Dollar Shave Club relies on viral marketing videos to drive its membership program, but must expand its SKUs and verticals like any other product company.

Dollar Shave Club, the direct-to-consumer, replenishment subscription company for inexpensive razors and shaving accoutrements, managed to sign up 1,000 subscribers cold when it launched in 2011. But in March 2012, when it officially launched its membership program with a marketing video, “Our Blades are F***ing Great!” the company received so many orders in the first hour that its site crashed. Once resuscitated, staff went into overdrive to fulfill the 12,000 orders collected in the first 48 hours. Come 2015, the company had made $152 million in sales, undeniably jolting the shaving market. Back in 2010, Gillette controlled 70% of the U.S. shaving market share—by 2016, the number fell to 54%, while the share of DSC and Harry’s—another digitally-native shaving company—grew to 12.2%.  

While virality is not something companies can control, but rather something that happens to a brand, there was a good deal of planning that went into DSC’s original campaign, which helped it succeed. The company specifically chose an early March launch date, knowing that the product release would have a better chance of standing out before March Madness began, as well as garner attention before the South by Southwest festival and conference. Balanced with an approachable sense of body humor and wit, the content of the video intentionally struck upon a resonant chord in the men’s shaving community about lackluster blades and the bane of facial hair upkeep.

“Our Blades are F***ing Great!” starred co-founder and improv buff Michael Dubin, who has remained integral in carrying forward the brand’s messaging with new videos ever since. Comedic videos have become synonymous with the Dollar Shave Club brand, from the most recent “Get Ready,” which highlights the diversity of bathroom grooming routines, to “Counting Jelly Beans is Dull, Your Blade Shouldn’t Be”—a feed of a disgruntled man diligently counting candies for more than an hour. “Get Ready” now lives front and center on the company’s homepage, hooking customers with an immediate look at the culture surrounding Dollar Shave Club while maximizing website square footage.

The original video—which now has 26.5 million views on YouTube—shot Dollar Shave Club into startup stardom. In July 2016, the company was acquired by consumer goods behemoth Unilever for $1 billion—as of July 2017, the company reported 3 million members and has received $163.5 million in funding. However, the company was not profitable at the time of acquisition and though Unilever reported in its annual filings that DSC grew in double digits in 2017, the broadening of SKUs at the company suggest that acquisition has not secured better health for the startup.

For a company like Dollar Shave Club, honing its in-house marketing expertise will continue to present the brand well media-wise, though viewership will likely never be as high as “Our Blades are F***ing Great” as the element of surprise and novelty cannot be replicated. The question now is how DSC can retain and grow its following. Thankfully, the company built itself on a replenishment model and subscription service—once customers buy into the DSC system and if they enjoy the product enough, it’s easy to keep the relationship straightforward. But viral marketing sold the product and put the company on the map—not the other way around—and it did not turn a razor subscription into a viral product in and of itself. And, in contrast to the cronut, which grew Dominique Ansel’s bakery business into somewhat of an empire, it seems as if DSC may have attempted to shepherd expansion using the success of its razor subscription similarly, but grown too fast across too many disparate verticals.

Even if Dollar Shave Club continues to create successful videos, armed with Dubin’s comedic and production talent, they are only campaigns—one-time advertisements that, in this case, truly jump started a brand, but do not necessarily inform its longevity. Dubin has stated that he wants DSC to become a one-stop shop for men to find all of their bathroom needs. Now, in order to grow its business, DSC must expand its number of SKUs and verticals like any other product company, as it is currently doing with everything from skin care to toothpaste. While the hope is that a wider assortment of products will raise monthly revenue per subscriber, these products haven’t taken off nearly as fast as the original razor subscription. Even when it comes to SKUs that seem like they had major viral potential—for example, the One Wipe Charlie, a butt wipe that debuted in June 2013 with a marketing video full of scatalogical jokes aimed at a male audience—a video with more than 3 million views doesn’t necessarily convert to sales. It’s also possible that the U.S. market simply wasn’t ready for the product—in Europe or perhaps Japan, where there is a more ubiquitous bidet culture, consumers might be more inclined to buy a pack of wipes.

Though the company may continue to ride marketing video, it ideally could use its advertising prowess to grow a community for men where they can not only find any sort of product they need, but also engage with one another and form lasting connections. The videos provide a good face for the brand, but DSC has yet to spark a dialogue with or between its customers. Regardless, the path there isn’t about creating a viral product—it’s about scaling word-of-mouth and growing its community.