Founded in 1901, Gillette has dominated the consumer wet-shave market for more than a century. The distinctive brand and line of products was owned by the Boston-based Gillette Company until it merged with consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble in 2005. Despite all the ups and downs, Gillette regularly makes any list of great American marketing success stories.
A Brief History
Since its early days as a safety razor manufacturer under founder and American businessman King Camp Gillette, the company has used technology and savvy marketing to become one of America’s most recognizable brands.
Gillette received its first patent for safety blades in 1904. Attached to a small handle, their innovation sounded the death knell for the straight razor and shaves from the local barber.
Subsequent developments in disposable blades, pivoting heads and shaving systems followed as quickly as technology and testing permitted. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st, Gillette has expanded its personal care niche with regular launches of new and improved products.
Most Popular Products
Within their core area of expertise Gillette has steadily developed and popularized new blade technologies, from the Gillette Trac II in 1971 (first twin blade shaving system) to the MACH3 (first triple blade) and the Fusion in 2005 (five blades and a precision trimmer on the back of the unit) and Fusion ProGlide (15% thinner and finer blade edges).
Gillette has almost always addressed the female consumer. It marketed the first women’s razor, the Milady Décolletée, way back in 1915. In 1975, Gillette introduced the first women’s disposable, the Gillette Daisy — which it still sells. The Venus division of razors, especially designed for women, was launched in 2001 and still dominates the market with a 50% share. The Swirl, released in 2015, is their most advanced women’s shaver with a flexible head.
Gillette has also built a thriving business in products both related to its core line — shaving creams, anti-perspirants and body wash — and not.
The home appliance company Braun was a wholly owned subsidiary of Gillette from 1984 until 2007. Gillette also acquired the toothbrush division Oral-B, which was part of Braun. In the new framework after the P&G merger, all of the Gillette family brands continue to flourish.
Widely considered to be a company that excels at mass marketing its products — remember the 1989 Gillette — the best a man can get campaign? Or its more recent iteration, We believe — the best man can be, which seemingly apologizes for the original?
In 2007, Gillette inaugurated a program called the Gillette Champions and announced that Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Thierry Henry will take on roles as brand ambassadors. Other sports heroes, such as baseball player Derek Jeter, would soon join that cohort. But now Gillette seems to be taking a step back from celebrity spokespeople, emphasizing the character and strong values of good people everywhere.
For a deeper dive into how Gillette strategically balances mass marketing with more targeted strategies, check out this recent article and video by Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson.
Still Relevant in the 21st Century Marketplace?
Although Gillette’s 2019 commentary and acknowledgement of toxic masculinity seems superficially progressive, many believe the Best Man Can Be campaign has alienated the company’s loyal base. It also became one of the most hated Youtube videos ever. Time will tell if it was a significant marketing misstep.
Like most established manufacturing companies in North America, business for Gillette has been disrupted over the past decade by changes in the global marketplace. And their wet shave market share has definitely been eroded by internet retailers, such as Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club.
Still, this historic company has survived a century of turmoil and innovation with grit and good management, as evidenced by their 37th spot on Forbes’ Word’s Most Valuable Brands 2019 rankings. It’s likely that they’ll hang on in some form for at least another.