SIX-BLADE BLITZ

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Procter & Gamble Co. and Gillette Co. will back the introduction of their six-bladed Fusion with a massive marketing budget of $200 million in the U.S. alone, and global rollout support that could top $1 billion.

Peter Hoffman, president-blades and razors at Gillette, called Fusion the company's "most exciting and ambitious launch ever," but it may not necessarily be its most expensive, at least not in the U.S. In 1998, when Gillette introduced the Mach 3, the company said it would spend $300 million on marketing in the U.S.

Under Chairman-CEO Jim Kilts, however, efficiency-maximizing analytics have become mandatory and bragging about spending politically incorrect. So the company has remained mum on spending plans this time around, although industry observers expect Fusion's U.S. launch to top first-year media outlays for last year's Mach 3 offshoot M3 Power, which was backed by more than $120 million in media, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

It's not just Fusion's spending that`s enormous. The five-bladed Fusion cartridge itself is so wide that it renders trimming around facial hair-already difficult with existing three- and four-blade razors-nearly impossible. So Gillette mounted a sixth, non-pivoting blade on back. The handle is the thickest ever for a men's razor, too, mimicking Gillette's curvy Venus grip. And the item count is the biggest for a new Gillette system, with simultaneous launches of a power and non-power version and different cartridges for each, plus a line of Fusion shaving gels and creams.

Omnicom Group's BBDO handles Fusion's creative. WPP Group's MindShare, New York, has planning and buying.

Soccer star David Beckham, who signed last year to pitch Gillette products globally and was added to U.S. TV ads for M3 Power earlier this year, appears likely to stick around for Fusion. Gillette's Young Guns Nascar team is also likely to be retrofitted with Fusion orange.

Outsized

The only thing more outsized than Fusion and its marketing budget is its risk, particularly for P&G and Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley, who paid an industry record of more than five times sales for Gillette, mainly for a razor business whose ultimate value hinges on Fusion.

While P&G has enjoyed near unanimous votes of confidence from sell-side analysts, quieter murmurs on Wall Street have been more cautious. "I think they'll screw it up," said one industry watcher (who has long touted Mr. Lafley's P&G turnaround) of its Gillette integration.

With so much at stake, the surprising immediate reaction when Gillette showed a picture of the new system at a Sept. 14 announcement in New York was laughter. A handful of buy-side analysts, mainly women, tittered at the sight of the razor's five main blades, reminiscent of "Saturday Night Live" parodies.

While positive overall on what he called "Hot Fusion," Deutsche Bank analyst William Schmitz noted it will follow a major Mach 3 extension, M3 Power, by little more than 18 months. That compares to four years between Excel, Sensor's last major extension, and Mach 3, the last new men's system.

But Gillette also faced considerable skepticism about Mach 3, which became the fastest-growing, best-selling system in the world. No razor vetted by its exhaustive pre-launch consumer research has failed yet.

Gillette already enjoys a huge lead over Energizer Holdings' Schick, but gave up some ground in recent months after a U.S. District Court granted an injunction sought by Schick against Gillette's claims that M3 Power raises the hair on men's faces for closer shaves. For the four weeks ended Sept. 4, Gillette had a 72.6% share of the $200 million razor category, down 3.4 points, and an 81.8% share of the $700 million refill blade market, down 1.8 points. Schick this month is launching four-bladed Quattro Power, its own vibrating razor, which it claims performs better than M3Power.

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