Image showing Dollar Shave Club products
Brand MarketingDecember 6, 2022

How Dollar Shave Club Turned a Viral Video Into 10 Years of Marketing Success

December 6, 2022
Elena Author Photo Framed
Elena Prokopets
Freelance Writer & Content Strategist

Every marketer dreams of concocting the ultimate growth hack — a savvy trick that would instantly boost their brand from unknown to iconic.

Some brands make it look easy — brands like Dollar Shave Club, for example. When the company was founded in 2011 by Mark Levine and Michael Dubin, the pair decided to do something about their shared frustrations with the high cost of razor blades.

Combining their own money and some investment from Science Inc., a startup incubator, the duo launched their website in April 2011, only a few months after operations kicked off in January 2011.

But it wasn’t until 2012 that Dollar Shave Club became a household name thanks to its viral launch video. After that, more investment came pouring in and the brand was on the up and up.

So, let’s take a look at how Dollar Shave Club has grown over the years, as well as discuss a few lessons other brands can learn from this innovative company in 2022.

Dollar Shave Club’s Road To Success

While the brand was founded in 2011, it caught its big break in 2012 due to its viral launch video starring Michael Dubin, one of its co-founders. With a budget of only $4,500 — that’s how much it cost him to shoot DSC's video — the video featured Dubin bouncing around a warehouse and proclaiming that DSC blades are “f***ing great”.

Amassing several million views and excessive media coverage, the Dollar Shave Club video became a revered growth hack every other marketer praised. The video is textbook perfect. Why? Well, it:

  • Communicates the main value proposition in the first 10 seconds: “For $1 a month, we send high-quality razors right to your door.”

  • Names the website address several times: “Hi, I’m Mike, founder of What is”

  • Packs a punch(line): “Are our blades good? No. Our blades are f***ing great.”

  • Makes the product benefits clear: “Each blade has stainless steel blades and an aloe vera lubricating strip….”

And, more than anything else, it was just fun. For a good reason, too — Mike Dubin studied improvisational comedy for 8 years prior to shooting that video. In fact, he credits much of his subsequent marketing accomplishments to this skill.

And in April 2012, the brand received an influx of pre-seed funding — $1 million, to be exact — from “Silicon Valley fat cats at Kleiner Perkins, Andreesen Horowitz, Shasta Ventures, Felicis Ventures, (and) Forerunner Ventures”, just to name a few.

Indeed, DSC’s growth was so impressive that the same group, this time joined by Venrock, provided $10 million in Series A funding only seven months later in October 2012. At the time, Dublin “declined to comment on the timing of rolling out new products or what they could be, but said the funding will be used to introduce numerous goods and services to make men’s lives simpler”.

Come 2013, the company raised a series B funding round of $12 million and, a year later, announced that it would be “expanding its portfolio to offer a dozen men’s grooming and skincare products”.

Indeed, Dubin told Fast Company:

“We see a huge opportunity in the exploding, multibillion dollar men’s grooming and skincare market to provide high-quality products that are affordable and appealing to our members. And given our direct relationship to our 330,000 and growing members, we want to improve and maximize that.”

And maximize on it they did. By 2015, Dollar Shave Club was worth $615 million and was up to 2 million members — and it secured yet another funding round, a Series D worth $75 million in venture capital. Now a real threat to established brands like Gillette, Dollar Shave Club was “seeking to maintain an edge by expanding to new products, trying to offer superior customer service and providing related online content.”

No surprise here, the edge was maintained, and, in 2016, Dollar Shave Club caught the eye of giant of the industry, Unilever — and acquired by the brand for $1 billion in cash. Talk about fast growth!

But as brand marketers, we know that it takes more than one neat trick and a singular online marketing channel to become the second-largest men's razor brand in the US and the most used subscription box.

So what else has Dollar Shave Club been doing right to achieve its brand growth? Let's take a look.

3 Brand Growth Lessons from Dollar Shave Club

After only a few years on the market, Dollar Shave Club became a brand to reckon with. It aggressively came for Gillette’s market share in the US. Under pressure, Gillette had to reduce its razor prices by an average of 12% and launch its own subscription service.

Still, Gillette’s US market share dropped from 70% in 2010 to 54% in 2018.

DSC's aggressive brand growth caught Unilever’s attention. After four years in operation, Dollar Shave Club received an astounding $1 billion all-cash offer from Unilever. For the first time, a direct-to-consumer (D2C) brand joined the unicorn club.

Post-acquisition, Mike Dubin said that he wanted to become the next Starbucks. Why? Because Starbucks took a commodity product and “built a shared language around it and created space for it. They created a church for this brand."

Dubin wanted Dollar Shave Club to gain the same brand equity and value. And as of 2021, he's really close to succeeding.

Let’s dig deeper into how Dollar Shave Club's brand marketing evolved post-acquisition and the lessons worth learning from Mike Dubin, dubbed the most creative marketer in D2C.

1. Consistent Brand Marketing

Post-acquisition, brands often lose their unique identity and differentiators under the pressure from the new owners. Thankfully, that didn’t happen to Dollar Shave Club.

We’re fortunate enough that Unilever bothers to leave us alone in terms of how they’ve positioned (Dollar Shave Club). ... It’s so good to have that trust coming from them to continue doing what we’ve been doing as we’ve enjoyed some success,” shared Matt Knapp, Creative Director of the brand.

Instead of rolling all its brands into a unified corporate portfolio, Unilever manages some of its brands as independent subsidiaries. This is a smart strategy as it allows the conglomerate to capitalize on individual brands' strengths, values, and stories.

Thus, Dollar Shave Club was able to retain its original brand positioning of “fun”, “no-BS”, “relatable”, and “unapologetically truthful” company. And they keep consistently cultivating these brand associations.

The 2019 "Dad Bod" campaign is the perfect testament to the above. Featuring men of all different shapes and sizes doing elaborate choreography in bath towels and robes with deadpan faces, it shows that everyone is welcome at the (Dollar Shave) club.

Or consider the 2018 “Get Ready” campaign, celebrating all of our kooky, weird, and wonderful grooming habits. Plus, this ad showed that we, as humans, can and should thrive outside of prescribed societal norms and expectations. Nice!

For most campaigns, Dollar Shave Club spotlights average people with imperfect bodies. They don’t attempt to “gloss things up” or make high-spirited, pretentious speeches about making the world a better place.

Instead, they stick to the small, simple, and very relatable things we do — weird product applications, not-always-appropriate but oh-so-fun bathroom mirror dancing, and so on. And this type of consistent brand storytelling works in their favor.

Some marketers think that consistency is boring as it diminishes room for creativity. Dollar Shave Club is a great example of how you can spin the “Welcome to the Club” idea in a multitude of different ways.

2. Good Ol’ Brand Rivalry

Coke has Pepsi, Uber has Lift, and McDonald’s has Burger King. There are many brands with archnemeses out there.

Oftentimes, such friendly rivalry helps fan the flames of very creative marketing campaigns. It also keeps target audiences entertained, leading to higher brand awareness and recall.

From the very beginning, DSC singled out Gillette as its main rival. The bigger company even sued them over a patent in 2015, though the dispute was settled by P&G, Gillette's parent company, in 2019. On the marketing turf, however, the two brands still engage in friendly clashes, snarky tweets, and occasional newsjacking.

In 2019, Gilette ran a controversial ad campaign about toxic masculinity. It was both praised and criticized by media outlets and consumers alike. Many people didn’t like the moralizing ring of the story. Others labeled it as too misogynistic.

Despite heaps of praise from NGOs and media, Gillette’s buzz score plummeted from 5.8 to -3.4 in a week after the campaign aired. Most people were talking about the brand negatively.

While the controversy kept unfolding, Dollar Shave Club did two things. First, they re-booted the 2018 “Get Ready” campaign as a series of OOH ads on Times Square, likely to remind consumers of their view of modern masculinity. Next, they published this “innocent” tweet:

While we don’t have the exact brand tracking data from that period, it’s safe to assume that this round was won by DSC.

But is brand rivalry a good marketing tool for everyone? There’s no straight answer to this question. It depends on how you play the game. A good rivalry can spark creativity and prompt a brand to explore new sales channels, refresh its messaging, and poke fun at the competition.

Burger King and McDonald’s marketing jabs are great examples of the above. For instance, in a UK "Whooper Secret" campaign, Burger King shows that for the same price you get a bigger sandwich. To demonstrate that, they shot a fun video, showing that the “other burger” was always placed behind their product in ads, but no one could notice that.

However, when a rivalry becomes the focal point of your brand story, you should probably reel it in. People get tired of endless squabbling, especially when the narrative changes from lighter banter to downright accusations, undercutting, and other “below the waist” moves.

For example, Apple and Samsung have developed this type of negative relationship over the years. On several occasions, Samsung has resorted to comparative advertising — which is often looked down upon by both consumers and ad regulators alike.

To show how Samsung phones are superior to iPhones, the company deliberately presented only more favorable features. Unlike Burger King, who is obviously making fun, Samsung was more determined to downplay Apple’s strengths while diverting the eye from its products' weaker sides.

So, before you engage in this tactic, think twice. Can your creative department pull off humorous marketing without getting borderline offensive or diminutive towards a competitor? Will this brand narrative land well with your target audiences?

Analyze and strategize before acting.

3. Effective Omnichannel Scaling

Most D2C brands eventually hit a customer acquisition plateau. Direct sales reach is limited by high marketing costs and low profit margins. Even for subscription businesses with recurring revenue, aggressive customer acquisition gets tough.

That’s why DSC's acquisition was an equally good move for both Dollar Shave Club and Unilever. At that time, Unilever lacked the ability to connect with customers directly — but DSC excelled in this department. However, Mike Dubin didn’t have any experience with wholesale and retail distribution, where Unilever already dominated.

Despite being hugely successful online, Dollar Shave Club reached a tipping point of exhausting the total addressable market. After all, many people still grab razors and other personal hygiene products at retail locations.

So DSC started setting the scene for omnichannel operations. In 2018, the brand experimented with selling razors via vending machines during a time-bound pilot. By 2020, Dollar Shave Club did a major brand refresh and rolled out new brand aesthetics for its website, product packaging, and other assets.

Source: Dollar Shave Club

The refreshed look was part of wider pre-launch planning activities. Shortly afterward, DSC goods landed on shelves at Target and Walmart. And their 2021 “We Got You” ad campaign places their new retail-special product — a 6 Blade vs 4 Blade Razor Starter Set — in the limelight.

As of 2021, DSC sold its products at over 40,000 other retail locations. However, the company still plans to maintain an active offline presence and answer men’s pressing grooming questions, like those voiced out in the 2021 ad, through online channels.

But both the new leadership and the now-departed Mike Dubin were oriented towards omnichannel growth. “I'm hopeful that we'll be able to, in the next year or two, turn our guns toward omnichannel international," Dubin said before stepping down from the CEO position in 2021.

Why the not-so-sudden change of heart? The male hygiene market has evolved. Per the 2019 Mindbody survey, US men now prioritize beauty and grooming as much as women do. But still, spend somewhat less monthly — $29 vs $39.

Also, the interest and demand for self-care, cosmetics, and male health products spiked during the pandemic. For instance, younger men are more inclined to seek out eco-friendly and gender-neutral products. Likewise, decorative cosmetics usage is up.

Over 56% of American men use some form of facial cosmetics like BB cream or concealer. While over 30% of guys under 30 would consider or already wear makeup.

Dollar Shave Club is gradually acting upon the market changes. As Dubin noted, “Men have become a lot more comfortable in (the grooming) terrain, the category is growing and we’re well-positioned to take advantage of that.”

The brand already branched out into fragrances and tentatively expanded its product portfolio with more diverse goods. And we are curious to see how their brand marketing will further evolve under the new leadership.

Final Thoughts

In mid-2010, Dollar Shave Club started the razor wars — a period of aggressive market re-segmentation in the US. Though the battle was tough, they emerged as the winner by consistently increasing the customer lifetime value with their brand and expanding into new product verticals.

In 2021, Dollar Shave Club was still one of the most successful D2C men’s grooming brands around. According to Bloomberg Second Measure, DSC boasted the highest quarterly customer retention between Q1 2020 and Q3 2021 at 54% — beating out rivals like Harry’s, The Beard Club, and Gillette On Demand.

As the male grooming market further evolves, it will be interesting to see how Dollar Shave Club will leverage the new omnichannel market strategy to convert those one-time retail shoppers into their grooming “church”. What can we say for certain, it’s going to be a fun ride!

Updated by: Cory Schröder on 06.12.22

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