How Dollar Shave Club’s Michael Dubin Learned to Be Funny on TV

Viral star turns to the 30-second spot

IDEA: Michael Dubin became a famous advertising face overnight in 2012 when he starred in a wonderfully cutting 90-second online video for Dollar Shave Club, the mail-order razor subscription service he co-founded and runs as CEO. That spot was watched more than 17 million times on YouTube and put the fledgling business on the map.

Two years later, it's time for the next step: TV advertising.

Four new spots, airing nationally, are fairly traditional 30-second set pieces, but retain the brand's irreverent spirit with mock violence and other zany humor in hyperbolically illustrating the frustrations of buying razors at the store (e.g., they're expensive, and locked up like King Tut's treasure).

"The first video was an introduction to the core service," said Dubin. "But we always wanted to tell this other story, and have a bit of fun with it."

COPYWRITING: All four spots, written by Dubin and in-house creative director Alec Brownstein, are showdowns between razor-buying heroes and razor-selling villains at a convenience store.

Two focus on the exorbitant price of store-bought razors—one man doesn't have enough, so he gives his clothes away as well; another gets literally beat up by the price by a boxing glove hidden in the sales counter. The other two focus on what Dubin calls the "razor fortress"—the locked case where shaving supplies are kept to prevent shoplifting. Customers who dare cross the threshold end up getting tased or shot with a tranquilizer dart.

"It's rooted in truths. It is frustrating. It is expensive," Dubin said of the plots. "It's a heightening of reality. If these stores are willing to do this, what else are they willing to do? Maybe they're willing to tranquilize you with a dart."

Dubin himself appears at the end of each spot to deliver a few quick lines that tie things together. "It's almost like they don't want you to buy their razors. Well, I want you to buy mine," he says in one.

Over stop-motion footage of razors behind packed up for delivery, Dubin adds in voiceover: "DollarShaveClub.com delivers amazing razors for just a few bucks."

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: Steve Miller of Radical Media, which co-produced the campaign with Zebra, shot the ads in Cranford, N.J., over three days.

"We had worked with my friend Lucia [Aniello] on the original video, who has gone on to direct Broad City on Comedy Central," said Dubin. "We wanted to change things up, but work with the same caliber of talent."

There's a drabness to the look of the convenience store, though that's more about set design than color grade. "A lot of comedy these days has a desaturated, cold look. We opted to go the other way," said Zebra founder Linda Rafoss.

TALENT: Despite the hyperbole, Dubin wanted actors who could do subtle comedy. "There's a lot of humor in the expressions. There's not a lot of big performances, though there are a couple of big jokes," he said.

Dubin did improv comedy in New York years ago, and knew a few of the actors from that.

It was also important that Dubin appear—or rather, the character he calls "Mike the spokesman"—for the sake of consistency and relatability.

"Dollar Shave Club wants to speak to you in an everyday voice," he said. "Using a celebrity is not who we are. Tonally, it's important to remind people, here's a guy who's just like you, finding a solution to a real problem."

SOUND: It's mostly elevator music, which adds to the ennui, punctuated by violent sound design around the physical comedy.

MEDIA: National cable and online.

THE SPOTS:

CREDITS
Client: Dollar Shave Club
Founder, CEO, Writer: Michael Dubin
Creative Director: Alec Brownstein
Production Partners: Zebra, Radical Media
Director: Steve Miller