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Gillette Co. is breaking with tradition for the $80 million U.S. introduction of the SensorExcel shaving system.

Instead of bowing on Super Bowl Sunday, Gillette's customary showcase for new men's shaving products, SensorExcel kicks off on network telecasts of Thanksgiving Day football.

Gillette took a pass on this year's Super Bowl and still hasn't decided whether to return in 1995. Gillette North America President Ron Rossi said Thanksgiving was picked because of the razor and blade's Christmas gift potential.

But sports will figure prominently in the launch. Besides, the Thanksgiving football buys, SensorExcel will be part of Gillette's "NCAA Challenge Series" promotion and "Strike Zone Challenge" effort with Major League Baseball.

Gillette also remains committed to the Baseball Network "if there is Major League Baseball next year," said a spokesman. "If there is not we will do a generic baseball promotion."

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Gillette will spend 25% of a $40 million introductory year ad budget through agency BBDO Worldwide, New York. About 90% of that ad budget will be devoted to TV. The company also will begin distributing 300 million coupons through magazines and other vehicles for 1994-95. Also, 15 million direct mail samples are planned, with 5 million slated for 1994 and another 10 million in 1995 and 1996.

The U.S. push follows the brand's debut in Europe and Canada last year, where it has earned 8.7 and 8.3 shares, respectively.

SensorExcel ultimately will reach 50% of Sensor's worldwide volume, predicted John Darman, VP-business management for blades and razors for the Gillette North Atlantic Group.

Sensor, the No. 1 U.S. blade and razor brand, has posted $2.2 billion in worldwide cumulative sales since its 1989 launch.

Priced at a 15% premium over Sensor, SensorExcel will retail for just under $4 while a refill cartridge five-pack will go for $4.49.

The higher price is rationalized by a skin guard made of five, flexible microfins that stretch skin for a closer shave, a new Flexgrip handle and other features.

The SensorExcel introduction will beat Warner-Lambert Co.'s Schick division to the punch. The company has been marketing the similar Protector system in Europe and Canada but hasn't yet brought it to the U.S.

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