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Over the last few years über-styled beards have fanned out from the hipster scene to the mainstream. It’s a point Proraso has been quick to pick up on, focusing its communication strategies and numerous co-branding initiatives over the last few years on the concept of Italian barber heritage.

We caught up with Stefano Lippi, Proraso’s brand manager, for a chat about things dear to Brand Jam fans’ hearts like heritage branding, smart partnerships and brand innovation – all capable of bringing allure to the most prosaic of mass-produced products.

Brand Jam: Proraso’s communications and its brand ambassadors – hipster owners of international barber salons and chains, even female barbers. Let’s start from here, because it rather seems to have been the focal point of Proraso’s long-term strategy.

Stefano Lippi: We launched the original campaign in 2012 and have updated it with new testimonials every year. But I would like to point out that it has all been quite spontaneous; we started to get enquiries from leading international barbers looking for quality Italian products, because we’re the only Italian brand in a field dominated by British, and more recently, American, products. Our barber testimonials just tell their stories, because they, and their looks, are all 100% authentic, we don’t interfere or try to influence them in any way. We decided to use a woman too, but always on the same principle.

B.J.: It’s interesting to note that 80% of Proraso’s turnover comes from the mass market, where it battles multinationals, and Proraso’s best-selling product is its shaving foam, with an average price of €2.20. Yet your mood is very much inspired by the trendy global hipster scene, somewhere between Pitti Uomo and Monocle. How does that work?

S.L.: Well, in some ways Proraso is two companies in one. There’s Proraso in Italy, where we have been a supermarket product since the seventies, and Proraso international, our more recent incarnation, where we’re seen as the epitome of Italian style, very much a heritage brand. And that puts us in the premium price bracket at three times the Italian sales price. The fact that beards are now very much where it’s at has made us trendy in Italy too, almost incidentally, because we go to places like Pitti Uomo to reach out to our most demanding customers, and this is where they tend to flock nowadays

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B.J.: Heritage vs. vintage. The 10×10 An Italian Theory x Proraso capsule collection presented at Pitti Uomo seems to lean more towards nostalgia for the Italy of the boom years of the fifties and sixties rather than the heritage concept of recapturing the pleasurable ritual of going to an old-fashioned barber’s shop. Is that because you want to wow your foreign markets with references to the palmy days of La Dolce Vita?

S.L.: Definitely, it’s 100% vintage. Alessandro Enriquez, who designs 10×10 An Italian Theory, drew most of his inspiration from our archives detailing 70 years of advertising, focusing on the sixties to capture the full flavour of the Italian economic miracle. We gave him a totally free hand without worrying about the effect on either the Italian or international market, we just let it all go with the flow. We’re no fashion experts and don’t pretend otherwise, which is why we give our partners plenty of elbow-room.

B.J.: We’ve always admired your partnerships and the way you’ve projected Proraso into spheres well beyond your core business, but all incredibly compatible with your positioning and lifestyle image.

S.L.: It all fits the same pattern. What we want to do is tell our customers about the pleasures of a really good shave. And our customers happen to be at Pitti Uomo, the Vintage Festival and EICMA, so our barbers are there too, it’s never about being commercial. Our partnerships with other brands are built on the identity of the target consumer. Someone who rides a Triumph motorbike is our customer. He won’t make do with any old motorbike, he wants something special – something with the weight of history behind it. The same goes for Harley Davidson and Mini, two other brands we have partnered, or Jack Daniel’s, they’re all different, but at the end of the day their customers are all pretty much alike.

B.J.: What kind of effect do these partnerships have?

S.L.: In the first place we consolidate our position as a quality Italian product, something not for everyone, despite being available to many. Values we share with our chosen partners, who add their might to helping us get them across to a broader audience. But behind all that we have all the solidity of seventy years of experience, and we’re well aware that we’re no flash-in-the-pan fashion fad, it’s not at all our thing.

B.J.: Just out of curiosity: a well-groomed flowing beard is an icon of contemporary style. How long do you think that’s going to last? And what branding strategies are Proraso contemplating when the fashion eventually dies a natural death?

S.L.: We were in there preaching the good word on shaving and beards long before it all became such a focus for fashion statements, and we’ll still be there doing the same thing long after the ephemeral fads of fashion have faded. But this particular trend does seem to have raised consumer awareness on how much fun face hair can be, nowadays you can grow your beard, shave it, trim your moustache or sculpt your sideburns. Shaving is a ritual and will go on being a pleasure for the foreseeable future.

B.J.: Export: how do you interpret your “brand vibrations” – partnerships and non-core activities – abroad?

S.L.: Exactly the same way we go about it in Italy, with the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride we have established a consolidated partnership in USA, Canada, Germany and France. Our “gentlemen riders” are a classic example of a consumer-type, virtually identical worldwide and all equally receptive to our vision of shaving as a hedonistic pleasure.

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