Disclaimer: In this article I’m not in any way trying to diminish the efforts made by the brands, or to undervalue their offering; I’m simply suggesting diving deeper into the sometimes forgotten or invisible DNA of these watch companies.
You could say that it’s becoming much tougher to seduce today’s well-informed millennial customers, and to hold their attention, and you might be right. However, the unspoken truth is that the challenge will only get more difficult in the near future.
Nowadays, there’s a sense of confusion, exacerbated by misleading signals in the way watch brands promote their timepieces. On the one hand they play on luxury and tradition, while simultaneously trying to be attractive to a younger audience. Some brands try to blend their heritage with questionable fashion trends, sometimes even adding “tool watch” touches, increasing the baffling cues for their clients.
On the other hand, shady storytelling has taken a major role in modern marketing, providing a platform for the brand to highlight its heritage, while modelling the modern message for customers. Nonetheless, today’s storytelling can be really confusing for millennials, sometimes ending up missing the point, or simply feeling cheesy.
Is it luxury or is it a tool? Is wearing a watch actually useful? What if I’m not a pilot, a race car driver, a diver or a sailor? Does that mean it’s only for showing off, or should I be passionate about its mechanical aspects? How does it embrace the heritage of the brand while at the same time showcasing cutting edge technologies? What is the connection between this sketchy celebrity/artist and the brand itself?
Answers to these questions do exist, but they should be provided by the brands themselves. Watchmakers could potentially simplify their message and product, maybe lower their entry-level prices, stop using incoherent influencers or “artists” and, crucially, stop ransacking their archives for historical movements, famous watchmakers and vintage advertising – in other words, stop dissecting and over-analysing their brand DNA.
...today’s storytelling can be really confusing for millennials, sometimes ending up missing the point, or simply feeling cheesy.
I’m not saying there’s an easy and rapidly deployable solution; however, if changes aren’t made in the near future I can foresee brands struggling to win over the next generation of buyers. These younger consumers are on the hunt for original, authentic, audacious and affordable products. They don’t want to be lied to or bamboozled by fake or pretentious marketing campaigns. What they are looking for is the real story behind the watch.
The era of mass consumption when everything was disposable is what led millennials to become attracted to meaningful, legitimate products with credible back stories. And for that they are very well equipped. The internet opened the door to endless resources of knowledge, stories and details. The DIY generation is on the rise, and these former kids – now savvy consumers – take great pride in owning original, genuine and rare products, rather than showcasing some outdated definition of luxury.
The vintage trend is definitely a result of these changes in consumption, and in the “story to item” relationship. But while this interest in old-school styling is undoubtedly gaining influence and changing the industry in multiple ways, it’s also important to really understand the background to this resurgence.
These younger consumers are on the hunt for original, authentic, audacious and affordable products. They don’t want to be lied to or bamboozled by fake or pretentious marketing campaigns. What they are looking for is the real story behind the watch.
Producing vintage-inspired timepieces and selling them at a relatively high price, without regard to the watch’s true value, and in the absence of any genuine link to the past, can certainly work for a limited period of time, but it’s not a long-term solution. Fans and consumers in general are becoming more passionate and more educated about their purchases. They do their research, and they aren’t easily fooled by marketing techniques.
Now let’s go back and analyse some of the selling and advertising methods of the golden age of watchmaking, the 1930s and 1940s. Simple, effective, powerful yet elegant, artistic and simply beautiful – most of the ads from that era are truly spectacular to look at and analyse. The aesthetics of many of these advertisements were driven by their Art Deco influence and the use of traditional techniques.
Hand drawn and hand-tinted, with catchy slogans and depictions of the watch in action; these features are what made the advertisements of the past so exquisite. And they weren’t limited to watch manufacturers – they were common across most industries.
The most important arguments were either proof of functionality, day-to-day utility, the advantages or the price, and that was it – no fancy celebrities or complicated story-telling.
Following on, from the 1950s to the end of the 1960s, competition among brands was high and every ad designer had to scratch his head to come up with original and innovative ways to promote the company’s timepieces.
Some of them went for more fact- and explanation-driven ads, while others tried to make us laugh, or emphasised the affordability of their watches. However, they all had one thing in common: they were innovative.
Rolex focused its efforts on showcasing the achievements of its sport-oriented watches, whether at the top of the world or the bottom of the sea.
Nowadays, advertising has evolved immeasurably. In an era where people spend more time on their cellphones than reading magazines, advertisers and brands have to adapt and find new ways to make their products stick in our minds. The rise of social media has forced them to develop sneakier ways to reach their target market. Advertising is now more tailor-made and must be rapidly consumable. You may say, “It’s fine, they adapt and choose people that actually want their products,” and you’d be right, but I believe that in the process of creating personalised marketing, there’s a high chance of distorting and discrediting the image and the values for which a specific watch brand is known.
To my eyes, modern marketing became bland the day it reduced its purpose to simply transmitting the notion of luxury. Clearly, I’m not the only one.
This clever Motorola ad campaign pokes fun at modern watch advertising: