As Wilkinson Sword kicks off a radically different marketing campaign, Edgewell is focusing on perfecting the basics of shaving

Picture an incredibly long ribbon formed of carbon-coated razor blades – each with an edge so thin it’s invisible to the human eye. Soon this ribbon will be separated into thousands of individual blades, used in the 870 million razor and blade products produced each year by US multinational Edgewell Personal Care.

It’s a craft well appreciated by Katharine Goodchild, the company’s business director for north-west Europe. “The workmanship is phenomenal,” she says. “It’s a real art. We’re very proud of that.”

Now that art form – and resulting quality – is being thrust into the spotlight with new activity. Goodchild has travelled to London from Edgewell’s UK HQ in High Wycombe to discuss the major repositioning of Wilkinson Sword for men. The aim is “to really try and light the fire of our consumers”, she says. That means “starting to talk about shaving not like a Formula 1 car but humanising it with wit and a bit of relevance”.

To that end, the 252-year-old brand has rolled out plastic-free, sleeker packaging with messaging that centres on blade quality. “That’s a massive switch” from pushing the coolness of the handles and benefits of the heads, Goodchild says. “Blade quality is everything. If you’ve got a rubbish blade, you’re gonna have a rubbish experience.”

Katherine Goodchild 7

‘Blade quality is everything’

That’s backed by a major campaign, ‘The Blade Masters since 1772’. Launched last month, it features three comical adverts starring a new character called The Blade Master. The suave, besuited character pokes fun at razors with bad blades by comparing them to an inaccurate bartender, an untrained doctor, and a waiter trained in a zoo.

It’s a far cry from the category’s typical ads, which rely on shirtless hunks and sportsmen gliding razors over their chiselled jawlines with practised ease.

For Goodchild, there was no place for their type in Wilkinson Sword’s latest push. “Razor blade advertising has become clichéd,” she says. For a category in long-term decline, “something radically different” was required. The result is “a gloriously silly campaign to liven things up a bit. When push comes to shove, humour and irreverence is something anyone can relate to, unlike bulging biceps and washboard abs.”

Name: Katharine Goodchild         

Age: 51

Place of birth: Northampton

Family: Twin girls aged 9 – Isla  & Carys

Employment history: Sealand Service Inc. Mars Confectionary. Energizer Group. Edgewell Personal Care

Best career decision? Moving to consumer goods from shipping. I have never looked back – the pace and interaction I get with customers and consumers is energising - you can impact see the impact of your work.

Worst career decision? It’s not a bad career decision as such, but I wish I had push for what I wanted earlier in my career. 

Career highlight? We recently partnered with Inkind Direct and Tesco supporting Poverty Hygiene. It’s estimated that up to 8 million adults went without hygiene products at winter as they can no longer afford them. It’s shocking, so we’re passionate about doing what we can to help.

Best piece of advice received: Do what you say you are going to do.

Business mantra: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Business idol: Holly Tucker – Founder of Not on the High Street

Hobbies/interests: I love the outdoors, lake swimming and walking. I walked the Camino di Santiago last year

How do you relax: Cooking is my go to for relaxing.

Favourite meal: Chicken Pho

What book are you reading at the moment: Rushing Womens Syndrome – Libby Weaver

Favourite album: Imagine Dragons Night Vision                

Favourite film: The girls are having a Disney phase, so I have to say Moana

The ads and brand repositioning were 18 months in the planning, demanding the kind of financial investment that hadn’t been made “for some time”, Goodchild says. It’s a big push with a big ambition: to revive sales in the shave category – and for Wilkinson Sword.

It’s arguably necessary, given the brand’s unit sales fell 9.5% last year, ahead of the market’s 4.7% decline [NIQ 52 w/e 27 January 2024]. “What we’re looking at is a category that’s in decline – by £67m since 2015,” she says. That was about the time when beards and stubble became acceptable in the workplace. Then Covid and working from home ramped up the unshaven look.

“So, we feel a responsibility, with a brand that’s over 250 years old, to invite men, particularly younger men, back into the category,” she says. The mission is to “simplify the shaving journey, as we move forward”.

There’s no question that Goodchild knows male shaving inside and out. She’s been at Edgewell since its creation in 2015, when it span off Energizer Holdings – which she had joined 12 years previously.

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She rose rapidly through the ranks, first in batteries, then personal care and household. By the time Edgewell began, she was commercial director. In her 21 years at the business, she’s witnessed plenty of change.

“The company I’m now in bears no relation to the company I started at,” Goodchild says. “We’re purely personal care now. We’ve acquired quite a few skincare brands, so we’ve got that skincare prowess as well. And then we’ve got the suncare and the shaving.”

Now, in the role she’s held since late 2020, she heads a team of 80 people overseeing brands including Bulldog Skincare, Hawaiian Tropic, Wet Ones and Carefree. Edgewell’s portfolio caters for both sexes – and the same can be said of Wilkinson Sword.

“We’ve got a good selection for the female consumer,” says Goodchild in reference to Wilkinson Sword lines such as the Quattro For Women Razor and the Intuition Complete Bikini Razor & Trimmer.

There are clear differences in design here. “For the curves on a female body versus the curves on a male face, you need a different type of razor. You hold the handle differently, you need a different type of blade.”

Katherine Goodchild 2

‘We’re looking at a category that’s in decline by £67m since 2015’

Face focus

The tools change again when venturing below a male jaw and throat. At Wilkinson Sword, there’s the likes of the Hydro Trim & Shave Razor, with its ‘Trim your bushes down there’ strapline. But unlike bigger rival Gillette and its Intimate range, the Edgewell brand chooses not to shout about its body-shaving products.

“We haven’t brought them to life in as big a way as our competitors have, because, actually, it’s still quite a niche area,” Goodchild says. She expects it to grow, and “I think it’s important that we tackle all grooming needs. But for now, we’re focusing on the face.”

Another immediate priority for Edgewell is the planet. In its most recent sustainability report, published in June 2023, the company had achieved 62% progress in its goal to make 100% of plastic packaging recyclable, compostable, or reusable by 2030 globally.

The target is “business critical”, Goodchild says. “Sustainability is at the heart of what we do.”

A key driver is Bulldog Skincare, which features packs made from plant-based and recycled plastic and razor handles made of bamboo and recycled glass. It has “quietly and competently led from the front”, says Goodchild. “And we were able to take that lead right through our business.”

Plus, Bulldog has been a leading light in sales since its acquisition in 2016: in the past year alone,the UK brand’s core skincare range grew units 6.7% [NIQ].

Not all acquisitions have gone so well. Take Edgewell’s $1.4bn (£1.1bn) bid for US shave disruptor Harry’s, which was dropped in early 2020 in light of a threat of legal action from the Federal Trade Commission.

So for now, Goodchild is keen to concentrate on its current portfolio. “We’ll focus on what we’ve got,” she says. “And we’ve got a job to do.” If sales figures are anything to go by, it could be a hefty one.