Dollar Shave Club’s secret to marketing success: ‘Bite down on a human truth and don’t let go’

The razor subscription service explains how it is keeping its ‘disruptive’ tone of voice after being bought by Unilever last year.


dollar shave club

Dollar Shave Club says it has been a “real vote of confidence” to be acquired by Unilever, and insists the FMCG giant lets it “do our thing”.

Speaking to Marketing Week at the Cannes Lions Festival yesterday (21 June), the brand’s executive creative directors Alec Brownstein and Matt Knapp lifted the lid on its inner workings since the takeover in July last year. While both seem happy to have become “part of Unilever’s family”, they add the brand has been “fortunate” to keep its creative independence.

READ MORE: Unilever makes play to become a consumer services brand with Dollar Shave Club deal

“We’re fortunate enough that Unilever bothers to leave us alone in terms of how they’ve positioned it. We’re obviously doing something right, it’s so good to have that trust coming from them to continue doing what we’ve been doing as we’ve enjoyed some success. They are letting us do our thing,” Knapp said.

“Our hope is to continue to be disruptive, and to do what we do well,” Brownstein added.

The secret to marketing success

Dollar Shave Club is well known for its witty advertising, which looks to make fun of common inconveniences around buying razors, like over-the-top security packaging or pricey products. Its launch video, featuring CEO Michael Dubin, is entitled ‘Our blades are f***ing great’ and has racked up more than 24 million views on YouTube.

Both Brownstein and Knapp come from creative, rather than marketing backgrounds. Brownstein has been with Dollar Shave Club since 2013 but previously worked as a freelance creative director and writer, while Knapp used to work agency side, including at Anomaly and DDB.

Given their backgrounds, it’s not surprise that Dollar Shave Club does most of its creative in-house, with the pair given responsibility for all its ads and copy and Brownstein working on creating the brand’s voice and building up its internal creative agency.

That comes with its own challenges. The creative directors admit the brand faces a challenge being “consistently successful with shortened timelines” and across different media platforms, and that there’s a high expectation to deliver high-quality work “over and over again”.

“Creativity isn’t a formula or all science, so you need to manage expectations of how long it takes to get to something great,” Knapp said.

“Ultimately it’s not a lack of creativity or ideas, it’s a lack of time to do everything. So if we could clone ourselves and live on Saturn where the days are much longer, I think we would have a lot fewer problems,” Brownstein added.

In terms of their advice for marketers for producing strong work, Brownstein said they should “bite down on a human truth and not let go”. If marketers don’t do this, he added, there is a risk of the creative work simply becoming a list of product benefits and attributes.

He concluded: “There are a a whole range of truths in our ads. For example, the truth is that it’s inconvenient to buy razors. It’s a fact – the razors are in a plastic case, there’s a key, you can’t find the guy to open it for you. So in our work, we took this truth to the absurd. It’s so hard to get razors, a guy will jump out with a blow dart if you try and get them yourself. Or an overzealous security guy will taser you if you try and get too close. That’s how we get our message across.”