On April 22 I noted how little marketing savvy we see these days from Gillette (Mach 3, I mock thee).
Certainly, this is a technological game and the person with the best blade(s) wins.
But branding is about more than technological competition. This has always been so but it is especially true when laboratories can “reverse engineer an innovation and take it away.
The other half of branding is the cultural meanings that we invest in the product. And here Gillette has been almost clueless. They have gone after “maleness but they have done it in the most obvious and unsubtle way imaginable.
Mach 3 is itself a pretty stupid conceit. Razors as military technology? And the advertising has not been inspired, with one recent spot featuring a picture of a red sports car interspersed with shots of a red Mach 3.
(I have met the Gillette marketing team. They came to Harvard to sing their own praises. I do not mean to be cruel, but I did not come away with a sense that this was a group superbly connected to contemporary culture.)
The marketing press is beginning to rumble in protest. In this weeks Strategy Magazine, Rob Tarry of Rethink says,
Come on, this category embarrasses me as a gender. How do our wives/girlfriends/sisters keep a straight face when these ads air? Give it up my stubbly brother, were not going to be astronauts or jet fight pilots or race car drivers. What are we, nine?
April 22, I was pointing out that all cultural meanings and market segments have fragmented. This means, among other things, if a brand wants to claim maleness as a meaning, it has to cover off a little more than the fighter pilot male. If I may quote myself,
“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.
It is a favorite argument of the anti-marketing bashers (Ewen, Frank, Klein, etc) that brands and marketing lead contemporary culture around by the nose. But this is not what the anthropologist (or any intelligent observer) sees. In many cases, and the Gillette is a striking one, the marketer is left banging out old fashioned messages while the rest of the world moves on.
Let us give the last word to Duncan Hood, editor of Strategy Magazine:
Big marketers are intensely competitive, and when the testosterone is flowing, they can do the dumbest things. A wiser approach might be to take a break from the following your competitors every move, and look to your consumers to see what they want.
Hood, Duncan. Editorial. Strategy: The Canadian Marketing Report. May 3, 2004, p. 2. p. 14.
Tarry, Rob. 2004. Comment. It’s a $270-million cutthroat battle: Can anyone catch category leader Gillette? Susan Bourette. Strategy: The Canadian Marketing Report. May 3, 2004, p. 2.