At the cutting edge of razors

The male grooming sector has experienced huge growth in recent years and the fight for share is a cut-throat business. In a bid to tackle the might of Gillette, Wilkinson Sword has teamed up with King of Shaves. But the move may prove double-e

Blood is about to be drawn in the increasingly tense razor war between male grooming super power Gillette and a rejuvenated Wilkinson Sword.

In preparation, Wilkinson Sword is sharpening its blades and has teamed up with new ally King of Shaves in a surprise move that some industry sources say could help it turn the tide in its battle against Gillette (MW last week). The alliance is the next phase in the onslaught against Gillette, which has managed to hold onto its market-leading position despite Wilkinson Sword’s multi-million pound launches of a unique four-bladed Quattro razor and the female razor Intuition (MW May 15 and May 22, 2003).

Crossed swords

A separate battle is also taking place in the law courts where Wilkinson Sword is claiming that Gillette has infringed three of its patents covering the mechanism that attaches blades to the handles of Mach 3, Mach 3 Turbo and Venus (MW March 4). The US lawsuit follows a failed attempt by Gillette to force Quattro from the market by launching its own legal action alleging patent infringement on the part of Wilkinson Sword (MW January 22).

The nascent relationship between Wilkinson Sword and King of Shaves has resulted in two initiatives so far. Wilkinson Sword’s Xtreme 3 razor will be sold as part of a pack with King of Shaves shaving gel in the UK, while, in the US, King of Shaves will sell its XCD male cosmetics range as part of a cross-promotion with the Quattro razor. King of Shaves marketing director Quentin Higham says: “We are investigating many areas, but we’ll see how these deals work out first.”

The partnership offers clear advantages for both parties given their respective strengths in shaving preparations and razors. King of Shaves is trying to break into the US market and has signed deals with chains CVS and Wal-Mart to supply more than 18,000 stores and hopes to benefit from Wilkinson Sword’s strong position in the US. Although Wilkinson Sword does have its own range of shaving preparations, King of Shaves has larger share of that market and its firepower will boost the attack on Gillette, which is dominant in both razors and shaving preparations.

King of Shaves also commands other pulling power in the US. Last month was the first anniversary of a licensing deal with NBA superstar Jason Kidd, while the brand is listed in more than 16,000 stores across the US.

Will King, founder and chief executive of King of Shaves, says that Wilkinson Sword needs to challenge Gillette’s dominance in both areas. Currently, he says, the latter’s strengths in razors and shaving preparations feed off each other and benefit from a brand “halo” effect. King adds: “Wilkinson Sword wants to counter Gillette across its range and we can give the company a way in for now.” He denies that there are any plans to make the relationship permanent, in the form of a sale to Wilkinson Sword and, in fact, has spoken of launching his own razor at some point in the future.

In the UK’s &£52.5m shaving preparations market, Wilkinson Sword’s share slipped to 1.6 per cent from 2.5 per cent last year, according to IRI data, while Gillette’s share increased 4.7 per cent to 56.6 per cent. However, King of Shaves experienced 4.1 per cent growth to 10.8 per cent.

If deployed successfully, the tactical partnership with King of Shaves could help Wilkinson Sword build share in the razor market by encouraging trial of its product.

TNS data shows that Gillette controls a share of close to 70 per cent of the &£170m UK razor market, with ownership of four of the top five brands. Wilkinson Sword’s share of the market remains about 15 per cent, despite the launch of the Quattro.

Quattro’s share of the razor handles and blades market now stands at about 3.4 per cent, according to IRI, considerably lower than the combined 56 per cent boasted by Gillette’s top brands Mach 3 and Mach 3 Turbo.

Flying off the shelves

One retail insider says that Quattro is underselling Mach 3 and Mach 3 Turbo in both blades replacement and handles, which he says is not ideal given that Quattro is the newer product. He says: “Quattro has added to the party, but it is not challenging for the top spots. The good news is people are still buying into the Quattro handle; the bad news is that Turbo is still selling more, even though it has been on the market for 12 months.”

But Wilkinson Sword marketing director Richard Nall says the company remains happy with Quattro’s performance. He points to the fact that Wilkinson Sword achieved a record market share last month. “We are pretty buoyant. Of course, we would love it to be better but you always do. We can’t complain given the extent of Gillette’s marketing efforts this year.”

Nall’s comment on Gillette’s marketing push of the past 12 months is telling. The company spent more than &£11m last year on advertising in the UK, up from &£8m the year before (AC Nielsen), while the launch budget behind Quattro is understood to have been only about &£2m.

King of Shaves’ Higham agrees the main problem faced by Wilkinson Sword is that Gillette can “outshout” its presence in the market. He says: “Gillette can squash anyone out there unless you find a way to avoid playing by its big marketing rules. Simply adding an extra blade is not the way.”

Wilkinson Sword was acquired by battery maker Energizer in March last year for $930m (&£520m), in an attempt to emulate the battery and shaving business combination created by Gillette, which also manufactures Duracell batteries. But copying Gillette, says Higham, is tactically wrong: “Wilkinson Sword cannot compete by playing Gillette at its own game and by using the same tactics, as it is not a level playing field.”

Yet Higham says there is hope for Wilkinson Sword if it can continue to build a genuine point of difference from Gillette and work on updating its brand image.

In female shaving, Wilkinson Sword has already achieved a greater impact with the launch of Intuition, says one industry source. If it can also break Gillette’s hold on the minds of the British male, then this could translate into success in male shaving.

Nall says the company is very happy with the performance of its self-lubricating ladies’ razor Intuition, which was launched earlier this year. He says the razor is “flying off the shelves; absolutely storming the market”.

And one retail insider says the launch of Quattro and Intuition has worried Gillette, despite the lack of an immediate impact on its market share. “The Wilkinson Sword launches,” he says, “have changed the market: it is no longer a one-horse race. Gillette knows that, too, otherwise it would not have spent so much money on counter-marketing.”

No more machismo

Gillette’s concern, he adds, is reflected in a change in direction for the company’s advertising. A source at Gillette’s ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO confirms the company is planning to ditch advertising that compares its razors with the fast and technically advanced pull of planes and spacecraft for a more emotional appeal. But one controversial part of Gillette’s advertising will be kept – the strapline, “the best a man can get” – despite objections from Wilkinson Sword that its Quattro razor is better (MW October 9, 2003). The AMV source says: “The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre says we can use the slogan, so it will remain.”

Becks appeal

In an attempt to safeguard its leadership of the market, Gillette has signed global icon David Beckham as its new “face”, in a &£40m deal. It is expected that the footballer will be used to launch a new product.

Gillette has fast-tracked the launch of its battery-powered Mach 3 variant M3 Power, with a date set for Christmas in the UK (MW January 15). But the source says the advertising has already been created, which means Beckham is likely to be fronting a campaign for the as-yet unknown next generation of system razors from Gillette some time next year.

In anticipation, Wilkinson Sword is planning the first extension of Quattro to challenge Gillette in the key Christmas sales period. The company will launch a black coloured variant in order to expand the demographic base for its Quattro razor, with one industry source pointing out that different coloured handles have been designed to attract different age groups.

By putting all its focus on the razor market, according to another retail source, Wilkinson Sword could regret paying less attention to its shaving preparations business. Although Nall says the company still has long-term plans for its range of male and female shaving gels and foams, the retail insider says the tie-up with King of Shaves reflects a shift in Wilkinson Sword’s business.

He claims that it could end up being a missed opportunity for Wilkinson Sword, as this is the one area where Gillette appears to be vulnerable. Gillette already faces more competition from a rapidly growing Nivea for Men range, and from new launches including PZ Cussons’ Original Source range and a Clearasil for Men shaving line from Boots Healthcare (MW May 13). There will also be new launches from King of Shaves, including an innovative “micro-magnetic” formula that attracts the blade to the skin.

King also believes that the key to breaking Gillette’s dominance is to build a brand heritage across both the shaving preparations and razor markets. The ambitious entrepreneur has even spoken of entering the razor market with a so-called King of Blades range, as exclusively revealed in this magazine last year (MW September 4, 2003). He has talked of introducing a premium quality razor, at a competitive price, in the hope of stealing share in a razor market where men can spend increasingly large amounts of money on the latest blade innovation.

Quite how Wilkinson Sword will react to such a move is unclear, but it likely to spell the end of the partnership with King of Shaves. Unless Wilkinson Sword ends up making an offer to King of Shaves that is difficult to refuse, the two will be forced to concentrate on building their separate brand strengths and perhaps conspiring from a distance to topple the might of Gillette.

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