Brand Saga: Gillette India, the brand that balanced hard-sell & storytelling

Gillette India advertising journey

This Thursday we do a quick throwback to the Gillette India advertising journey that not only confined itself to direct selling razors but kept ‘shaving stereotypes’ through storytelling.

In July 2019, Gillette dropped two minute long videos portraying the inspiring journey of the ‘Barbershop Girls of India’.  The campaign was titled #ShavingStereotypes. Reportedly, it was also the first time in India that a men’s grooming brand featured women as protagonist. Created by Grey India Mumbai, the campaign won a Silver Lion for music at Cannes Lions. Gillette India advertising journey constitutes a concoction surfacing the realm of hardcore communication towards men while also traversing the gender barriers.

Gillette – Inception of the OG razor

History that dates back to the 19th-century states that King C. Gillette, a salesman, and inventor came up with the idea of a safety razor that use disposable blades. Safety razors at the time were essentially short pieces of a straight razor clamped to a holder. His mentor, William Painter encouraged Gillette to come up with something like the Crown cork, could be thrown away once used.

Six years later, Gillette and other members of the project founded The American Safety Razor Company on September 28, 1901. The company was renamed to the Gillette Safety Razor Company in 1904 and it began to expand outside the United States.

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With time, passing centuries and witnessing World Wars, The Gillette Company went on to reinvent itself with each generation by introducing the mechanical, adjustable, techmatic, twin-blade shaving cartridge, a lubricating strip, sensor, fusion range of its razors that evolved to become products ‘Best A Man Can Get’.

The Gillette India Advertising Journey

In the late 90s, Gillette was bought by Procter & Gamble and entered the Indian market in 1984, but it started its advertising journey in the country in the late 2000s. Until 2010, the brand had been following a strategy of marketing affordable US-developed razors. However, low-income Indian customers who could not afford Gillette’s premium price relied on the outdated, but traditional, double-edged razor shaving systems. Additionally, Indian men enjoyed the luxury of the local barber, who offered shaving services at negligible costs.

Extensive consumer research highlighted key concerns men had about shaving – it was time-consuming, caused skin irritation, and was generally unpleasant.

On observing indifference towards shaving by most men in the country, the brand evolved its advertising to focus on changing the consumer’s attitude, which leads to some creative marketing campaigns.

Initially, the campaigns captured shots of clean-shaven men gaining a woman’s attention through chic looks and smart wear- all with Gillette’s latest razor. The razor and men’s grooming category had standard advertising schemes where a few strands of hair frictioned the sharp blades of the razor or women desiring clean-shaven men and that’s how the potential of product specifics was displayed on the screen or in traditional media.

Gillette with the help of its creative and media agencies rose to break the generic code only to count on accolades globally through its path-breaking campaigns.

In 2008, Gillette, BBDO India, Mediacom, and Weber Shandwick joined hands to bring home the first-ever PR medal for India at Cannes. The campaign or a women’s movement get men to shave “W.A.L.S.” (Women Against Lazy Stubble) campaign led to a successful launch of its Gillette Mach 3 razor in India and won the coveted Silver Cannes Lion in the category “PR Led Integrated Campaign” at the 57th Cannes International Advertising Festival. It also helped Gillette run a branded content debate on ‘To Shave or Not To Shave’.

Also Read: Gillette India launches ‘Barber Suraksha Programme’ to help #GroomTheirFuture

The team conceived the idea of creating a national debate to engage Gillette’s indifferent consumers in India. In a press statement, Josy Paul, BBDO was quoted saying, “we had no idea that our big idea would be such a blockbuster hit! It not only delivered exceptional business results for P&G but went on to win every award that it was entered in 2009 as ‘India Votes to Shave or Not’ & yet again in 2010 as ‘Shave India : Women Against Lazy Stubble’.

“Instead of conventional branded communication, we actually let the consumer & editorial create content across multiple media. And it’s exciting to see the results two years in a row!” he continued.

A installation where women shaved men in public along with a mass ‘Shaveathon’, a mall activation where around 2000 men shaved at one go – got the brand the desired public involvement and engagement.

Gillette created the platform ‘India Votes… to shave or not’ to support this campaign, which they asked three questions: Are clean-shaven men more successful? Did the nation prefer clean-shaven celebrities? And the big one: do women prefer clean-shaven men? For two months, various media channels picked up on the campaign and ran interviews, discussions, editorials, and news stories, which triggered popular interest for Gillette India advertising journey.

As per Spikes Asia data, the sales grew by 500% and market share went up by 400%  (Source: Nielsen Track 763,000 hits) on Google. Women shaved over 10,000 men in public across malls in India. The mass shaving event got 1868 men to shave at one go, creating a new Guinness Book Of Records and featuring in Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The campaign got over $ 2.5 Million worth of free media coverage, which is the highest for P&G India across all categories.

“Over the years, as a brand, we have engaged with consumers in topics that matter to them, in a way that is authentic to the brand and the company. This is especially true when it comes to younger consumers – a key demographic for us,” a company spokesperson informed Social Samosa.  

Gillette, as a brand, believes in the best in men. The campaigns focus on men being at their best and setting a example for the next generation.

The Soldier in You campaign brought to life in 2011, conceptualized by BBDO India, emphasized ‘real’ masculine values to stand up for women and build an emotional connection with its target group.  

Bollywood actress Chitrangada Singh, badminton player Jwala Gutta and Southern star Sundeep Kishan joined the movement. According to the company, the Gillette Soldier for Women initiative attracted more than 3 million people to share their experiences and support the movement. Each of them highlighted how men, in various ways and different situations, are not just bystanders but have stood up for women whenever required.

Moving towards 2014, a Gillette led social experiment sought answers to – Do women like beards, stubble, or do they prefer a clean-shaven man? The video showed real women talk about hairy men.

The same year witnessed Gillette teaming up with star cricketer Rahul Dravid for the ‘Men of Inner Steel’ campaign. It aimed to drive home the point that male members of a family that shave together stay together. It was an iteration of the brand’s global ‘Inner Steel’ campaign.

According to Josy Paul, the brand has always pursued a two-pronged strategy. He was quoted saying, “The brief for this campaign has remained consistent: give men one more reason to shave every day.”

“Gillette has now set sights on creating a discussion about role models, giving fathers their due. Young Indians are influenced by cricketers, footballers, and Bollywood. Yet, they frequently claim their fathers are their role models. Meanwhile, the older lot is concerned about the impact celebrities to have on children. The brand decided to take up the challenge with #myrolemodel.,” Paul shared.

P&G Hands Gillette in 2013 moved its account to Grey ending its 80-year relationship with BBDO.

The brand has time and again roped in popular faces from the online world and also leveraged occassions like the cricket season with campaigns like ‘The Best a Fan can get’.

Whether it is an influencer sharing shaving tips to showing the shaving routine of some favorite online bloggers, the brand has been trendy in its marketing efforts.

Then came the Gillette’s #ShaveStereotypes ad campaign where the first edition featured the story of Jyoti and Neha, better known as the ‘barbershop girls of India’. Their father’s illness drove them towards taking up his occupation as the local barber in the village of Banwari Tola in Uttar Pradesh.

In its second edition ‘Man Enough’ on International Men’s Day, Gillette asks the question – why don’t men show their tears? The brand challenged the enduring stereotype on why men are taught to not show their vulnerability, not to show their emotions, not to cry because it makes them weak.

The latest communication from the chapter of Gillette India advertising journey revolves around tutorials for safe grooming practices among men, promoting the newest launches, and collaborating with the experts in the field to drive home important messages.

The Agency Version

Commenting on the Gillette India advertising journey, Juneston Mathana, Group Creative Director – GREY group India says that it is reflective of brand’s journey over the past 5 years – turning from an industry-leading innovator to a heart-warming storyteller. “In fact, one has made way for the other,” he exclaims  

The previous body of work cemented the superiority of Gillette’s product design and technology, making it synonymous with precision and performance. This allowed the agency to shift focus towards more emotional connections, driven through powerful human stories. Stories that urge men to be the best they can be and inspire the younger generation to bring out their best versions.

“Our fondest memory would have to be traveling to the village of Banawari Tola in UP to meet the Barbershop Girls, Jyoti, and Neha. Learning their story and seeing how they’ve won the love and respect of their entire village is something we will never forget. After the campaign broke out, it was heart-warming to see them give a shave to prominent personalities like Sachin Tendulkar and Farhan Akhtar, which was something they had never even dreamt of,” Mathana shares.

Gillette’s Man Enough which featured Lt. Col. M K Sinha helped the team redefine the stereotypical notions of manhood through the story of his own personal journey.

Mathana adds, “In our first meeting with Lt. Col M K Sinha, he was telling us about how he got his battle wound and the emotional implications it had on him. While telling the story, he broke down, and for all of us in the room, it was so moving to see such a strong and assertive man be so comfortable with showing his vulnerability. He really inspired us to spread his message, and till today he’s a great friend of the team who often keeps in touch.”

Soon came the Gillette SkinGuard campaign that touched upon the fear of shaving for those who have sensitive skin.

Digital Play

In September 2019, Gillette playing on its famous slogan, “Best a man can get” replaced it with “The best men can be”; it went viral and was caught amidst the #MeToo movement. Netizens stood divided on their stance- while a few chose to criticise the campaign, others praised it for being the torchbearer and guardian of the society. The campaign showed shots of aggressive behaviour and put the spotlight on the issue of toxic masculinity under the scanner.

Apart from spinning impactful storytelling campaigns, Gillette India’s social media profiles across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube boast of the brand’s determination towards leveraging the new age medium at its core and that to through strategic thinking.

From delving into moment marketing to weaving topical posts, Gillette India’s digital team seems to be working round the clock to harp onto the trends and walk the talk.

Get THE artist to create your own artistic looks!#GilletteIndia #Shaving #Mach

Posted by Gillette India on Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Be it roping in celeb endorsers  for an influencer marketing campaign and making hash tags like #NoMoreFOAMO, conducting live sessions with experts, repurposing content to fit into occasions to wishing their brand ambassadors on special days, Gillette has established itself as a digital savvy brand.

Gillette India advertising journey is a classic case study of direct sales meeting storytelling. With the initial phase of marketing focussed on popularizing the products to later taking a storytelling approach, the brand’s marketing efforts reflect in the sales. A well balanced Saga, it deserves to be called.


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