Wilkinson Sword aims for cutting edge in the razor market

The UK’s razor market has lacked cut and thrust in recent years, but thanks to a raft of new launches it looks set to get bloody again. Bic is busy promoting its revamped disposable range, King of Shaves is considering launching a shaving system and Gillette’s five-bladed Fusion razor is expected to go on sale in the UK this autumn. The main battle, though, will be between arch-rivals Gillette and Wilkinson Sword, which is about to launch its answer to Fusion, the Quattro Titanium.

Like the original Quattro, the Titanium, which will be launched amid a blaze of publicity in April, will have four blades, but Wilkinson Sword claims to have improved their cutting edges by adding an undercoating of titanium. This will reduce “skin drag” which, together with a smaller, more flexible razor head, will result in a more comfortable shave. Business director Nick Powell says the company found that, while more than two-thirds of men felt they were getting a close shave. The remainder wanted more skin benefits from shaving products.

Despite Powell’s comments, many point out that Wilkinson Sword faces a huge challenge, not least because it does not have a presence in skin care products. According to Euromonitor, Gillette’s Mach3 and Sensor lines occupy the top five bestselling razor slots in the UK and account for about 60% of the &£250m male razors and blades category. By contrast, Wilkinson Sword’s Protector range is sixth with a 5% share, while its Quattro line is eighth with just 4%. In addition, Gillette also has a 45% share of the &£69m pre-shave category and is second (behind Beirersdorf’s Nivea) in the &£26m post-shave category. In both categories, Wilkinson Sword barely registers.

This creates obvious problems from a brand awareness perspective, says Euromonitor news analyst Diana Dodson. Gillette’s presence in shaving foams, gels and post-shave balms gives it a much greater spread across shop fixtures, she says, and unparalleled in-store visibility. Dodson adds that following US consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble’s acquisition of Gillette last year, its formidable spending power has been exponentially increased. “Gillette spent $200m (&£114m) on the launch of Fusion in the US,” she says. “That’s an unprecedented amount for a razor launch.”

Others argue that Wilkinson Sword has simply not been as good at innovating or brand building as Gillette. Gimmicky features, such as the guard wires over its razors’ blades, failed to interest consumers, they argue, adding that Gillette’s Mach3 was “sexier” than Wilkinson Sword’s offerings. “Once you’ve been shaving for a few years you’re not going to cut your face to ribbons,” says Adrian Goldthorpe, vice-president of strategy and innovation at Future Brand. “The guard wires just weren’t that relevant.”

Don Williams, chief executive of branding consultancy PI Global, adds: “Gillette feels like a brand of tomorrow, whereas Wilkinson Sword has the demeanour of a slightly dusty old faithful. It’s David Beckham versus Bobby Charlton.”

Image problems aside, Wilkinson Sword has won a number of high-profile court battles against Gillette, forcing it to modify claims that its Mach3 products were better than Wilkinson Sword’s razors. The Titanium has also undergone a major redesign – it now boasts a sleek, solid metal handle – and Wilkinson Sword is backing it with a heavy TV and press campaign aimed at a young and trendy audience. When Fusion hits the UK there looks certain to be an almighty clash of blades.

Barny Stokes

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