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.”
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.)
And, like many brands that experienced an unanticipated surge in demand in the early weeks of the lockdown period, Wahl was caught without the inventory it needed. Contrary to what you might expect, fully 80% of the clippers Wahl sells in the U.S. are manufactured domestically. Two weeks ago, the company asked for volunteers to come in and help restart production, “so you’re now just starting to see us shipping out again,” Yde said. “But unfortunately, if you walk into a Target or Walmart, you’ll see 70% to 80% have empty shelves because of the rush on clippers. It’s a surge like we’ve never seen before.”
Still, even if the videos did help spur sales of the company’s clippers, the burning question remains: Can someone who watches a 3-minute tutorial on the internet really do a credible job giving a haircut?
“That’s a complicated question,” Yde said. “It depends on the cut. It depends on the ability of the person doing it. I’d say that a lot of people can be pretty good at most of the cuts.”
Even so, he added that since Wahl does a healthy percent of its business selling to salon professionals, he’d rather Americans not to get too accustomed to cutting their own hair. Once lockdown is lifted, he said, “we want to make sure people go to their barbers.”
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