Peter York on Ads: The charge of the Light Brigade is hardly cutting edge

Wilkinson
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The Independent Online

Shaving equipment leapt ahead in the 1990s. The private grief of millions of men with sensitive skin who were newly ripped and torn each morning - it was that or try joining the actor's two-day growth movement, impossible for accountants and insurance brokers - was practically ended.

Shaving equipment leapt ahead in the 1990s. The private grief of millions of men with sensitive skin who were newly ripped and torn each morning - it was that or try joining the actor's two-day growth movement, impossible for accountants and insurance brokers - was practically ended.

Two products changed everything. The first was shaving oil, which was miles better than any foamy thing going. Any kind of oil, I suspect. They said you needed a blend of special, refined just-for-men oils, but extra virgin olive - or even Mazola - probably does the trick. Oil reduced the pain hugely, just like the incoming Gillette Sensor, which shortly got a more expensive brand extension, the Sensor Excel. The Sensor was a twin-blade invention with a built-in strip of something soapy, which made shaving smoother.

Then in the later 1990s Gillette bought out the Mach3, with lots of Top Gun/hot, car imagery. The Mach3 had three blades and yet more smooth strips. It also had a more expensive brother called the Mach3 Turbo, the supercharged version. M3T was expensive - more than £1 a blade - but effective. And it became the most shoplifted product in Tesco. Gillette was on a roll. "The best a man can get" was played in advertising as the male equivalent of those Madison Avenue International campaigns for US women's hair and beauty brands. It was formulaic, but brilliant. You knew what was coming - a man with a well-cut jaw and a Men's Health chest, shaving in the middle distance, with a lot of aerospace whooshing and a bit of computer-generated exposition.

But way back in the 1960s Gillette seemed to have lost it. A smaller upstart, an offshoot of Wilkinson Sword - makers of military and ceremonial swords to the world, a rather Spink-like, imperial business - invented razor blades that grew from grassroots cult to serious universal distribution within a few years. Wilkinson's crossed-swords imagery commanded a premium from a deferential nation then, like After Eights or Harvey's Bristol Cream. And Gillette seemed on the back foot.

Wilkinson (American-owned, too, by now) took its time to respond to all these 1990s Clarkson gizmos from Gillette, but last year it came out with the Quattro: four blades. The new Quattro campaign seems to get everything wrong. It's in two parts, one of which really belongs in a second-tier beer commercial. The other looks like a Gillette formula knock-off. The first is Swinging London Part II, with a sort of latter-day Patti Boyd coming on strong to a bemused boy, while the second plays it strictly to plan with Mr Big Pecs, a lot of rather dated looking, green laser lights, more aerodynamic whooshing, and a Mockney voice-over. It's meant to be premium, but it's bottled out from real distinctiveness and simply looks like parody. Americans do those formula "personal product" approaches so well that it's difficult to challenge them directly. And where's the premium in that Light Brigade crossed-swords logo for 25-year-olds?

peter@sru.co.uk

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