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March 03, 2006

Gillette and Microsoft

I'm a sucker for the latest-and-greatest Gillette razors. I've followed them from the Mach 3 to the Mach 3 Turbo to the M3 Power to the M3 Power Nitro. Those all had 3 blades, with varying degrees of vibrating handset and Star Wars inspired design. Now, Gillette has introduced the Fusion, which has 5 blades (they skipped from 3 to 5 because Schick came out with the 4-bladed Quattro). In fact the Fusion has a 6th "precision trimmer blade", on tbe back, ostensibly for trimming around edges like sideburns and beards.

Partly I switch because I'm a geek, and partly because Costco always upgrades their stock to the latest so that's what I buy (and I assume, without checking too carefully, that Gillette is still following the original "cheap razors, expensive blades" plan, so buying a new razor with blades doesn't cost much more than just buying refill blades--except that the next generation always costs more than the current one).

Now, Microsoft has something in common with Gillette (Microsoft is big enough now that it has something in common with most companies--makes it convenient for us navel-gazing bloggers). The issue is that the biggest competition for new versions of Microsoft's mainstay products (Windows and Office) are the current versions, which people are happy enough with to be disinclined to upgrade. Gillette owns about 70% of the razor market, way ahead of Schick (in a random twist, Gillette owns Duracell and Energizer owns Schick, so they also compete in the battery market). So the biggest reason for people not to upgade to Gillette's latest and greatest is the fact that they are reasonably happy with the current offering.

Gillette, so far, has approached this with the same approach Microsoft has taken, which is to add more and more features to the product (technologically worthy features, but possibly ones that people don't really care about), and then market the bejeezus out of it (check out the Flash-heavy website for the Fusion--is that Teri Hatcher granting me "Level 5+1 Access"?) In fact you could argue that each blade is sort of like a component of Office...your basic 3-bladed razor is Word, Excel and Powerpoint, adding a battery is like a deeper integration of the products, and a 5-bladed one adds in Publisher and Access; the extra blade on the back must be Outlook (there's Outlook's slogan right there: "easily trim sideburns, shave under the nose and shape facial hair"). Plus selling expensive blades is sort of akin to subscription-based software. It's mind-boggling, but probably true, that somewhere in a Gillette R&D lab some brainy science guys are working on a 6-bladed razor. For the next version of Office, Microsoft is trying to get away from this treadmill and make some more fundamental changes in the Office experience. Is Gillette preparing a similar leap? I'll keep my eye on the shelves of Costco.

Posted by AdamBa at March 3, 2006 09:22 AM

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Re: Duracell/Gillette, Energizer/Shick:

Not random. Where do you see these products other than Costco? Yup, checkout asile.

Posted by: Jon at March 3, 2006 04:42 PM

Fantastic analogy... however, what worries me is that the innovation is relatively stagnant. 3 blades, 4 blades, 5 blades... gee I wonder what's next?

In broad strokes you could say the same for Office, however I think (and hope) the analogy breaks down as Office innovates with less predictable features.

For example.. workflow :)

Posted by: DennisPi at March 4, 2006 12:07 AM

The funny thing about 3 to 4 to 5 blades is it's almost self-parodying...I'm sure when a 4-bladed razor came out people were joking about "what's next, 5 blades?" I mean I can't imagine a razor with, say, 8 blades on it, but who knows. I recall seeing a parody somewhere about a "Trac-117" razor that shaved your entire face with one stroke.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at March 5, 2006 10:08 AM

Dude, you didn't see the Onion article? http://www.theonion.com/content/node/33930. That's from two years ago.

And of course, people want to know: Is the Fusion an improvement over the M3 Power?

Posted by: at March 5, 2006 12:00 PM

Actually I'm not really crazy about the Fusion. I understand the logic in saying each blade causes less friction, but you still have 5 blades on your face not 3, and the total surface area that the shaving head covers is bigger, so you wind up with more drag--it's harder to move the thing across your face. I haven't noticed it shaving particularly smoother or with less irritation, either.

And I don't find the extra trimming blade any more accurate than using the regular shaving head, you figure out pretty quickly where the blades are in relation to the back of the razor that you can see in the mirror.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at March 5, 2006 10:12 PM

(My own site lost my comment for me, anyway...) It feels like more drag on your face, each blade may pull less but overall it is bigger. However thinking about it I have not cut myself since starting it (I tend to nick myself on the neck while shaving).

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at March 6, 2006 08:33 AM

In Australia there used to be a comedy called 'The Late Show' (one of the funniest series in the history of Australian television):


One of its sketches went something like below(referring to the Gillette 3000). Make sure you read it in a serious 'Gillette ad' style.

The first blade distracts the hair, while the second and third blades sneak up behind it, cutting off any escape routes. The fourth and fifth blades attempt to coax the hair from its hiding place using modern modern counselling techniques while the sixth blade, posing as a passing motorist, acts as a decoy, allowing the seventh and eighth blades to swoop down and quickly overpower the hair. The ninth blade, disguised as a postman, administers a small dose of chloroform, allowing blades 10 through 13 to remove the hair and escort it away for further questioning. The 14th blade informs the hair of its rights. The 15th blade handles the paperwork and the 16th blade, well, it's just along for the ride.

Posted by: Matthew at March 7, 2006 09:37 PM