Gillette: Shaving the World with One Stroke

December 1, 2006

In April 1990, Bruce Cleverly yanked an ad campaign his team had spent two years developing. The commercials weren't criticized or ridiculed; they did not mislead or offend. Rather, Gillette's marketing chief canned them because they created too great a demand. Gillette simply could not make enough new Sensor razors and blades.

Gillette isn't the first marketer to recognize the power of the Super Bowl to launch a new product. But it's among the most successful. A do-or-die effort to wrest the shaving market back from rivals' disposables, Gillette bet the house. It spent a decade and $200 million to develop the pivoting, face-hugging system and expected to sell 18 million razors and 200 million blades in 1990 following its four spot (at $2.9 million each) Super Bowl splash.

Instead, it sold 27 million razors and 350 million blades, chalking up $200 million in sales in 1990, and corralled seven percent of both the European and American blade market. While most new products require at least three years to break-even, by 1991, Sensor was in the black and by 1993, wildly so with a 21 percent market share.

For years, Gillette, had advertised on sports programs reminding men to "look sharp, feel sharp, be sharp." That message still resonated with older guys but alienated younger ones who'd migrated to disposables since Bic introduced one in 1975. Gillette's disposable was the top seller but it was eroding the company's profits and brand name. It had become a commodity market.

Boldly Gillette launched Sensor in America and Europe simultaneously, (with the same "The Best  A Man Can Be" ad translated into 14 languages) putting on the line not just Sensor's fate but Gillette's as well. It budgeted a huge $175 million for the launch and unveiled it at Super Bowl XXIV, with teasers on college bowl games.

Gillette came to several games after that, whenever it had big news it wanted men to hear. In Super Bowl XXVII (1993), for example, it bought two minutes to promote its laggard grooming line of items like Right Guard deodorant and Foamy shaving cream and turn the bathroom into Gillette territory. But the Series line never approached the success of Sensor. And when Gillette launched Sensor for Women in 1993, it did it in the spring, when women's thoughts turn to bare legs. There wasn't so much as a whisper about it on the Super Bowl.


"The Super Bowl of Advertising: Are The Advertisers Still Winning The Game?" Bernice Kanner. New York: ANA, 2006.