Norelco Consumer Products Company

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Norelco Consumer Products Company

1010 Washington Blvd.
Stamford, Connecticut 06912-0015
Telephone: (203) 973-0200
Web site:



Norelco Consumer Products Company introduced the Reflex Action Razor in 1996. The product launch, backed by an unusually large advertising budget and an aggressive marketing campaign, helped revitalize the stagnating electric shaver category. A strategy of wooing wet-shaver users, especially young men, led Norelco's advertising agency, D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B) of New York, to create several animated ads that made shaving with a wet razor look about as safe and soothing as using a hungry crocodile to perform the same task. Electric shavers, however, typically required a period of adjustment before they did not irritate the skin, so the Gillette Company, far and away the leader in the wet-shaving market, sued Norelco and won an injunction that prevented Norelco from claiming that its electric shavers were less irritating than wet-shaving systems.

To meet the legal requirements DMB&B created a series of ads in which young men were asked to shave with the Reflex Action Razor for 21 days and then decide whether to toss their conventional wet razors. The series included the popular "Hockey" spot, which featured players from the Hartford Wolfpack minor league hockey team who were initially skeptical about the electric shaver. The players were eventually won over, however, and their clean-shaven faces garnered comments such as the following from an opposing team's mascot: "Look at you, pretty boys. So smoooooth." The mascot was then slammed into the boards by the beard-free Wolfpack players. The campaign was a success, and the electric shaver category saw growth in its aftermath.


The Philips Company was founded in 1891 as a light-bulb company in the Dutch town of Eindhoven by a young engineer, Gerard Philips. Gerard's brother Anton joined the company in 1895, and it was he who encouraged Professor Alexandre Horowitz to develop the company's rotary electric shaver. During the Great Depression Philips sales lagged, and the company began searching for products to expand its market reach beyond the lightbulbs and radios for which it had become known. A Philips executive traveling in the United States collected a number of electric shavers, which had been developed by American Jacob Schick in the 1920s. Horowitz showed interest in the electric shavers and created his own shaving system, which, unlike Schick's reciprocating-cut shavers, used rotating cutters. The Philishave was first sold in 1939 in Europe, just as World War II was breaking out. American GIs returning home from the war in Europe who had used the Philishave created a demand for the product in the United States. Philips began marketing shavers in the United States under the Norelco name in 1948. Norelco's first product was a man's rotary razor, which was an immediate success. Norelco led the electric razor category from that time forward.

The company expanded over the next several decades and increased its product line to include hundreds of household items. In the late 1980s, however, Norelco scaled back and cut by 50 percent the number of products it was selling, leaving some markets altogether in order to focus on shavers, coffeemakers, steam irons, and air-filtering machines. Norelco also decided to focus its marketing efforts on high-end products for which consumers would be willing to pay a premium. For years the company's razors were advertised with special Christmastime ads that showed an animated Santa Claus sledding over snowy hills on a Norelco shaver and the tag line "Norelco—even our name says 'Merry Christmas.'" The ads, although long-running, neither boosted electric razor sales nor converted blade users; instead, they promoted the notion that Norelco was a toy company. The ads were dropped in 1986, and Norelco began a high-tech campaign with DMB&B emphasizing models with features such as the company's patented lift-and-cut system, rechargeable batteries and charge meters, and ergonomic design. "We made close comfortable" was the tag line.

From 1986 to 1989 sales of Norelco's razors soared from $100 to $160 million annually, as did the company's advertising budget. When DMB&B signed on with Norelco in 1987, the ad budget was reported at $10 million annually. Over two years the budget grew to $30 million, enabling the company to buy year-round advertising, rather than its traditional limitation to fourth-quarter ads.

By the mid-1990s sales in the industry had flattened out. Research showed that users of electric razors tended to stick with them, but that wet-razor users—younger men in particular—rarely switched over to electric systems. In the mid-1990s Norelco began an aggressive marketing campaign for its razors. Norelco's Reflex Action Razor enjoyed a historically large advertising budget and was joined in competition by Braun, Remington, and other razor companies trying to reinvigorate the category.


Loyal male electric razor users, most in the 35-plus age range, were known to update their products occasionally. With the launch of the Reflex Action Razor, however, Norelco looked to broaden the market for its electric systems by appealing to younger men and expanding the target consumers to include 18-to-34 year olds. Norelco president Pat Dinley told Advertising Age in 1996, "Long-term, the big opportunity is in converting people who use blades to electric." DMB&B account director Robert Easley explained to the same Advertising Age reporter the correlation between blade users and youth: "Blades are more heavily developed in the younger segments. They view conventional blade shaving as the norm."


Norelco dominated the men's electric shaving category, with a reported 50-plus percent market share throughout the 1990s. Remington Products Corporation held the number two spot, and Gillette's Braun was third in sales of electric shavers. Competition among these companies heated up after Norelco introduced the Reflex Action Razor in 1996. Remington launched the Dual Microscreen in 1997, with a sleek design, a beefy advertising budget (up 40 percent from the year before), and the tag line "Built to shave incredibly close." In 1998 Remington rolled out the Microscreen 3. At the same time Braun was pushing its Flex Integral electric shaver to young men and women. All three companies backed up their campaigns with promotions and flashy new packaging.


The hockey players and cadets who eventually starred in Norelco ads did not know at first that they might wind up doing them; they were simply given a free shaver and asked to test it for three weeks. Some of those who liked the shavers were asked to work in the ads, and after the ads had run, a number of the men expressed surprise at their newfound fame. "We didn't think it would be that big," a Wolfpack member told the New York Daily News. "So many people have called the house and said, 'I can't believe it, but I just saw you on TV.' It came out great. It's on all the time. It's unbelievable. The whole team was out at dinner the other night and there was a game on and the commercial came on and everybody starting hooting and hollering."

Perhaps more intense than the competition among electric shaver manufacturers was the war between Norelco and Gillette, the overwhelming leader in the wet-shaving category. Among the first ads for Norelco's Reflex Action Razor was a series of animated spots with names such as "Fire Breathing Razor" and "Twin Blade Serpent" that depicted wet razors as nasty creatures, biting, stinging and burning men's faces. The ads carried the tag line, "Anything closer would be too close for comfort." Although the ads did not name a specific brand of wet razor, Gillette sued Norelco for maligning wet shaving and for falsely advertising that electric systems were pain-free. Norelco asserted that its ads were not intended to impugn a specific brand or product, but Gillette spokespeople were widely quoted as saying, "When you disparage wet shaving, you are disparaging Gillette because we are the clear leader in the industry."

Gillette was on somewhat shaky legal ground when it took the Norelco ads personally. But it had a stronger case on its allegation of misleading advertising. It was not common knowledge that electric shavers could irritate skin for up to three weeks on first use and that there was usually a period of adjustment before they provided a thoroughly comfortable shave. Gillette charged that Norelco did not adequately warn consumers about this risk and that the ads showing wet razors as greater irritants were thus deceptive. In December 1996 a judge ruled that Norelco could not claim its own product was less irritating than wet-razor systems, but the judge did not bar the company from portraying wet razors as vicious, and the lawsuit continued. In 1998 a federal court rejected a majority of Gillette's claims (a few points continued in litigation), although by then Norelco had adjusted its advertising to make clear the fact that electric razors might not provide the best shave before a three-week acclimation period.


In 1997 a DMB&B executive was quoted in Advertising Age, "You've got to fish where the fish are, and wet razors have great penetration among 18-to-34-year-olds. We're trying to change the perception of electric razors as old-fashioned." To lure younger consumers Norelco designed the Reflex Action Razor to include cutting-edge razor technology that allowed for various shaving angles, an LCD display, and an appealing choice of colors. In its advertising Norelco positioned wet razors as harsh and irritating and showed electric shavers as a less fraught alternative. The ads were intended to reach young men—a group in which about half self-identified as having sensitive skin—and the tag line for the launch campaign of the Reflex Action Razor was, "Anything closer would be too close for comfort." Ads were bought in publications such as Men's Fitness, GQ, and Men's Health and on both network and cable television.

To back up its ads Norelco invested in direct mail to about three million consumers, in-store displays, and various promotions including a sweepstakes with a car as one of the prizes. Don Imus, a nationally syndicated radio show host, was convinced to take the "21-day test drive" on the air, and consumers were offered a money-back guarantee if they took the test and found the Reflex Action Razor did not satisfy their needs. Norelco also bought a sponsorship with the National Hockey League, whose viewers were predominantly young and male. For Norelco's sponsorship the NHL created a "Face Off" award, tracking individual and team face off statistics. While shaving sponsorships were not new to the world of professional sports, the NHL sponsorship was particularly notable because Norelco had not invested much in such promotions previously.

Norelco spent more on its launch of the Reflex Action Razor than it had on any previous campaign. According to Brandweek, "[Norelco] normally outspends the rest of its competitors combined on advertising and spent $30 million on the intro of its Reflex Action Razor."


The electric shaver market grew a modest 3 to 4 percent per year during the mid- and late 1990s. Retailers attributed the growth both to advertising and to improved packaging that made the shopping experience easier for the consumer. The ads themselves were a hit, and the "Hockey" commercial garnered an Adweek award for one of the top spots of 1998. Sportswriters favorably compared the ads to the NHL's own marketing, and Sherry Ross of the New York Daily News noted that "one of the most amusing sports-themed advertisements on television [portrayed] hockey players as personable and human, something the NHL has failed to do."

Following on the success of the Reflex Action Razor ads, Norelco continued its use of the 21-day trial period concept with new products such as the Advantage Razor, attempting to further penetrate the blade-users market. The Advantage was a hybrid electric unit, dispensing shaving lotion and intended for use with water. Advertising for the Advantage challenged consumers to take the 21-day test drive, at the end of which they could get their money back if they had not made the razor part of their daily routine. In one ad for the Advantage, a gritty Hartford Wolfpack player likened the action of Norelco's newest product to that of an ice-smoothing Zamboni machine.

Another set of 21-day-trial ads for the Advantage Razor employed Virginia Military Institute (VMI) cadets. The Roanoke Times reported that the "inspection-dreading cadets" of America's military schools were chosen because they must "have a close shave all of the time." Four of the cadets who tried the Advantage were chosen to star in the spot, which was a campy send-up of military life. For instance, after using the Norelco razor for three weeks, one cadet was seen smearing camouflage makeup on his face for woods maneuvers when he had the revelation that he had gotten a really close shave from the Advantage. The stars were paid $450 per day during the three-day filming of the ad, and VMI was paid $12,500 for use of the site. Although VMI accepts women, none were asked to participate in the exercise.


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Petrecca, Laura. "Norelco Courts Younger Crowd; Reflex Action Razor Gets $30 Million Campaign to Appeal to the Hip." Advertising Age, September 30, 1996, p. 64.

――――――. "Norelco Puts New Shaver to the Test: Trial Is Key Component of Estimated $35 Mil Ad Push for Advantage." Advertising Age, August 31, 1998, p. 10.

Ross, Sherry. "League Is Missing Promotional Boat." New York Daily News, November 29, 1998, p. 109.

                                              Sarah Milstein

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Norelco Consumer Products Company

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