The Gillette Company enjoyed a position of dominance in men’s toiletries, a broad category that included not only deodorants and antiperspirants but also such items as pre- and aftershave products. Deodorants and antiperspirants, however, remained the largest product categories in toiletries, with Gillette’s Right Guard brand among the leaders. Gillette had attained its leadership in the market through a combination of new product development, technological innovation, and an expanding global presence.
By the mid-1990s marketers of deodorants and antiperspirants were no longer emphasizing protection against odor but rather various aesthetic factors. New developments included products that were clear and that left no residue on clothing as well as protectants that were formulated to glide on easily. This new approach in product development and marketing came at a time when sales of antiperspirants and deodorants had begun to stagnate, a sign that the market was saturated. With the advent of clear gels and sticks, however, the market began growing again. Not unexpectedly, industry leader Gillette was in the forefront of the growth. Seeking continuity in its marketing, it rolled out its clear stick and clear gel products under the banner of its long-running ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ campaign, using famous athletes in unlikely situations to promote the new items. Although response to the campaign was mixed, Gillette was able to maintain and even improve upon its market share.
For almost a century Gillette had been the worldwide leader in products for male grooming, a category originally comprising blades, razors, and other shaving accoutrements. But toiletries for men came to form only a portion of the company’s vast global sales. Gillette also achieved a dominant market position in writing implements, correction products, and toothbrushes and oral care appliances. Relying on its traditional strengths of research and development, advertising, and geographic expansion, the company managed to continue to sustain its growth. Founded in Boston in 1901 by King C. Gillette, the company introduced the world’s first safety razor two years later. A patent for the device followed in 1904. In 1905 Gillette expanded outside the United States, establishing a sales office in London and a manufacturing operation in Paris. The famous Gillette Blue Blade was introduced in 1932 and an innovative dispenser that eliminated the need to unwrap razor blades after World War II. Gillette diversified its operations after the war. In 1955 it acquired the Paper Mate Pen Company, an expansion into the area of stationery that it has maintained since. Hoping to secure its grip on the toiletries market, Gillette introduced Right Guard aerosol deodorant in 1960. Brisk sales of the deodorant, along with innovations in shaving products, pushed annual Gillette sales past the $1 billion mark for the first time in 1973. In the 1980s Gillette continued to expand by acquiring Liquid Paper Corp., a maker of correction products, and Oral-B Laboratories, a toothbrush manufacturer. But the company had to fend off numerous hostile takeover bids, and it embarked on a dramatic restructuring program in order to increase profitability. In 1990 the company introduced the Sensor shaving system in 16 countries. Since that time Gillette has continued to seek competitive advantage in its three businesses: personal grooming products, stationery products, and small electrical appliances. By 1997 sales exceeded $10 billion. With a workforce of 44,000 in 63 facilities worldwide, the company distributed its products in more than 200 countries and territories around the globe.
By sharing resources among its units to optimize performance, Gillette hoped to nurture sustained sales and profit growth. Its plan was to maintain its market dominance by shrewdly investing in the technologies that were vital to success in each of its core businesses. This strategy informed the 1993 launch of Gillette Series Clear Gel antiperspirant. This product was followed in 1996 by the introduction of clear stick products under the Gillette and Right Guard brand names. The company’s stated mission, however, remained unchanged—
‘‘to offer consumers products of the highest level of performance for value.’’
‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ was first introduced as the tag line in Right Guard ads in 1986. The New York advertising agency NW Ayer & Partners had created the commercials to appeal to sports-loving male consumers. Early spots featured such sports celebrities as the basketball player Charles Barkley, football’s Brian Bosworth, baseball player Kirk Gibson, boxer Marvin Hagler, and wrestler Terry ‘‘Hulk’’ Hogan, along with action film star Chuck Norris. The common trait of these celebrity spokesmen was an aggressive nature and tough-guy demeanor.
With the launch of Right Guard Clear Stick Antiperspirant and Deodorant in 1996, Gillette again turned to NW Ayer to create an appeal to the active male. The agency developed a new print and television ad campaign featuring Scottie Pippen of the National Basketball Association (NBA) champion Chicago Bulls. By placing a highly recognizable sports star in an unfamiliar visual context—in this case on a croquet lawn—the ad team hoped to provide a juxtaposition that would grab the attention of the male sports fans who bought Right Guard.
By the mid-1990s Gillette had reasons to be concerned about its toiletries business. According to data from Information Resources, sales of deodorants and antiperspirants in food, drug, and mass-merchandising stores fell 1.1 percent in 1996 to $1.4 billion. Among the top five leading brands, only Procter & Gamble’s Secret and Colgate-Palmolive’s Mennen registered sales gains. The dollar sales of Secret rose 3 percent, while Mennen’s sales increased 13.1 percent. According to Mennen’s own figures, its Speed Stick grew two to three times faster than its other brands.
The tremendous rise in Speed Stick sales could be explained by three key factors: the introduction of Speed Stick gel in March 1996, improvements to the traditional stick formula that kept cannibalization of existing products to a minimum, and an aggressive marketing program that motivated consumers. Because of the success of Speed Stick, Gillette moved quickly to replicate the formula.
In the category of clear antiperspirants, Gillette chose to focus its efforts on promoting its existing line instead of launching a new one. Accordingly, in 1996, when Peter Clay was named vice president for business management of Gillette toiletries, he was given a simple mission—to take the technology already in use on Gillette Series Clear Gel and put it into an antiperspirant stick form. Gillette poured $30 million into research and development on the clear stick.
The first fruit of Clay’s mandate was Gillette Series Clear Stick, introduced in the summer of 1996. This was followed later in the year by Right Guard Clear Stick. Together the two products were the first truly clear antiperspirant sticks on the market that did not leave white residue on the body or clothes. ‘‘It’s an antiperspirant formula that’s a challenge because it’s hard to get the efficaciousness of a stick without white residue,’’ Clay explained to Advertising Age. To emphasize the difference, Clay decided to make the packaging clear, and, to drive home the distinction even further, he had stickers bearing the legend ‘‘No White Residue’’ placed on every package. Under the aegis of Clay and his staff, NW Ayer created the product’s $25 million ad campaign. For its national ad campaign Gillette commissioned the agency to create a series of television commercials using the slogan ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized.’’ The tag line had been a staple of Right Guard spots since 1986. Industry veteran Stan Schofield was selected to direct the ads, and Scottie Pippen of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls was chosen to appear in the spots as celebrity spokesman. The sports connection was obvious, since many previous Right Guard spots had used superstar athletes. But Gillette had other reasons for choosing Pippen. ‘‘We decided to utilize Scottie because he is a driving force on the most powerful team in the NBA and truly embodies the spirit of Right Guard,’’ Carole Johnson, Gillette’s vice president for personal care products, told PR Newswire.
To provide humor that would help make the ad memorable, NW Ayer’s creative team attired Pippen demurely in an Edwardian cable knit sweater vest and placed him on a croquet lawn. His mouthing of the campaign’s tag line thus became the blithe comment of a sophisticate who has finally found a deodorant that will not jeopardize the aesthetics of his leisure ensemble. For Gillette’s Johnson, the use of a basketball player was winningly apropos. ‘‘On the court, he’s a tough competitor and a highly respected player,’’ she told PR Newswire. ‘‘Portraying him in an unexpectedly gentle and reserved manner provides a contrast that is both attention-getting and humorous.’’ The first ads of the new campaign began airing in January 1997. The commercials appeared in prime time on broadcast networks and cable television outlets in 15- and 30-second versions. The accompanying print campaign ran in sports and general-interest publications.
In January 1997 the 10-year relationship between Right Guard and NW Ayer & Partners came to an end. Gillette shifted its account, whose value was estimated at $10 million, to New York-based Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. The new agency now faced the challenge of putting a fresh twist on the ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ campaign. In January 1998, Saatchi & Saatchi debuted its first television commercials. The 15-and 30-second spots were shown during NBC’s national telecast of the FedEx Orange Bowl college football game. Retaining the ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ tag line, the new spots again placed a prominent athlete in an unlikely situation, this time Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith as the master of a team of show dogs. ‘‘When one is competing for the eye of the judges,’’ Smith remarked in the 30-second spot, as he held a pack of bulldogs at bay, ‘‘one must keep a firm leash on odor and perspiration.’’ The dogs then performed tricks at Smith’s command. The spot ended with Smith accepting a trophy for best of show as he uttered the tag line. The commercials were followed by print ads in sports and general-interest periodicals. Some critics questioned the choice of Smith, a veteran on the downside of his career, as the new spokesman. But Gillette was quick to offer a defense of its new standard bearer. ‘‘Emmitt’s championship attitude and tenacious style of play mirror the Right Guard image and make him a great candidate for the campaign,’’ said Clay. ‘‘He is a driving force on the field and a highly respected player by both teammates and fans; depicting him as reserved and genteel is a contradiction that is entertaining and humorous.’’
Despite favorable reaction in the media, the Right Guard ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ ads failed to impress consumers. USA Today’s Ad Track measured the popularity and effectiveness of the Pippen commercials in the spring of 1997. A scant 11 percent of respondents who had seen the spots at least three times reported that they liked them a great deal. The Right Guard commercials thus ranked among the least popular campaigns measured by Ad Track in its first two years of polling.
There also were mixed results among demographic groups. Older consumers tended to like the ads, with 19 percent responding very favorably. The spots were clearly targeted at the young, however. But only 14 percent of those polled between the ages of 18 and 24 gave high popularity marks to the ads. Even more vexing for Right Guard’s marketers was the lukewarm response of male consumers, the campaign’s core market. Only 9 percent of men liked the ads a lot, compared with 14 percent of women.
When Ad Track sought to measure consumer recall, the Right Guard ads elicited more positive responses. More than 60 percent of those surveyed reported that they had seen an ‘‘Anything Else Would Be Uncivilized’’ ad on more than one occasion. Industry observers credited the campaign’s high recall numbers to its effective use of humor.
It remained to be seen whether the Saatchi & Saatchi ads featuring Smith would do anything to improve the poll numbers. The initial critical response to the ads was less than encouraging. At best, Gillette was faulted for bad timing in choosing Smith to do the ads. For the first time in seven seasons the Dallas Cowboys had failed to make the National Football League play-offs, and Smith himself was widely seen as being headed for retirement. ‘‘Smith is a likable athlete,’’ said Denise Gellene in the Los Angeles Times, ‘‘but for now, at least, he isn’t a winner.’’
Although the deodorant category as a whole was flat in 1997, Gillette, along with other top brands, posted sizable gains. According to Information Resources, sales of Gillette’s Right Guard grew 4.9 percent during the year.