Gillette Puts on a Brave 'Shave Face' with Launch of New Razor Handle

Campaign Will Show Lengths Men Go to Get Stray Hairs

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Gillette will take on the "shave face," those contorted grimaces men make in the mirror to get stray hairs with their ordinary razors, as it rolls out its new ProGlide Flex Ball razor with retail sales starting in June.

Ads from Grey Worldwide, including an online video showing a man shaving his entire face with one stroke using the pivoting razor (and help from a dental-cleaning-style suction tube), are part of Gillette's effort to stop the migration of men toward cheaper razors or not shaving altogether.

The $11.50 Flex Ball handle aims to combat stray hairs in hard-to-reach places, one of the most common complaints men have even with Gilette's highest-end Fusion ProGlide razor. Procter & Gamble Co. Group President-Global Grooming and Shave Care Patrice Louvet said in a Tuesday presentation that men say the handle makes the shave "twice as good."

Gillette has typically introduced launched new systems every eight years or so, and the Flex Ball launch came with all the fanfare of a new system launch – including a mini-concert by Brooklyn indie band Phantogram, whose music is featured in new Gillette advertising that launched earlier this year. Analysts and media were invited to try the product at shaving stations at the event in Manhattan. Actor Omar Epps became the first man beyond Gillette's test subjects over the past five-plus years to officially try Flex Ball. He did so on stage under the watchful eye of Mr. Louvet. Both were pleased Mr. Epps needed fewer strokes than he was used to.

The one thing missing from the launch that's been a key ingredient of prior big Gillette events is a new, pricier blade. Flex Ball will use existing Fusion and Fusion ProGlide blades. That left some analysts hoping for more, since the vast majority of sales and profits in the category traditionally have come from replacement blades, not handles.

Bernstein Research analyst Ali Dibadj wondered if the moving parts in the new Flex Ball handles might wear out, creating a need to replace the handle more often. Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Schmitz said he believes Gillette still has new blades in the works, but they are just not ready yet.

"This new razor hold more promise than ever before to attract new users to our franchise and to the category," Mr. Louvet said. "Ultimately, what's good for men is good for the category."

Trading men up on blades has become more of an uphill battle as younger men shave their faces less often and an aging population gravitates toward electric razors. Plus, a brand long built on trading men up to more expensive blades now finds itself fighting their urge to trade down to cheaper blades -- including those in Gillette's own portfolio.

P&G's grooming organic sales rose 1% globally last quarter as prices rose 3%, but its "mix" effect dragged sales down 4%. Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller blamed that on men trading down to cheaper disposables on a media conference call April 23.

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