Years ago, back in 1975, its first year, in fact, Saturday Night Live had what is still one of my favorite of their parody TV ads. Gillette had not much earlier introduced twin blades (that shows you how long ago it was), the Trac II, and SNL did an ad that right up until the very last line looked absolutely real. It was for the Gillette Triple-Trac.
The commercial showed how shaving had progressed since the caveman, and Gillette were now introducing a triple-blade, and even included an animation to show why this was better with less pull. The ad built to --
Announcer (V/O): Blade number two catches and digs into the stubble before it has the chance to snap back and injure you, pulling it farther out so that it is now ready for shearing. Triple-Trac's third blade, a finely-honed bonded platinum instrument, cuts cleanly through the whisker at its base, leaving your face as smooth as a billiard ball.
And it was all believable -- until the very next line. The great last line:
"The Triple-Trac. Because you'll believe anything."
The audience went wild, roaring with laughter, having been tricked.
And of course, eventually they were proven right, as companies did indeed come out with a triple blade, and then quattro blades and now five-blade cartridge. The joke would have been perfect if not for the fact that the upgraded cartridges actually are better.
If you are someone who a) shaves, and b) uses a blade razor, keep reading. If you don't fall into either category, this probably isn't for you. But hey, you never know.
(Side Note digression: in that SNL parody, the role of the caveman was played by one of their writers. Now-Senator Al Franken.)
Okay, moving forward -- a couple years ago, when I was covering the Consumer Electronics Show, I passed a booth for, of all companies, Schick. Not expecting to see a safety razor company at an electronics show, my curiosity was won, so I went over. It turned out that they were introducing a battery-operated razor that vibrated, ostensibly to duplicate the action of an electric razor but with the closeness of a blade shave. They gave me one of these Hyrdo 5 Power Select razors and a pack of two five-blade cartridges.
I remember discussing with the Schick reps my sense of the playing field -- that the five-blades were probably best (I hadn't tried one, but had tried a four-blade cartridge), but for the price, I really liked the three-blades which seemed to give me the best bang-for-the-buck, at least over the quattros. The reps were high on this new five-blade thing, but didn't really disagree with my reasoning.
They should have. They gave up the discussion too early.
I got back to Los Angeles though didn't use my new gift-razor for a while. Eventually though I got around to it -- and was stunned by how good it was. An extremely smooth and comfortable shave, and so close there was no "five o'clock shadow" until it was more like a 10-o'clock shadow. That said, I never quite grasped the concept of the vibrating razor. Maybe it adds something -- it feels like it's doing something -- but I could never get the idea of what it was doing. Most of the time I just left the switch off.
And that's where I left it, because I still figured -- good as the shave was -- my regular three-blades were the best deal by far. It seemed like the 5-blade cartridge lasted a long time, but I'd never checked the day I started, so I just didn't know how long it had been. And I knew they cost more anyway, so I forgot about it and moved on.
A year or so passed. One day, my Sunday newspaper pull-out had a coupon for Schick five-blade cartridges. It was a good deal, so I figured, what the heck. I bought a pack.
And that's where I started to pay attention. I marked down when I began to shave with the blades, to see how many shaves I could get and then figure out if my theory was right.
(Hint: it wasn't.)
When not on sale, a four-pack of Schick 3-blade cartridges works out to about $2.95 per cartridge. The Schick Hydro 5 comes to about $3.60 a cartridge. For easy math purposes, that's around 20% more.
Okay, so when I use a 3-blade cartridge, I generally get 2-3 weeks out of it. (Some people are far more picky than I am and get much less. What can I say, I'm just a macho guy. But I can only go by me for comparison purposes.) Occasionally I'll get what I call a "Magic Blade" and it will last a bizarrely long time. But for the most part, two weeks is what I get out of a blade.
By that calculation, I should get 20% more shaves to break even with the more expansive cost of the Hydro 5. That would work out to 17 shaves. But let's be generous and round up and say three weeks, maybe a touch more.
Are you ready?
I got four. But no, not weeks -- months. Four MONTHS. From one blade. Now, maybe this was a fluke, one of those "Magic Blades." But I recall my much-earlier blade seeming to last a very long time, so I think not. I haven't had a chance to test another blade yet, though, because...well, because I'm still on this one! I can tell it's just about at the end of its cycle though, so the next test will be soon.
And I want to be clear, when I say "four months," these were really good, clean, smooth, close shaves. No dragging the edge. Not feeling like using a rough, rusty spoon. But feeling like the blade was near new, and having it give a terrific shave.
So, as for that whole "the 3-blade cartridge is a better deal" thing? No way, out the window, gone with the window. The 5-blade Hydro blows it out of the water. Not just far, far more shaves, but better shaves, as well.
One last thing. I have no idea if the Schick razor is better than the Gillette. Or if one of their 5-blade cartridges is better. ProGlide, Fusion, Hydro, Quattro, Bic, whatever. That's another convoluted matter. I'm just looking at apple to apple -- the same company's 3-blade and 5-blade cartridges.
I know that there is a saying, "Less is more." But regardless of what SNL was joking about all those years ago, the difference to me is very clear.
Sometimes, more is actually more.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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