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  • Writer's pictureKanhaiya Maheshwary

Creating a $100 million disruption through Storytelling - Lessons from Dollar Shave Club

I recently completed my Master's degree in Digital Media & Communications from the University of Washington. The degree was unofficially called 'The Storytelling' program because of its core emphasis on building narratives and stories, often deployed via innovative media. And out of all the things that I picked up along the way, one of the key learnings was that an authentic, genuine story will always work no matter what. And what was incredible to me that despite taking classes that focused on different medium of communication such as Video, Comics, or simply written content, all the Professors shared the same basic premise when it came to telling stories.

Also, as someone from a marketing and advertising background who came to this program to understand how to break the clutter of modern day marketing and beat thousands of other advertisers and brands to reach your customers, I left with a rich lesson - no amount of fancy visual treatments, big budgets, or celebrity endorsers can help you achieve that goal if your story is weak. In fact, if you have a solid, genuine story, you don't need all of those other things. And that's exactly what I noticed with this direct-to-consumer brand which became an overnight success. By just featuring the founder in the videos, the company created an ad that went viral to the extent of breaking the company's servers!

Dollar Shave Club

"Our blades are f***ing great"

Imagine being a one day old venture and causing worry among a mammoth brand like Gillette, which already had 70% market share in a $3 billion shaving segment. But that's what The Dollar Shave Club did when it burst onto the scene in 2012. They launched their now-famous "Our blades are f***ing great" campaign. Within a day of launching the advert, their website's servers crashed, and had received 12,000 orders.

This video has since been watched over 27 million times, and Dollar Shave Club has been acquired by Unilever for $1 billion. Yes, ONE BILLION.

So, what exactly in this video made on a shoe-string budget of $4,500 caused such a huge impact? The ability to harness some basic principles of storytelling.

  • Disrupt the plot: The kind of stories that immediately grab your attention are the ones that disrupt your pre-existing notions. They make you take notice and think. And that's what Dollar Shave Club did when it said that they're offering razors for $1 + shipping. Till then, purchasing a razor and blades meant going to a store, and shelling out some bucks. But the Dollar Shave Club changed both those notions by delivering razors to your doorstep, for just a dollar.

  • Focus on the audience, not product: This is especially true of direct-to-consumer brands. If a brand is unable to convey how every product attribute is going to make life easier / better for the target audience, then it is just one of the many options in the market. All these years, Gillette kept talking about its superior R&D, and in the process made its razors pieces of technology which the audiences could never emotionally connect with. But with this advertisement, Dollar Shave Club focused on the audience and said it is going to make their lives more convenient and also help them save money, whilst giving the same great shave that they're used to.

This follows the famous quote that is often used in advertising - "People won't remember what you said. They will remember how you made them feel"
  • Evoke emotions: With its very matter-of-fact and ironical humor, this campaign made the viewers laugh out aloud. Out of all the bizarre things it showed, it featured a kid shaving a balding man's head, mentions of Roger Federer (Gillette) and the founder trying to emulate a tennis shot that he eventually fails miserably at, an actual bear in the warehouse and many more things. The campaign was able to get even the most practical benefits across via humor.

  • Create a Villain(s): One of the most classic arcs in storytelling is that of a villain creating tension and the hero subsequently coming to the rescue. With Dollar Shave Club, the villains are expensive razors, and an uncomfortable shopping experience. Dollar Shave Club positions its brand as a hero since it is super cheap and is delivered to your doorstep.

In just a matter of a few years, Dollar Shave Club was selling 15% of USA's total razors before it eventually got acquired by Unilever.

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