A Few How-To Videos Became the Best Marketing Investment Wahl Has Made in Years

Americans learned how to cut hair at home during the pandemic—and bought a lot of clippers to do it

a man cutting his own hair
Thanks in part to the how-to videos, traffic to Wahl's homepage jumped by 1,400%.

Key insights:

About five years ago, Wahl decided to accentuate its website with some instructional videos. The 101-year-old maker of electric hair clippers is already the leading brand among professional stylists, but with the rise of do-it-yourself influencer culture and the widespread availability of clippers on the retail level, it made sense to build in some how-to content just in case consumers wanted it.

When the coronavirus showed up, consumers suddenly did want it—a lot.

Almost overnight, what had begun as a simple website upgrade became a major marketing engine for the brand. Since mid-March, traffic to Wahl’s site, where the videos live, has skyrocketed by 1,400%. Consumers watched the step-by-step instructional video on how to do an easy cut, a business cut, a fade and a brush cut, among others. (All of these are men’s styles, though it’s a fair bet that many women were doing the trimming.)

And while the videos might have initially been shot as a simple value-added element to the company homepage, they proved their worth by further establishing Wahl as a personal grooming authority. Coincidentally or not, the videos’ popularity was also accompanied by a huge sales spike.

“Hair clippers had about a 48% household penetration before the pandemic, and I’ll tell you that in week two of the shutdown, we started getting point-of-sale data showing that our year-over-year sales had increased in line with pasta—that’s how crazy it was,” Wahl’s vice president of marketing, Steven Yde, told Adweek. “The numbers went through the roof.”

Wahl is a major supplier to professional barbers, but it has a brisk consumer trade, too.

Retail analysts first began noticing a surge in sales for haircare products—in particular, hair dye and clippers—around mid-April. On April 10, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon appeared on NBC’s Today show and observed that the stay-at-home trend had begun to shift consumer priorities from stocking up on food to personal care. “People are starting to need a haircut,” he said. “You see more beard trimmers and hair color and things like that. It’s interesting to watch the dynamic play out.” Nielsen data showed that, compared to the year prior, sales of dyes had risen by 23%. And clippers? They rose by 166%.

Which means that Wahl’s how-to videos alone were hardly responsible for the sales bump on their own—but it’s a fair assumption that they contributed.

One way they did was the production value. In shooting the spots, Wahl’s longtime agency Hoffman York took pains emphasize clear, accessible instruction. The camera comes in tight on the head to be trimmed, the steps are demonstrated one at a time, and the videos are all under 3 minutes in length.

“When you’re new to the task it can feel high-stakes, and for many the only way to gain comfortability is to see the entire process from start to finish,” said Troy Alfke, Wahl’s account lead at Hoffman York. “Unlike before and after images, videos allow people to dissect and interpret nuances that set them up for success.”

Most pointedly, since the videos aim to instruct amateurs, there are amateurs in the videos. “Although the narrator of the videos is a professional stylist, all of the other participants are regular people, many of whom had never used a clipper before,” Alfke said. “This was an intentional detail that added sincerity and helped us effectively demonstrate that with a Wahl clipper, and a little bit of coaching, cutting your hair at home is achievable.”

The surprising popularity of the how-to haircut videos (and, for the record, the fade is the most popular cut) did create some problems for Wahl, too. Not all of the cuts featured on the how-to page had completed videos to match, requiring the brand to do some hurried improvising. Take the Undercut style: Wahl had to make do with a step-by-step written guide, augmented by a short video on how to do the “inverted-clipper” technique. (Yde said that the company expects to update and refresh the videos further once the dicey period of the pandemic has passed.)

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