Vinita Bhatia
Jul 10, 2024

Bombay Shaving Company lathers on sensi-bility into its latest marketing campaign

The grooming company's founder and CEO, Shantanu Deshpande, and CMO, Gauri Malhotra, spill the beans to Campaign on why Deshpande starred in their latest ad, risking a meme frenzy. This move showed his confidence in the product and his coolness at taking a joke on the chin.

Bombay Shaving Company's founder and CEO, Shantanu Deshpande.
Bombay Shaving Company's founder and CEO, Shantanu Deshpande.

When personal care and grooming brand Bombay Shaving Company’s (BSC) creative team were deliberating about who to feature in the campaign to launch the Sensi Smart3 razor for men, they had a brainwave. Why not make the company’s founder and CEO, Shantanu Deshpande, the leading protagonist? Fortunately, he did not need much coaxing, since he already hosts ‘The BarberShop with Shantanu’ podcast and was comfortable facing the camera and the music, if any came his way post the campaign’s release.

“The relationship between my creative team and me is not where I have to be convinced about something. They’re basically perpetrators of mandates and tell me what I have to do even when I am uncomfortable with it,” Deshpande guffawed. “But the good thing is that whenever I work with them, I have a tremendous amount of fun. So, I never say no. In fact, I love that I can add value to the work they do. And the same goes for all creative extensions, including when we collaborate with external agencies.” In this case, it was Mumbai-based Sideways Consulting.

However, a founder-led ad campaign can swing both ways. While on one end, it could result in building consumer connect at a personal level due to the founder’s appearance in the campaign, on the other it could end up becoming a meme fest. When asked whether he harboured these doubts before agreeing to appear in the ad, Deshpande emphatically replied in the negative. He believed it ultimately helps the brand, irrespective of whether he received bouquets or brickbats.

“As long as you’re not saying something wrong, unreasonable or inappropriate, something that’s bad for the consumer or the viewer, it’s ok if the memes pour in,” he smilingly told Campaign. “There will always be campaigns that present you in a humorous or a dramatic light; it’s a way of telling stories. And that’s what brands do—tell stories, and those stories can be of different genres. As long as it is the right story and brings the consumer closer to your brand, a founder can definitely be a part of it—especially when the founder feels strongly for his or her brand, which I most certainly do.”

The latest ‘Sensi Non Sensi’ campaign targets 18-24-year-olds embarking on their shaving journey, who are open to exploring new brands. Addressing prevalent concerns like razor burns, especially among first-time shavers, it introduces the Sensi Smart 3 Razor that promises a smooth and gentle shaving experience. The campaign video, featuring Deshpande and his ‘Sensi brigade’, aims to debunk myths and taboos surrounding shaving, injecting humour and personality into the narrative.

Incidentally, the company’s stab at humour in April 2024 did not get a lot of chuckles. Many might recall its full-page newspaper ad on Prachi Nigam who had scored 98.5% in the competitive UP state board exam for Class 10. However, the teenager was trolled for her appearance and facial hair.

Aimed at inspiring Nigam to ignore the trolls, BSC’s ad read, "Dear Prachi, they are trolling your HAIR today, they'll applaud your A.I.R (all India rank) tomorrow" and in a much smaller font, added, "We hope you never get bullied into using our razor."

Netizens slammed the ad on social media, calling it "insensitive", "desperate", and "in awful taste". By featuring Deshpande as the key protagonist in the ‘Sensi Non Sensi’ campaign, it appears that BSC is willing to stay on the right side of the humour path and also any negative comments on the chin (pun unintended).

Building brand love, the new-age way

When it launched in 2016, BSC intended to be a super-premium experience in the shaving space, or as Deshpande puts it, “the fountain pen of shaving”, which means standing out in a cluttered market. Its high-end razor, featuring Japanese engineered blades and a heavy metal body, was designed to offer an experiential shaving product to the Indian consumer. While this appealed to a more elite audience, it soon realised that it was limiting itself to the luxury segment, which would not give it a chance to tap a large audience opportunity.

Hence, pivoting to a mass-premium brand a couple of years ago, it started building more gifting-first products for men. This was based on the insight that ‘what to gift a man’ was a problem to solve, Gauri Malhotra, BSC’s chief marketing officer laughingly stated. She maintained that it still remains a problem.

Gauri Malhotra, chief marketing officer, Bombay Shaving Company.

“We began to own different gifting occasions. But the challenge here was its seasonal nature, where the spikes are large but the troughs are very low. So, from a business standpoint it becomes somewhat unsustainable,” she recalled.

That’s when BSC found the direction to its core strategy—building a mass-premium brand with not just shaving but also allied products encompassing the entire grooming regimen for men, including skincare and fragrances. By addressing all aspects of men's grooming needs, the startup broadened its audience and stabilised its business, which is reflected in its revenues.

BSC has grown approximately 2.5X from FY22 to FY 24 with a net run rate of INR 260 crore. This year, its focus is on driving greater focus on profitability at EBITDA level and efficient growth, and marketing plays a significant role in helping it achieve this goal.

Grooming for success

While its decision to go deeper into the shaving sector was driven by business necessity, BSC could not discount the reality that legacy players like Old Spice and Gillette had cornered a major part of the market. Hence, the D2C brand decided to use its content-first communication strategy to connect with consumers.

Given their digital-first approach, startups and new-age brands naturally have the benefit of overcoming brand fatigue associated with legacy brands. Moreover, a growing cohort of young consumers are eager to try new brands and move away from what their parents or previous generations have been using, which has played to BSC’s advantage.

“We haven't just created ads; we've enabled consumers to adopt hair removal methods—whether shaving, trimming, or removing body hair—in a way that resonates with them personally,” Malhotra explained to Campaign. “Our approach involves explaining the products, demonstrating their use, and addressing myths and questions. This content-first strategy has been instrumental in our success as a brand.”

One of the successful initiatives for the company was its Razorpreneur Campaign, a programme aimed at young aspirants eager to pursue entrepreneurship. It invited them to demonstrate and hone their business chops by embracing the foundational skill of 'selling'.

Malhotra is proud that this initiative attracted significant attention and drove brand loyalty among young, ambitious consumers. Moreover, she said that it showcased BSC’s commitment to innovation in addition to positioning it as a brand that empowers and inspires the next generation of business leaders.

Another reason why BSC came up with the Razorpreneur Campaign was because D2C contributes approximately 10% to 15% of its overall business. The channel helps its build a strong differentiated brand, drive delightful consumer experience and constantly learn through iterations and improve through owned data and insights; most of which it gleans from its social media listening.

This is critical because many new-age brands like BSC or The Man Company are focusing on premium and niche consumer segments rather than mass markets. Hence, they have to work harder to nurture the narrative that grooming products from have graduated from essential and functional to indulgent experiential buys.

Malhotra said that what sets BSC apart is that though it plays in the mass market, it delivers an enhanced experience through differentiated products and content that enables the consumer beyond just raising awareness about its products. “We integrate them into consumers' lives, providing value that extends past the initial purchase,” she explained. “Our pricing is very accessible premium.”

India thrives in its villages

According to a Merisis Advisors report, India’s male grooming market is expected to grow from INR 13,660 crore in 2022 to INR 19,500 crore in 2026. Shaving products are increasing at a CAGR of 7%, toiletries at 11% and fragrances at 13%.

Men's grooming is experiencing a shift in attitude, not just in cities but also in wealthier segments of smaller towns and rural areas in India. While the growth in the category was initially driven by a shift in mindset among urban consumers, the consumption trend is gaining traction in affluent sections of smaller towns and rural India.

Over the past two years, there has been a notable increase in demand from non-metros, signaling a growing awareness and adoption of grooming products beyond traditional urban centers. This is borne out in BSC’s sales figures.

In 2023, the urban market continued to drive significant growth for the company. Its sales data highlights that while urban markets historically contribute substantially to its revenue, there has been a marked increase in demand from rural India. Currently approximately 35-40% of its new customers are from non-metros, with the remaining 30% from metros.

The main difference between these markets is that urban consumers tend to spend more and buy more frequently due to higher disposable incomes. BSC is working on getting the rural consumers to be more liberal with their spending, especially as the male grooming segment expected to grow significantly and account for over 40% of total revenue in India's beauty and wellness industry by 2030.

Fortunately, Malhotra noted that there is an upward trend towards male grooming hashtags, increased website traffic, and a shift towards essentials, which will help the company in putting the rubber to the road. This uptick is driven by a deeper societal appreciation for holistic well-being and self-expression through grooming rituals; a broader trend that reflects a societal movement towards embracing grooming as an essential part of self-care.

“We perceive these trends as pivotal opportunities to innovate and cater to the evolving needs of modern men. In terms of a dermatology-based preventive approach, we view this evolution as a chance to lead advancements in male grooming. Our strategy also integrates dermatology-based preventive solutions that emphasise product efficacy and skin health,” she added.

While premium purchases in the grooming category is being driven by independent and conscious decision-making rather than herd mentality, the distinction between traditional players and challenger brands is indeed gradually blurring. This shift is propelled by the consumers' heightened focus on authenticity and quality, signaling a strong preference for products that offer genuine connections and superior experiences.

Moreover, the rising adoption of salon services indicates a broader integration of grooming into daily lifestyles. Men, in particular, are increasingly embracing grooming not only for hygiene but also as a form of self-expression and style. This cultural evolution highlights how grooming products have become essential tools for individuals to showcase their personality and masculinity.

Anticipating this trend to gather momentum steadily, BSC expects consumer preferences to increasingly prioritise authenticity and unique experiences. This is likely to drive both traditional brands and challenger brands to innovate, ensuring a dynamic and competitive future for the grooming industry.

Source:
Campaign India

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