Earlier this month, Procter & Gamble launched Joy, a women’s razor brand sold exclusively in Walmart, both in stores and online. Joy’s razors sell for just under $9 for a handle and two blade refills. The launch dovetails with the debut of Glee, a new brand selling shaving accessories such as gels and mousses. Why these are operating as two different brands remains unclear.

P&G, under its Gillette banner, has mainly sold Venus razors as its marquee women’s offering since 2000. But it believes that while Venus shoppers want “the best,” Joy shoppers are looking for simplicity and a lower price (at Walmart, a seemingly comparable Venus razor sells for $7.97—about a dollar more than Joy’s version). However, pointing to customer requests for “simplicity” is a subtle dig at Gillette’s decades-old strategy, centered on debuting “new innovations” such as updated designs and endless blades that bring only marginal benefits to consumers. Joy’s launch is partial proof that this tired remix formula, which is core to big CPG brands, is losing its effectiveness. It also illustrates that P&G is attempting to move in a new direction.

This is increasingly important for P&G’s grooming business. Razors were the first battleground of the direct-to-consumer boom. Dollar Shave Club (DSC), a first mover, launched in spring 2011 and used clever marketing to quickly grow the company. It raised $163 million in funding and reached $153 million in sales just four years after launch. A year later, in 2016, Unilever—P&G’s main competitor—bought the company for more than $1 billion. DSC became the ultimate direct-to-consumer success story, propelling further investment into the consumer space and the shaving vertical more specifically:

  • Oui Shave, launched in and bootstrapped since 2015, sells its single blade razor for $75.
  • Harry’s launched two years after DSC and has gone on to raise a total of $475 million. Its razor costs $9.99 for a handle and two refills.
  • Bevel, part of Walker & Company, launched the same year as Harry’s and raised $33 million for the holding company. Its single blade razor, built for people with coarser hair, costs $49.95.
  • Billie launched at the end of 2017 and has raised $35 million. Its razor costs $9 for a handle and two refills.
  • Harry’s launched Flamingo, its women’s brand, at the end of 2018. Its razor plus two refills costs $13.50.

So far, DSC is the only company in the category (and nearly in the entire direct-to-consumer space) that has sold for a healthy multiple of its sales. Harry’s has raised almost half a billion dollars to build itself into a real business—an ongoing effort that has led it to diversify well beyond its original mission into a holding company and investment arm. Walker & Company sold to P&G for around $30 million in late 2018—not the dollar amount or result anyone involved in the company wanted—while Oui Shave and Billie remain independent companies. The latter has a particularly challenging task on its hands to make good on all of the money it has raised, and it will likely need more (as did Harry’s) to continue competing.

All the while, brands like Gillette and Venus are growing more slowly, but remain massive businesses. P&G doesn’t break out individual brands in financial reports, but the company’s 2018 report states that its grooming business accounts for 10% of the company’s $66.8 billion in sales, which amounts to almost $7 billion a year. Even though some of P&G’s grooming brands are over a 100 years old, no direct competitor is anywhere near that total.

Why has the grooming market unfolded this way? In a commodity market like razors, brands become winners through superior and sustained marketing and mass distribution. Product only matters to a point, even when it comes to the luxury market (more on this below). DSC, for example, was really a marketing company that made a product, which worked until its core tactic wasn’t enough to differentiate. In fact, Unilever had to take a big write off because DSC, whose marketing allure wore off after its sale, was not worth what the CPG conglomerate paid in the acquisition. Meanwhile, Harry’s has spent an immense amount of money on marketing to reach scale, but other actions taken by the company show that this isn’t enough to grow: Flamingo, it’s women’s brand, launched into wholesale only four months after its debut, while it took Harry’s a number of years to make the same decision—a telling sign about the overstated promise of selling direct-to-consumer.

Back in 2000, P&G committed $100 million to marketing Venus for its first year. This marketing supported the wholesale channel since P&G did not and does not sell any of its products direct-to-consumer—further proof that razors and commodity industries more broadly require immense marketing and distribution investments to reach scale. Almost two decades later, P&G will likely run a similar playbook with Joy and Glee, using its advertising muscle to get the word out, its scale to undercut competitors on price at the low-to-middle end of the market, and Walmart’s distribution to widely disseminate the product.

The luxury end of the market has played out differently, but selling a potentially better product at a higher price does not guarantee success. Bevel has a good product according to customer testimonials, but it still did not grow like it needed to, and one of the main reasons it sold to P&G was to gain access to the conglomerate’s marketing muscle, instead of relying on venture capital and word-of-mouth to grow. Oui Shave will also chart an interesting path; it aims to navigate the high end of the market in a leaner fashion, which might actually work since building a luxury brand takes time, and capital is not necessarily a shortcut.

P&G’s launch of Joy attempts to take the ideals and positioning of a direct-to-consumer brand and use the benefits of wholesale to create a mass-market success. While very late to the party, the company’s new brand is proof that CPG conglomerates still have big advantages in today’s landscape, despite their own internal culture and R&D issues. Many industries like the grooming market are won with muscle, not grace.