When it comes to selling to the next generation, razor brands are cutting-edge
Published in MediaPost’s TheMarketingInsider April 18th, 2019
“Game-changer,” “inspiring” and “empowering” are not the terms that usually come to mind when thinking about a device that removes body hair. But for Gen Z (ages 10–24), razor brands have become just that. Companies like Gillette, Billie, Harry’s, and Schick are killing it when it comes to marketing to this next wave of young adults, in large part because they have recognized key generational differences in how Gen Z navigates the world, and have adapted accordingly. Arguably, these self-care brands are more attuned to youth culture than the old guard of the youth category, as companies like Abercrombie, Hollister and Aeropostale are falling from grace.
Fortunately, what these razor brands are doing to be cutting-edge with this demographic are tactics marketers in most any category can adopt. Here are three insights advertisers and marketers in all industries can learn from to make the cut (not the type of cut you need to put a tiny piece of TP on) with our new and discerning customers, Generation Z.
Razor brands understand that Z has a complicated relationship with labeling their many identities
One of the most salient insights from my research with Generation Z was how complicated the nature of identity is. Raised with a keen awareness of intersectionality, privileges, a new suite of gender and orientation terms, and representing as the most diverse generation in American history, Z have found a rich new lexicon in which to describe their multi-faceted identities. Their lives are one where being an Afro-Latinx gender-fluid pansexual vegan is not out of the norm. While being able to put your identity into words can be empowering, there was also discomfort with the limitations that labels bring, and having to act according to someone else’s definition. Izelle G., a 22-year-old from Los Angeles told us “I feel like the society we live in is very quick to assume the identity of others.” When others label Z, they often get it wrong, and limit their full expression of self.
Billie and Schick are two brands that have recognized the limits and pitfalls of trying to narrowly pinpoint this generation. Gillette’s Venus brand introduced Jazz Jennings, a popular transgender personality and LGBTQ activist, as the face of their razor brand. Jennings’ identity is precisely why Venus chose her; they understood the everyman (or everywoman) is not just a leggy, cisgender blonde in a swimsuit. Her story mattered in the narrative of womanhood, and by bringing Jennings in to Venus’ brand story, they could signal to Z customer’s that their product wasn’t limited to the identities that had traditionally been represented in personal care for decades.
“People have tried to invalidate my identity as a woman. When a major company is endorsing someone who is trans, they are saying, ‘We support Jazz and her identity.’ A lot of people don’t embrace our identities or allow us to express who we are authentically. Venus is saying, ‘No, everyone can be who they are.’” Jazz Jennings
Similarly, Schick, a brand introduced in 1926, feels decidedly with the times with their The Man I Am campaign. “You think in 5 seconds you know the kind of man I am,” a young man shaving challenges. “You don’t get to decide who I am. This is the man I am,” he declares, with video footage of him singing soulfully. The campaign features other refreshingly normal Z men, all found from their original YouTube content, and all champions of an undefinable, unlimited modern masculinity. The brand doesn’t dare try and say who they are, or what real men look like or must do — they let them do the talking. When talking to Z, brands should take note: they aren’t interested in your marketing labels (no matter how well meaning), and need space to declare their complicated identities.
Razor brands know Gen Z is passionate about social issues, but are looking for others to do the talking
A group of student researchers we worked with in Oklahoma defined their generation as the “Repost Generation.” They summed it up as “Younger generations opt to share (retweet, repost, etc.) extreme opinions on social media rather than directly post their opinions, over fear of discourse in a hyper-tense social environment.” It was a sentiment we heard over and over again from this generation; they were passionate about their beliefs, but on a whole, not willing to take up the bullhorn. Maddy C., a 16-year-old YouTube creator, told us “I feel like disagreeing with people makes us very nervous because we’re afraid of losing friends.”
Brands have a greater ability to deal with belief blowback than a 16-year-old. When brands take up the mantle of a controversial causes, Z feels like they are voicing their support for their beliefs by supporting the brand — but with added safety. Though Gillette’s controversial ad tackling toxic masculinity felt squarely aimed at an enabling, older demographic in execution, the bold message was relevant message for Z, and its popularity among this age group increased.
Billie, the decidedly #GirlPower dollar-shave-competitor, has also realized the importance of being vocal on behalf of their customers. Even for gender-fluid Gen Z, “feminist” can still be considered a dirty word; short-comings around representing women from intersectional identities has made the subject a minefield. Nonetheless, in an era of #MeToo, where more women are running for office and attempting to smash the patriarchy, it is a (complicated) topic of great passion for Z.
Billie takes the burden of vocalization from their customers by directly and aggressively challenging the Pink Tax, and notions of hair and femininity with their Project Body Hair. Billie was the first razor brand in 100 years to actually show women shaving hair in their ads, not already smooth legs. They’ve made a point to celebrate the naturalness of body hair, “Wherever it is, or isn’t.” Individually, having armpit hair and challenging societal biases can invite an avalanche of criticism, getting you branded as a shrill feminazi. Billie has recognized espousing those beliefs on behalf of the Z women who shop them is an act of solidarity, and provides a wall of safety Z seeks.
Razor brands know that today, literally everything has content potential. Yes, even armpit hair.
If you had said 10 years ago a photo of a razor would have thousands of likes on Instagram, you would have said, “What’s Instagram?” But then you would have asked, “How?!” In our highly visual world, there is no excuse for a product or brand to not be thinking of how they can be visual content. Z is most comfortable when communicating in visuals; in our research on Zs Tinder habits, we found a greater comfort in use emoji’s than writing long bios (“long” to Z being a sentence). Knowing this, razor companies have rethought the design of their product. They’ve moved away from treating the handle of a razor like a grip adorned, cavity-fighting toothbrush, and instead have produced matte handled, gold-gilded, choose-your-own-color-palette razors, in delightful packaging. Their social content turns bath-time and self-care into a branded way of life. Billie invites women to share photos of their body hair to “fuzzy up the internet.” If a razor and armpit hair can be artistic and ‘gramworthy to Z, there really is no excuse for the rest of us. Why can’t insurance be made more tangible and luxurious? Who says cleaning products have to look sterile, instead of peaceful and aspirational? If brands want to resonate with Z, they’re going to have to revamp the look of their product and packaging to have content potential.
From understanding the new meaning of identity, to being a generationally-relevant mouthpiece on issues like feminism and masculinity, to making a private act instagrammable, razor brands are tapped into the most revolutionary changes this generation is bringing. And, as new generations are often the bellwethers of cultural change (I dare you to go a day without seeing the word “millennials”), it’s worth taking notes from their playbook.
Gen Z is raising the bar for marketers; hopefully we’ll follow suit of these personal care innovators and “razor standards” to meet them.
ADDITIONAL LISTEN: Author Interview with NPR Seattle: Take a lesson from Gen Z: Let your body hair grow