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Judge Orders Razor-Maker To Drop Claims of Better Shave

January 15, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) _ Who offers the best shave known to man? Not Wilkinson Sword Inc.

A federal judge has ordered Wilkinson to drop that and all other advertising boasts claiming that its Ultra Glide razor is better than a model made by rival Gillette Co.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood granted Gillette’s request for a permanent injunction against Wilkinson’s claims of ″shaving smoothness superiority″ of the Ultra Glide compared with Gillette’s Atra Plus system.

Under the ruling, signed Thursday and released Monday, Wilkinson must drop a claim on packaging and in print advertisements that the Ultra Glide is ″six times smoother″ than other razors.

Jeffrey Avison, a vice president for Wilkinson’s U.S. shaving business, said today that the company would make the changes by the end of the month. He said Wilkinson had not decided whether to appeal the ruling.

″We conducted a lot of tests in good faith and believed strongly that the claims we were making were true and substantiated,″ Avison said.

Gillette sued Wilkinson in May 1989 for false advertising and Wood issued a preliminary injunction barring Wilkinson from making the ″six times smoother″ claim in television advertisements.

But Wilkinson, which holds only about 4 percent of the $750 million wet- razor market compared with about 60 percent for Boston-based Gillette, continued to make the claim on its packages and in some print ads.

A two-week trial was held in September 1989.

Judge Wood also prohibited Wilkinson from claiming the Ultra Glide offers ″the smoothest, most comfortable shave known to man″ and ″the smoothest, most comfortable shave ever.″

She barred Wilkinson, a unit of Swiss-based Swedish Match N.V., from making claims of shaving smoothness parity with Gillette’s Atra Plus system, and from stating that eight of 10 Atra users would ″definetely or probably″ buy Ultra Glide.

″Wilkinson’s ‘six times smoother’ claim communicates a false message of shaving smoothness superiority,″ Wood said in her 43-page ruling.

In the ads, Wilkinson said Ultra Glide’s special lubricating strip was better than ″ordinary white strips.″ It also claimed the Atra strip would ″melt down″ or become ″messy″ or ″gooey.″

After initially rejecting Gillette’s request for a preliminary injunction, Wood said at the time she reconsidered after reviewing a market study that found no substantial differences in the smoothness of the two shaving systems.

Wood deferred a decision on whether to make Wilkinson pay Gillette damages or attorneys’ fees.

″The opinion that the ads were false is what we were looking for,″ Gillette lawyer James Connolly said. ″The big concern was they continued to make these claims in print ads. Damages is not a consideration.″

Wilkinson maintained that the ″six times smoother″ claim referred only to the white strip on the razor, not the shave itself.

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