Gillette goes back to school

To grow sales, first P&G teaches young Chinese the art of shaving

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9SHANGHAI--Procter & Gamble Co. is testing the potential for high-end razors in China with a campaign to teach university students about the art of shaving, its first major move with the Gillette brand in the mainland.

“If we can educate users about correct way to shave and also help them be successful, the market has huge potential for key products like the Mach 3. Especially among youth; they are the future and are more receptive to new information,” said Evelyn Xu, P&G's brand manager for Gillette in Shanghai.

Even so, when P&G acquired the Gillette Co. early last year for $57 billion, the deal certainly wasn’t based on Gillette sales in China. Although it has operated in the mainland for about ten years, and has the leading wet razor product in the market, overall sales have remained low. For physiological reasons, Asians have far less facial hair than Caucasians, so they don’t shave as much.

Also, young Chinese men tend to start shaving with the same double-edged razors used by their fathers. Given the economic and political problems that took place during the youth of China’s older generation, few had the resources or even opportunity to develop a sophisticated daily shaving regimen with shaving cream, a quality razor and aftershave, or even, in some cases, hot water.

“Their dad may not have known the regimen either. The tricky thing here is that it’s a matter of not only the act of shaving but also what they shave with. Most men start with a double-edged wet razor, which seems old-fashioned in the western world, but it has a cheaper price point, so they are still common here,” said Kevin Bogusz, business director, BBDO Worldwide, Shanghai, P&G’s creative agency for Gillette in China.

But a double-edged razor “is more prone to give cuts and nicks,” he added. “If they hack themselves to pieces, they see it as a reason to get a dry shaver from Braun and Phillips. To grow the business, we need to retain wet shavers early in their shaving career by leveraging Gillette's grooming expertise and superior products.”

With the knowledge that China’s competitive job market means new university graduates want to look good, P&G launched a pilot program for the Gillette Mach 3 razor last month in print, outdoor and digital media as well as events at six major campuses in Beijing and Shanghai.

Ignoring the “tough guy” approach commonly used by razor makers in developed markets, P&G opted for a softer approach in China that connects the brand, and even the act of shaving, with job-hunting.

The strategy is based on the fact that the age of university students, particularly those in their early 20s who are about to graduate, coincides with the point when most Chinese men start to actively shave and experiment with different shaving brands. It’s also the age when they become concerned about their appearance because they start interviewing for jobs.

“The idea is that Gillette understands the importance of being well groomed when entering the working world and is there to help give them the confidence to look, feel and be at their best,” said Mr. Bogusz.

The campaign began last month with a web site ( that offers advice, such as tips about choosing a career, finding a job, preparing for interviews, building a resume, and even how to build self-confidence. Humorous “spoof” videos offer "what not to do" scenarios to draw in viewers and drive the site’s call-to-action element. Gillette has also sponsored on-campus seminars with recruitment professionals.

The tone is educational, focusing on professional grooming tips rather than heavy-handed product recommendations. Regular on-campus shaving events and demonstrations let students shave with Gillette products and learn the proper regimen.

“The idea is to expose them to Gillette’s premium systems and teach them how to shave to provide a positive early experience and expose them to a better shave to keep them long term,” said Mr. Bogusz.

The college approach was developed for to China. In established markets, P&G can afford to sample heavily because the company gets a stronger return-on-investment. In the mainland, it relies on a more tactical approach stressing education and the benefits of shaving. If the initial test program is successful, P&G will roll it out to other universities around China.

“The intention is yes, to expand it to other cities, but it depends on the results of the trial. But the promotion is part of a long-term investment plan, it’s not about raising sales overnight,” said Ms. Xu.

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