Mach III, I mock thee


This entry is about the proposed appointment of Gillette CEO Kilts to the CEO position at Coca-Cola. It argues that the Gillette Mach III brand now stands where the Coca-Cola one did when the latter was caught napping by Pepsi.

Full text:

We know two things about the consumer market place.

1) It is fragmenting. Mass markets are being replaced by micro ones.

“Television used to provide big-tent programming designed to appeal to a lot of people, with characters and story arcs that would appeal to everyone,” says Alan Wurtzel, president for research and media development at NBC. “Now you find audiences are very, very specific.”1

The magazine consumer has also proliferated. In the place of the once dominant, big magazines, Time, Life, and Newsweek, there are now some 24,000 general and special interest periodicals, with 160 of these have a circulation of over a half million subscribers.2

Marketers are now a lot like Bill Pennington on the ski slope.

“[P]eople [used to go] to such lengths to fit in. You were supposed to ski a certain way on certain equipment, which varied in meager ways. Dress varied the least of all. Why, it appeared there was a uniform out there some days.”

Pennington sees a new world racing towards him on the slope.

“It looked as if some sort of adult/child recess had let out. People were coming down on skis, snowboards, ski boards, snowblades, twin-tipped skis, monoskis, ski skates and bikes with tiny skis. Ski bikes! … If there were a dress code, it had a hysterical sweep and latitude.”3

2) Most of the consumer definitions in the marketplace are changing often and a lot. I do not have any useful little quotes here. Please see the book called Transformation on this website.

So what has this got to do with Gillette’s Mach III? It is a great, undifferentiated brand that appears to speak to none of the innovations or variations that have taken place with regard to gender in the last 20 years. “Maleness” has undergone some pretty astonishing changes and Gillette continues to pitch men with a single message and a message that has rather too much in common with the brand strategies of the 1950s.

Mach 3 is a simple left-over from the “man as machine” notion, and more particularly man as “vehicle of transport,” especially prized when complete with military associations and science associations. (I have worked out the connections for the 1950s in a paper called “when cars could fly” which will appear in a collection called Culture and Consumption II: markets, meanings and brand management which will appear from Indiana University Press in late 04 or early 05. In the meantime, I am happy to send those who would one, an electronic copy.)

But the point I wish to make is a simple one. Mach III is precisely the kind of brand that Coca-Cola was one Pepsi attached and forced it, rather belated, to turn the classic brand into something more responsive to contemporary culture and the company to launch a lots of other brands to speak to the new variety and dynamism of the marketplace. In sum, Gillette is now what Coca-Cola was when Coca-Cola was caught napping by Pepsi.

So good news today perhaps that Kilts, the Gillette CEO, has decided not to take the CEO job at Coke.


1. in Salamon, Julie 2001. When It Comes to TV, Coveted Adolescents Prove to Be Unpredictable. New York Times. March 13, 2001.
3. Pennington, Bill. 2003. Diversity All Over Mount Megaplex. New York Times, March 6, 2003

7 thoughts on “Mach III, I mock thee

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  3. steve

    The difference between the Mach III and Coca-Cola is that the sources of customer value for the former are as much technical as associational or “cultural”. Note that the competitive response from Schick is not some sort of market fragmentation strategy but rather pushing a four-bladed razor to trump Gillette’s offering. Gillette is more like Procter & Gamble than it is like Coca-Cola–the basis of its new products is that they can be proven in the lab and with blind tests to deliver superior performance. The “image” aspects of the marketing campaign are purely attention-getting and expository devices to get people to realize/believe that the product gives a better shave. (My subjective experience is that it fulfills this promise relative to previous razors, although I haven’t tried Schick’s newer product.) In the case of Coke and Pepsi, the advertising is designed to create mental associations with the product that will enhance the user’s psychological experience of consumption. While that might be a beneficial side-effect of Gillette’s advertising as well, that is not its primary aim.

  4. grant

    Steve, Well, this is an interesting debate all on its own. I would argue that both products have both technical and cultural value. And yes you’re right. It is precisely bec. Schick continues to engage Gillette on its own terms that Gillette can get away with bad market. This surely is the lesson of the cola wars, where briefly Pepsi actually got Coke to play on the taste playing field. The question is which is going to break out with a range of products for a range of males. I think Schick actually has the edge here. But the continue to lead with their Gillette killer, the 4 bladed razor. Oh, God, surely marketing will get off this head to head game, and I think Pepsi pointed the way here. Thanks again. Best, Grant

  5. mjohson

    I personally think that there is going to be a paradyne shift in shaving during this next decade. Companies are coming out with Cryo-ed blades that last longer and new technologies that extend the life of the blades and provide a better shave. All still while useing Gillettes and Schick high quality blades but a single blade can last 3-4 months.

    I shave my head and blow through the blades (1 blade per week) and I bought a product call Razormax that claims to extend blade life. I found through experience that it does and this has saved me some serious money. I was very sceptical but had a friend that swears by it and got me to try it. Do a search on Razormax or try and you should be able to find a site that sells it. – Mike Johnson

  6. jbradshaw

    try razor-gator “razor extender” which claims to make one razor last up to 10 weeks. it reduces corrosion and also prevents razor burn and razor rash.

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