph (UK) story might suffice and I’m sure you can easily Google a few others. Ironically, Gillette has even asked me to sample and report upon its products (warning: video is not for the faint at heart).
Back to Mr. Moeller’s concerns. Yes, mustaches are more popular than ever. The fact of the matter is that, on a lark in 2006, we started a trend at the American Mustache Institute that has grown and since been driven by a mixture of humor, pop culture, and the leveraging of facial hair for charitable means in the months of November, March, May, and sometimes at various other times just for a good cause.
“I don’t think Millennial men care as much as previous generations about keeping some squeaky-clean image with their facial hair,” said Brandon Wenerd, senior editor at Brobible.com who’s written quite a bit about the present-day mustache and guy culture. “Most employers are fine with facial hair, if not outright embracing it during No Shave November for charity. Plus, the price for grooming products is absurd — I paid $36 recently for a pack of Gillette blades and shaving cream.”
Indeed, the simple truth is that Gillette has lost its way, seemingly forgetting how to market to men while allowing the price of its products to skyrocket. In specific, three issues I see plaguing the brand are:
- Relating to today’s man: Watch a Gillette commercial. Whether it’s some random baby-faced model, actor Adrien Brody, tennis player Roger Federer, or NFL linebacker Clay Matthews — the brand leverages personalities with whom the regular man has no way of relating while we are increasingly living in an “everyman” society. Other brands, like Just For Men and, ironically, P&G’s Old Spice, have figured this out as they leverage humor to tap into hearts and wallets of today’s man.
- Price point: Have you purchased a Gillette razor blade lately? It might run you $20 for four or five replacement blades — just the blades. In short, Gillette is in the process of pricing its products out of the market in the face of new, well-priced upstarts like Dollar Shave Club that do a better job of speaking to the broader spectrum of today’s man.
- Humor: Beyond simply relating to today's man, it's worth a somewhat repetitive point that Gillette serves men and men love humor. It's a rather simple formula that one would imagine Gillette would embrace at some point but it's hard to recall a time when the brand leveraged yucks as a medium to reach its core demographic.
“Just watch a Dollar Shave Club video and you hear their founder talk about producing a great commercial and outstanding product without having to pay a high-profile athlete to deliver the message on behalf of the brand,” said Stephen Gebhardt, who runs popular men’s blog The Roosevelts. ”Instead they invest in product development and produce a high quality razor at a very reasonable price, and the way the internet and marketing works today, smaller players with a good product can stand up to a better funded brand if marketed well.”
P&G’s Old Spice works because it humorously lives its brand purpose, “to help guys navigate the seas of manhood.” Gillette, on the other hand, is losing because it lives its tagline, “the best a man can get.” The result is two-fold: First, it begs the question of “so what?” Second, the “best” allows product development engineers to unnecessarily add expense.
Gillette could also learn from another P&G sister brand, CoverGirl, which uses celebrities to help inspire confidence as we saw during last night’s Grammy’s telecast through ads featuring Katy Perry and Sophia Vergara. If Gillette were to articulate a brand purpose of helping men “instill confidence to go beyond,” it would go a long way to speaking to the everyman — something brands like Dos Equis and Johnny Walker do rather well.
We live in a culture where personal responsibility has become an afterthought and our first inclination is to blame outside factors for our own undoing. This seems to be the case with Gillette as it has clearly lost its way, pinning the brand’s inability to market and effectively price its products on the stunning good looks of the Mustached American people, which truly may be one of the most ridiculous justifications in earnings report history.
Instead of justifying their failures using silly rationalizations, Mr. Moeller and the brand team at Gillette should work to truly connect to the American shaving audience. Or perhaps -- just maybe -- they should simply focus on delivering the best a man can actually get, minus the unnecessary engineering add-ons.