Over the Edge

August 9, 2006

I have been following the interesting discussion going on over at Jennifer Rice’s blog over positioning, line extensions and second brands when a new brand came on my radar.

The way SC Johnson has handled its Edge brand represents what companies should avoid when launching new brands. It also demonstrates how line-extension can damage a core brand, confuse customers and leave no good enemy to fight. For those of you who have not been shaving for the last 100 years, a little history might be in order.

Over time, every category diverges, creating endless opportunities to build new brands based on these diverging new categories.

Years ago, men shaved with soap and a brush. You put the soap in a cup and stirred it up with a brush before slathering it on your face.

Then came Barbasol, the “brushless” shaving cream, a new category and a successful new brand.

Then someone got the bright idea of putting the shaving cream in an aerosol can to make a shaving “foam,” a new category that spawned a number of brands including Colgate.

But the big marketing victory went to SC Johnson, the company that introduced Edge, the first shaving “gel.” Edge went on to totally dominate the shaving cream category. A megabrand to say the least.

What is a shaving gel? A gel formula that you rub on your face into a full lather. Gels are said to lubricate better than foams. The results, according to some sources, are a closer shave without irritating the skin.

That’s the theory, at least. I’m not sure I agree that it’s a big advantage. I do know it takes extra work to message a gel into foam before it can do its job.

But no matter. What works in marketing is not being better. What works in marketing is being different. And a gel is definitely different than a foam.

Skintimate Then there’s SC Johnson’s Skintimate? What is a skintimate? A shave gel for women shaving their legs. They did a great job with the Skintimate brand. It is a classic second brand with all the necessary requirements:

1- New name. 2 – New category. 3 – New identity.

Now women have an authentic brand of their own for shaving. And Edge can remain the male-oriented brand.

Having watched the evolution of the Edge brand over the years I have noticed despite the successes done they have made a few classic errors. So I feel it’s time to blow the whistle on a number of marketing mistakes that SC Johnson is making with Edge.

First of all, the number of Edge varieties is mind boggling. Today, Edge comes in 8 flavors: Sensitive skin, extra moisturizing, extra protection, normal skin, tough beards, clean, ultra sensitive and soothing aloe. Furthermore, you might think the Edge can would emphasize its leadership in the gel category with words like “The leading shaving gel.”

Edgelogo But no, the word “gel” is very small on the can. What SC Johnson does emphasize is “ADVANCED” and “REFRESH YOUR SHAVE.” Neither of which is very compelling or something they own. Brands should reinforce the position they own in their advertising and most importantly on the packaging. Something many brands miss. Gel should be large and bold on the can. After all that is why people buy Edge to begin with.

How many varieties should any brand have? In general, three is about right. In pricing, for example, you’ll generally find three categories: cheap, regular and expensive. Using the same sort of thinking, I would have three varieties of Edge: normal, ultra sensitive skin and tough beards. (Even Joe Sixpack could handle these choices.)

But what really boggles the mind is SC Johnson’s latest entry in the shaving category which it is calling Edge ActiveCare. What is an ActiveCare you might be thinking?

Activecarelogo Well ActiveCare is a shaving cream. Yup, they seem to be going backwards. Maybe the ad slogan should be “Edge ActiveCare, it’s not your Grandfather’s shaving cream.”

Talk about evolution in reverse, if an Edge shaving gel is better than shaving foam and shaving foam is better than shaving cream, how can Edge shaving cream be better than Edge shaving gel?  It makes no sense and undermines the position of both brands.

Furthermore, Edge ActiveCare comes in three flavors: revitalizing, deep hydrating and deep cleansing. (Only a woman could deal with these choices. Joe Sixpack is going to be totally lost.)

And then to top it all off, there’s a fourth flavor of Edge ActiveCare. It’s called “Therapy” and it comes in a can. That’s right. To give it its full name, it’s “Edge ActiveCare Therapy Shave Gel.” I am now totally confused, I thought ActiveCare was a cream, now it comes in a gel variety. Baffles the mind.

What happened with the Active Care brand is unfortunate. It results from a brand management theory which plagues many major corporations today.

Companies are in love with their brands. They overestimate what the brand stands for in the minds of consumers. Edge is a shaving gel, period.

But that’s not necessarily what they think over at SC Johnson. I’m sure the company has a brand charting system that says that Edge is the shaving product that shavers trust, with the emphasis on “trust.”

Therefore, goes the thinking at SC Johnson, “Why can’t we use the Edge brand name when we introduce a new revolutionary way of shaving with “cream?” They attempt to launch it as a second brand. But they can’t help themselves and end up putting Edge boldly on the label and saddle the brand with a generic name leaving the consumer with Edge Cream in the mind.

Furthermore, calling it Edge ActiveCare leads the consumer to think “What is the old Edge no good?” Indeed that is exactly what the new brand should be saying, that Edge gel is passé. Much the way Edge did to it processor Colgate. But that is very difficult to do when Edge is on the label.

Had they done what they did with Skintimates and given the brand its own name and identity, I think it would have been a smart move.

There certainly is an opportunity to build a new shaving brand, but it would need a new category name and a new brand name. Using cream again is too confusing.

Look at the divergence in the pain reliever category. First there was Bayer. Then Tylenol. Then Advil. What will be the next big brand? Better Bayer? I don’t think so. It will be a new brand in a new category of relievers.