I always buy Gillette razor blades, which makes me ‘brand loyal’. But what does that mean? And why does it make me feel uneasy? The answer struck me recently in our local Savers - you never know when insight will strike.
The traditional notion of brand loyalty says that it is driven by positive feelings and some kind of emotional commitment or bond to a brand, as may apply to a person. This Metaphorical Model is advocated in Saatchi & Saatchi’s Lovemarks, based on a 2004 book by Kevin Roberts and updated in 2015 in the paper, Loyalty Beyond Reason. Brand loyalty is driven by ‘brand love’. A crucial link seems to be, because people can be brands, so brands are like people. (Well, it does say 'beyond reason').
The 2015 update attempts to provide evidence to support this theory, with copious scientific-sounding references, eg: "Dr. Paul Zak, an economist and neurobiologist ... has identified the instances when people love brands more than people, triggered by a ‘story button’ in the brain". The Lovemarks blog is now closed to new submissions.
The Behavioural Model by contrast says that brand loyalty is not an emotional bond but is based on repeated behaviour and is a matter of salience, availability and convenience. People have only weak links with brands, which are not at all like relationships we have with people. This model is advocated by Byron Sharp in ‘How Brands Grow’.
The battle of these conflicting models of brand loyalty has seen a comprehensive victory for the Behaviourists, I think. The idea of brand love been exposed by many, including Martin Weigel and Mark Earls. This is good because the Metaphorical Model is total twaddle.
Byron Sharp shared a conference platform with Kevin Roberts in 2011 and to make his point about loyalty being based on habit not love, he asked those in the audience to put their hand up if they had returned to the same chair they were sitting in previously – nearly everyone did. “Amazing loyalty, but not presumably due to your strong emotional commitment to that particular plastic white chair”.
Which parallels my unease about Gillette loyalty. I buy the blades but I don’t feel the love. In fact I feel resentment at having to pay so much for razor blades to an organisation who spends it on cheesy advertising with personalities (‘brands’) which leaves me cold.
So why persist, you may ask?
For those who don't wet shave, razor blades or heads are designed to fit a particular handle and there has been a kind of ‘razor arms race’ between Gillette and competitors. The twin-bladed Contour led to Sensor, then Mach 3 (three blades), then Fusion (five blades!). Proliferation continued with the likes of ProGlide and Proshield Flexball.
I suspect that men cannot resist buying the highest spec gizmo. The higher tech the features, the better (regardless of need), from power tools to cars to razors. ‘The best a man can get’ is a powerful line - conceptual catnip to a man.
Therefore men (like me) have one or more branded ‘handles’ which fit only one type of blade. Gillette’s dominance is such that their blades retail for up to £2.50 each. It has been estimated that this represents a mark-up of 4,750%.
- I honestly could not remember which gel I bought last time
- I excluded foam, then more expensive gels, then tertiary brands
- I’m never sure whether or not I have ‘sensitive skin’, so I ruled these in
My strategy was ‘buy the cheapest branded gel’ with an upper limit of £1.50 for 200ml. This is one of these conversations I remind myself never to actually have aloud, along with, 'what is the cheapest litre of petrol?' or 'what's the best way from A to B through London?'.
This left two options, Mach 3 (RHS) and Sensitive (LHS). I bought them both, to prove conclusively that that there was in fact no difference between them. Wrong: there was a difference and it had nothing to do with technology. It was all about the smell.
The Sensitive one smelled like soap, a vaguely carbolic, Imperial Leather type of smell. It reminded me of barbers shops and old armchairs and confidence.
Shaving is a private, intimate activity which has not really changed over the years.
We are told that Generation Z consumers are more savvy and more brand-wary than previous generations.
So let’s hope that P&G, who bought Gillette for $57bn in 2005, don’t forget the power of fragrance and its role in signalling a more 'authentic', unvarnished, confident masculinity.
Let’s hope that P&G are not about to discontinue Gillette Sensitive shave gel.
And let’s not forget, despite what some New Behaviourists say, the value of honest introspection (ie questioning) in revealing truths about why we buy what we buy.