From The Brand Historian’s Timeline:
From an early age, all good brand managers learn the business facts of life. The two magic words of brand building are Penetration and Frequency. The first is a measure of how much of a particular target market buy or use a product, and the second, how often it is used. Brand bliss arrives when a large target audience, let’s say all men, use a product nearly every day, let’s say a razor. Not surprisingly therefore, shaving is one of the most attractive basic human habits in which a brand can participate, and this explains why in the last hundred years, it has been the subject of relentless product, brand and business innovation, and also some mouth-wateringly expensive acquisitions by the likes of Procter and Gamble and Unilever.
It was King Camp Gillette, the crown cork salesman from the Midwest, who in 1901 created the market for disposable blades for use with his patented Safety Razor. His system wasn’t the first, but the thin, inexpensive stamped blades from carbon steel sheet got great results without the need for a barber and or having to strop a dangerous blade. Protected with a trademark and with his portrait on the packaging, Gillette’s razor and blades grew rapidly and with efficient manufacturing and heavyweight marketing support, Gillette became one of the most definitive fast moving packaged goods brands, eventually acquired by P&G in 2005.
Our second King of shaving is William King, an engineering graduate from Chalfont St Giles* and Portsmouth Poly who in 1993 made a daring assault on the ancien regime of male grooming with a range of innovative new lotions and potions, packaged with a more contemporary look-and-feel and presented with an irresistible sales chutzpa that got him listings with some of the big names of the UK grocery trade. It is never easy competing with the Mega Battalions who control markets, but King of Shaves like many challenger brands had an impact on the category far greater than its market share. Its shaving gels have redefined consumer expectations of shaving preps, and its confident sense of style highlighted the branding vulnerability of the incumbent.
In the last decade, several others also spotted an opportunity in the weakness of the ‘bland’ leader. In 2012, two Bain Private Equity grads launched Harry’s, building on the arrival of the internet to disrupt the market with a direct-to-consumer sales offer and a brand-skin that was decidedly younger and in keeping with the emerging hipster culture of Brooklyn. Harry’s soon expanded into mainstream distribution in the US and in Europe, and in 2019 became an acquisition target for Wilkinson Sword/Schick, one of the Old Guard hardware companies looking for a brand injection. The deal was valued at $1.37bn before it was blocked by the FTC. In the same year, Harry Kane, the soccer Captain of England became the face of Harry’s, and thus our third King of Shaving to complete this Epiphany of Male Grooming.
A playlist to shave by:
1901 American Patrol Sousa’s Band
1993 Mr Vain Culture Beat
2012 We Are Young Fun ft Janelle Monae
* Some will remember that The Value Engineers had an office in Chalfont St. Giles where one day, replete in leather flying jacket, Will dropped in to see us for coffee.