How Dollar Shave Club Changed Shaving

Dollar Shave Club started selling disposable razor subscriptions in 2012. In a few years’ time, it had catapulted into the realm of the unicorns. Not bad for an irreverent mashup of comedians, digital storytelling, and blades that are “F****** Great.” How did founder Michael Dubin manage to create a disruptive market model—and sell it for one billion dollars—in less than five years?

Telling Funny Stories

Dollar Shave Club crashed Gillette’s party with what might be the best debut ad of our young century. What stands out most in this viral video is the humor—I’ll talk about other aspects in just a minute.

That’s a catchy ad: the kind that makes people want to share with friends, or watch another of the brand’s videos, or ditch their drugstore razors for a subscription. It’s an odd humor: jarring compared to other razor advertisements. It has enough unexpected twists—a toddler shaving a man’s head, a giant bear, a machete to cut packing tape—to keep you watching.

It’s not just funny. It’s a micro-story, told in just a minute and thirty-three seconds. There’s narrative, starting with an Everyman hero (“Hi, I’m Mike”). We follow him on a suspense-filled journey through his warehouse. It’s funny, but there’s tension, too; you want to see where he’s going, what happens around the next corner. It even has a happy ending: money, dancing, upbeat music, smiles, and an American flag. This masterpiece of a video brought in 12,000 subscriptions in just two days. Engaging, funny stories work.

Digital Content Marketing

Dubin’s strategy went way beyond that first video. Dollar Shave Club is yet another jewel in the crown of digital content marketing. The company poured everything it had into creating sequel after hilarious sequel. But Dubin’s team didn’t just make marketing videos.

As Kyle Gray put it in his book The Story Machine, “A common mistake most content marketers make is focusing on a customer avatar with specific pain points and trying to write directly to those pain points. This may work for a short term interaction like a Facebook ad, but as we have seen… content marketing is more about relationships.”

Dubin knew this. So on top of catchy videos and social media content that spoke directly to customer’s shaving needs, he started an online magazine called MEL, which produces content that does not directly promote Dollar Shave Club. This is an important part of any great content marketing campaign. Creating articles that are not advertisements might seem counterintuitive: why spend all that effort cranking out content that doesn’t promote a product?

Articles on MEL boast bawdy headlines like “How Super Gonorrhea Became Super”, and they feature prominently on Dollar Shave Club’s website. When you see it in action, it makes perfect sense. Not everyone cares about that much about razors, and probably no one would care enough to check in daily. That magically changes when you mix in articles like “The Bizarrely Complicated Relationship Between Spicy Food and Dating.” Sending out too many ads can fatigue and annoy customers. Dollar Shave Club found a strategic way to keep people coming back without any traditional “ads” whatsoever.

Addressing Real Pain-Points

Another part of what made that original video so great was that it identified and addressed actual problems in the industry. It called out the three biggest pain-points in the shaving process (except, of course, accidentally slicing your own face open):

  1. Paying $20 for a pack for razors, especially if 19 of those dollars are going to Roger Federer.
  2. Gimmicky bells-and-whistles that drive up the price and add nothing to the quality of the shave—think vibrating handles and swiveling heads.
  3. Driving to the store to buy new blades (or forgetting to).

Those complaints are hard to argue with. And they persuaded consumers, who were finally hearing what they had been thinking all along.

Disrupting a 5,000 Year-Old Industry

People have been shaving since the Bronze Age, but Dollar Shave Club was the first subscription service to send razors direct to your home. It’s a Market Invention that doesn’t offer a new product, but a game-changing method of delivery. Instead of trying to copy the status quo, Dollar Shave Club forced giants like Gillette to start copying them with services like “Gillette Shave Club.” At least Gillette didn’t try to copy the name, right?