How Luxury Watchmakers Are Changing The Role of Brand Ambassadors
It’s enough to make even an old-school ad man in the Don Draper mould weep into his Manhattan, the way many watch brands persist with a 1950s ‘random star wearing the product’ approach to celebrity endorsements. Certain watchmakers, however, are going out of their way to cement more meaningful marketing match-ups.
Rolex has been at it for decades, effecting the most authentic sort of product placement by handing watches to explorers such as Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Francis Chichester for testing. Panerai does the same today, notably via its collaboration with South African adventurer Mike Horn, who has co-designed a series of watches with the brand.
In field-testing Panerais that need to perform while he traverses landscapes ranging from the oceans’ depths to the world’s tallest peaks, from sizzling deserts to frozen polar caps, Horn says he is harshly critical of the timepieces. “If the watch didn’t work, I would not be afraid to say, ‘Listen, it’s not working.’ But honestly and sincerely, no bullshit about it, no Panerai watch has never disappointed me,” Horn states. “When I endorse the watch, and I say, ‘This watch works,’ then it works.”
Tried And Tested
Richard Mille has made numerous million-dollar watches that are built to withstand the punishment meted out during championship level competition by sportsmen including tennis great Rafael Nadal, polo player Pablo Mac Donough, pro golfer Bubba Watson and F1 driver Felipe Massa. Hublot has also long fostered legitimate links with sports such as football, cricket, boxing and Formula 1. But the brand is just as active working with musicians and artists, creating pieces that are true joint efforts.
“We want to explore collaborations that correspond to the world of today,” Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe says. “People today are interested in multiple activities—they can go to watch a football game; they can go to a Formula 1 grand prix; they can be interested by art, music, gastronomy, cigars, tattoos. We want to correspond to the world of our consumer, so that he feels Hublot is part of his world.”
This strategy has led to Hublot releasing watches co-designed by a diverse range of names including the band Depeche Mode, tattooist and creative director Maxime Buchi, sculptor Richard Orlinski, artist Romero Britto and hip-hop genius Jay-Z. “We always meet with these people first, have dinner and get to know one another, to ensure we have the right alchemy—it’s important that we can really talk to the ambassador; it’s vital we have a close relationship,” says Guadalupe.
Breitling’s CEO Georges Kern has established several ambassadorial ‘squads’ to represent the brand while championing complementary causes. One of these, the Breitling Surfer Squad, helmed by champion boadrider Kelly Slater, is on a mission to promote ocean conservancy (and Breitling’s Superocean watches).
Kern says it was offering his squad members the chance to advocate for causes that mattered to them and were in harmony with Breitling’s product that won them over. “We approached them in a way that was authentic and meaningful,” he says. “Kelly Slater was approached by every brand in the watch industry. He said no to everybody, but we came to him with the right idea.”
See also: The Stars Aligned: An Interview With Brad Pitt From Breitling's Cinema Squad