Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

Coming soon: the 10-blade 'Edward Scissorhands' razor

Here's a thing. In the summer of 1998 Gillette launched the Mach 3 razor, a triple-blader, some 27 years and $750m of R & D costs after its previous major innovation, the first twin-blade Trac II.

There's scarcely a male reader who will not know that the Mach 3 came under serious threat from Schick in 2003 with the launch of its innovative Quattro product, which had, um, four blades. Now, amid the most extraordinary fanfare, Gillette, recently acquired by Procter & Gamble for close to $6bn, has hit back, unveiling its Fusion products last week. Yes, you guessed it - a five-blade razor range.

I don't know how much R & D went into Fusion, and P & G wishes it probably didn't. But I am sure it was a cast of thousands of highly trained razor boffins, and I am sure they examined every possible permutation of razor and chin before coming up with the genius idea: add another blade!

The trouble is, I don't understand why they stopped at five. If the first blade "shaves you close, and the second closer still", and likewise the third, fourth and fifth, then surely the same would go for a sixth, a seventh - hell, make it an eighth and call it the Octopus? Greek men could even use it for their backs.

Doesn't each successive innovation make a mockery of the claim that this is "the best a man can get"? Surely if I stuck six Bic single blades (or three double blades) together with Sellotape and shaved off my Body Shop shaving cream (no scent or anything added) that would be the best a man could get currently, on the grounds that sooner or later Gillette or Schick (is Wilkinson Sword still around?) is going to launch a six-blader anyway?

So, come the new year, once we mere mortals are allowed to slash at our faces with "the first wet razor to contain a microchip" (automated or non is the choice), will the USP still be in place?

Either way, I hope that Gillette's new P & G masters can impart some of the knowledge they must have accumulated from their successive high-profile junkets to the Cannes Advertising Festival, and produce a spot for February's Super Bowl, and beyond, that moves beyond the agonies of that line and the computer-animated image of the blades snipping off chin hair.

Sadly, I think there's more chance of a wet shave from Edward Scissorhands. Over to you, BBDO.

IT'S HARD to know what to say about the woeful InterPublic group announcement, particularly given what the group said in its own words. IPG had found "instances of falsified books and records, violations of laws, regulations and company policies, misappropriation of assets, and inappropriate customer charges and dealings with vendors". More heads will roll - that is, if there are any heads left, either of those immediately on the ground or at the very top, that haven't already rolled. But you can't help feeling sorry for the thousands of employees who spend their days toiling away at IPG companies wondering when, and if, their extremely highly paid HQ masters will ever sort out the mess - let alone how did a mess on this scale ever come about in the first place. It would be nice to believe that the group's clients will stay loyal through its tough times - nice, but naive. It's all very sad.

SO, ANOTHER of the last bastions of the anti-advertising agency marketer is to bite the bullet and turn to adland for good old-fashioned product advertising. Benetton, one of the most controversial advertisers of the 90s in particular, is seeking an agency in the hope of reversing a slump that has led to a recent profit warning and a significant drop in its share price.

This, after all those years of shock-tactic political advertising - from the dying Aids patient to the blood-spattered soldier's uniform, from the bonking horses and a new-born baby to nuns in various guises. Those were the days, eh?

That work, of course, polarised the ad industry like almost no other campaign. It left many viewing the Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani, who was behind 20 years of Benetton images, as a genius. Others simply felt that the emperor had no clothes.

I was going to write "jumpers", but I am not sure that any of you reading this have even been in a Benetton recently, let alone knows that the chain made its name on brightly coloured jumpers for the world.

What we do know is that the company has never really moved its "United Colors of Benetton" campaign on in a meaningful way since parting company with Toscani in 2003. Its softer approach has left it mired in a sea of competitors, most notably fcuk, Gap, Zara and H&M. There appears to be far greater innovation in its Sisley sister brand, and whereas it was clear that Benetton once stood as a clear antidote to the ethos of the Thatcher/Reagan era, it is no longer clear what the brand means.

It is a wonderful challenge for the successful agency. It is still a huge brand, albeit one in dire need of a serious rethink. Like many advertisers with an (in)famous past, one of its biggest problems might be that its previous work was just too powerful to shrug off. But wouldn't you love to try?

A NOTE on some account moves this past week. First, it's good to see Beattie McGuinness Bungay picking up a proper brand that needs some TLC: First Choice Holidays. We've all been waiting to see what Trevor and co can do. Here's a very good opportunity. Start-ups are perhaps unfairly judged by their first couple of accounts, so here's hoping for some exciting creative work.

Next, two agencies that really needed a win landed good accounts this week. Lowe London took Twinings Teas, which should have great advertising. Let's hope the client is brave enough to ask for it. Clearly with Stephen Fry set to stay in his spokesman's role, it will continue to focus on "Englishness".

Leagas Delaney, having lost Twinings, picked up BlackBerry, every businessperson's favourite toy. I am stunned to read (in Campaign) that there are some 3.1 million of them now circulating in the UK. It seems an extraordinarily high figure to me. But there is no doubt that it is an iconoclastic product - although I am very in love with my new e-mailing/web-friendly Motorola Windows smart phone, the MPx 220 (although if there's anyone at Motorola who can tell me how to make it ring louder, or vibrate and ring simultaneously...).

Tim Delaney will have handled tougher briefs than to make this product more accessible to non-business users. If, as reported, however, BlackBerry spends £4m in a year and - for that matter - Twinings £9m, then I am buying you all a Lapsang Souchong.

If you have any tips for a closer shave e-mail stefanohat!@aol.com

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