Funny Is Good Business: Dollar Shave Club Brand Review
Sometimes a business opportunity is hidden in plain sight.
Dollar Shave Club (DSC), the multi-million dollar online membership company, found their opportunity in razor blades.
But it’s not so much the product as the marketing savvy of Dollar Shave Club that has made it stand out.
The business model, unconventional advertising campaigns, and a willingness to seek feedback directly from customers, created a perfect storm of success.
In less than five years, the company went from a one-person operation to over 600 employees. Today, the company boasts revenues of $250M and four million subscribers. In 2015, the company was acquired for $1 Billion by Unilever, while allowing the founder to remain in control.
The story of Dollar Shave Club is a modern marketing masterclass. Harnessing the power of unique voice, compelling offers, and changing market needs, they successfully created a new business model that has shifted the way consumers want to buy.
Best of all, the story of the company itself is entertaining and inspiring.
A Warehouse Full of Opportunity
In 2012, Gilette dominated the razor market in the United States, with a 72 percent market share. As is typical with monopoly industries, the product was painful to acquire.
The usual practice for men to buy razors was to go to the store after they desperately needed them. The packages were locked in a cabinet for safety and required speaking to someone to get a hold of them.
On top of all this, the razors were expensive.
Most men would suffer through blunt razors as long as humanly possible.
For Michael Dubin, a New York marketing and advertising executive, the opportunity presented itself one evening at a cocktail party.
Talking with his friend Mark Levine, he discovered someone who needed to sell a warehouse full of surplus razor blades.
At this moment, Dubin created a rough business plan: sell razors by mail to men for a lower price, and take away the pain of going to the store.
Using his marketing savvy, he registered dollarshaveclub.com the next week and started on his new venture.
The Power of Viral Video
Knowing that directly competing with Gilette’s brand was an impossible challenge, Dubin took a left-field approach. Drawing on his love for improvisational comedy, he created the first promotional commercial for Dollar Shave Club.
On March 6, 2012, Dollar Shave Club published a video announcing itself to the world. The offer was compelling, and the video was refreshingly different.
With a blend of brash statements and farcical asides, the video introduced a new kind of brand voice.
The commercial starts off sounding like an ad. Michael Dubin seated at a desk, talking directly to the camera.
“I’m Mike, founder of DollarShaveClub.com. For a dollar a month, we send high-quality razors right to your door.”
Suddenly, it takes a surprising turn.
“Yeah, a dollar! Are the blades any good? No. Our blades are f***ing great.”
Fifteen seconds and the message is clear: this brand doesn’t take itself seriously, even though it’s serious about offering value to customers.
But they don’t stop there. Next, they lampoon conventional razor companies for all their ridiculous innovations over the years.
“Do you think your razor needs a vibrating handle, a flashlight, a backscratcher, and ten blades?”
This theme of honesty and simplicity has run through all their marketing campaigns since.
The video cost $4,500 to make, funded directly from Dubin’s savings. Thanks to his comic chops and some clever aligning with the tech community, the video became an instant viral success. Dollar Shave Club company took in 12,000 orders that same day. Today, the video has 26 million views on YouTube and counting.
Seeking Funding and Branching Out
The video’s launch coincided with the announcement that the company had closed $1 million in seed funding. According to Dubin:
“the tech press picked it up first, and then the mainstream press picked it up from there. At that point, it was viral.”
In October, the same year, with another $9.8 Million in funding, DSC began expansion into an area that nobody expected. After researching their core demographic, the number one complaint was terrible toilet paper. So Dollar Shave Club created a new line of flushable wipes, cheekily named ‘One Wipe Charlies.’
A year later, a $12 million Series B round raised by Venrock, Comcast Ventures, New World Investors and Battery Ventures paved the way for expansion. Alongside the fundraising announcement, Dollar Shave Club announced it would expand its product line to include a dozen other men’s products in 2014. In June 2015, the company secured $75 million in series D funding.
On July 19, 2016, Unilever acquired Dollar Shave Club for $1 billion in cash. Even though this buyout came early for the company, the terms allowed Dubin to remain in charge and expand internationally.
Since 2016, the company continued to grow and streamline its offers. While other subscription companies maneuvered into the market (including competing services by Gillette and Amazon) Dollar Shave Club paved the way for a new type of business offering.
The entire rise of the subscription box economy was bolstered by the funding and sale of Dollar Shave Club. The quick rise in popularity of DSC shows consumers want something simpler, more convenient, and yes, funnier.
Here are some of the key ways they managed to beat the big boys at their own game, with very little funding and a lot of audacity.
Targeting The Pain
Nobody thinks of shaving as an exciting topic. We all do it, and we don’t want to spend more time thinking about it. Dollar Shave Club doesn’t try to make shaving and grooming interesting. It just gives you a solution to make it easier.
The genius of Dollar Shave Club is in adding humor and relatability to the topic. Their advertisements and website copy are refreshingly honest and in some cases, push the boundaries of satire. This makes the consumer feel that the company ‘gets it’ and builds immediate trust.
Celebrating The Real
A recent ad campaign by DSC is the ‘Dad Bod‘ music video. Celebrating the typically less-admired types of men’s body shapes, it blends humor and music and invites men who are not supermodels or athletes to join the club. This is in stark comparison to most men’s grooming ads where the model featured looks nothing like a regular consumer.
Making It Simple
Dollar Shave Club offers three membership plans, which can be upgraded or downgraded at any time. It isn’t hard to figure out how it works or what the product does. The marketing messages speak directly to the features of the product and make you want to at least try them.
The affordable Starter Sets give you a way to experience the products and the ordering process. If you like what you get, you can easily order more. If not, you cancel, and that’s it.
A Compelling Offer
One of the best tactics for great marketing is to offer a product people actually want. That’s why Dollar Shave Club spends a ton of time gaining feedback from its core customers.
Last year, it created a 500-member, invite-only group of long-standing customers. They now test new products and give instant feedback before going into production. As a result of feedback and testing, the company now offers oral care, skincare, shower products, deodorant, and cologne.
As a bonus, the company created a small printed piece called ‘Bathroom Minutes’ that ships with each delivery. Full of humor and interesting facts, it gives you something interesting to read while taking care of business.
Pushing The Boundaries
No other company ever dared to speak as plainly as Dollar Shave Club. Their comment that their razors are ‘f***ing great’ echoes the same sentiments Steve Jobs had about the original Mac. But it also speaks to people in a way they normally talk.
People are blunt and honest and use curse words. They heckle each other and make fun of the establishment. Dollar Shave Club joins in the fun by adding irreverence to everything they do. Their headlines make you laugh, their ads make you want to rewatch them. And their CEO seems like that guy in the office you want to have a beer with.
While not every company can echo this approach, there is a lot to learn in terms of creating a genuine brand voice.
As the world becomes more connected, there is a risk of companies becoming generic. A brand that is too polite, or too overly optimistic, or too cautious tends to create a bland feel.
Whereas brands like Dollar Shave Club continuously prove that pushing the boundaries can grab the attention and the market away from the established leaders.