From toothpaste and fashion to expensive cars and luxury watches, brands of all sorts work with a valuable communication tool, the emotional trigger. If you think you’re making rational decisions when it comes to purchases, think again. People make 90% of their decisions subconsciously, and based on emotion. At least, that’s what some brain research in recent years seems to suggest.
That’s probably more true than ever when it comes to high quality, visually appealing wristwatches. Why else would you spend thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars on a mechanical object that merely tells the time? Of course, luxury watchmakers are also aware of this and aim their communications at carefully curated target groups.
Brand communications usually have to do with much more than just the product itself. The larger manufacturers know how to use dazzling stories and big emotions to get the attention of potential buyers. From the top of the world’s highest mountains to the depths of the ocean to outer space, watches have been a part of humanity’s greatest feats for decades.
Manufacturers that can’t boast of grand adventures focus on legacy and eternity. Evoking grand images and mortality in a positive sense allows brands to become more than just the sum of their products.
Another important aspect is calculating the price of a watch. An increased MSRP doesn’t necessarily entail higher usability or more in-house manufacturing. It’s much more likely that the brand’s story, exclusivity, and (low) availability are showing up in the price.
Thus, brand history, brand positioning, and manufacturer communication play an important role in the emotionally triggered purchasing process. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the brand communication of three important luxury watch manufacturers and try to establish their target groups. Which group do you belong to?
Patek Philippe – Love Through Generations
Free, creative, perfect, and family-oriented – These are the values Patek Philippe projects to its handpicked clientele. Family values play an especially important role in the Geneva manufacturer’s communication. The brand emphasizes tradition and thus addresses a rather conservative audience.
In the mid-1990s, Patek started its Generations campaign, which is still running today. The core of the campaign are father-son and mother-daughter images that evoke tradition, eternity, and the next generation. This is also the campaign that gave rise to the well-known slogan, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” Patek president Thierry Stern and his family also present themselves in line with this image. Stern took over the company from his father, who in turn took it over from his father.
Have you ever tried to become part of the Patek Philippe family by buying a watch, like a Nautilus? If so, then you know how difficult it is just to get on a long Patek waiting list. Extensive interviews where you’re asked about your work and finances are part of the program. What makes you, of all people, worthy of this brand that communicates its family values and the perfection of its timepieces at every turn?
Accordingly, the Calatrava is advertised as having “timeless understated perfection” and the Golden Eclipse boasts “perfect harmony.” Perfection is a lofty concept to evoke in this context. After all, what object made by human hands is 100% perfect?
One of the reasons it’s so hard to become a part of this perfect family is that Patek only produces about 68,000 watches a year for an audience of significantly more potential buyers. And why increase production when watches fly off the shelves like that? More so than other watch brands, Patek Philippe sets the rules of the game and chooses who deserves the honor of wearing one of their timepieces.
You might rightly say that this game is absurd – after all, at the end of the day, the manufacturer makes a living from its customers and not the other way around. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still find it fascinating, with its spectacle of supposedly perfect and eternal wristwatches.
Rolex – The Essence of Successful Marketing
Functionality, prestige, precision, and excellence form the core of Rolex‘s self-presentation. The brand also likes to use the word “pioneer.” Indeed, it’s undisputed that the Geneva manufacturer was one of the pioneers of modern watch making in the 1940s and ’50s, and the brand has proven this time and again with legendary timepieces like the Datejust, Submariner, and GMT-Master. Rolex is home to a host of iconic watches, making it the most well-known and maybe even the most coveted watch brand worldwide. The manufacturer’s process for giving out its watches is similar to Patek Philippe’s. To secure a particularly sought-after model, you’ll need to have a close business relationship with an official retailer.
Rolex takes a broad approach with its brand communication. That’s possible because the brand has something for everyone in its catalog, from the adventurer to the traditionalist. The same is true when it comes to its price points, which range from a few thousand dollars to millions. The various uses and functions of a watch will usually play a prominent role in its marketing. That also goes for the way the brand manages partnerships and chooses partners. The world of Rolex is thus divided into sports, arts and culture, and research and science.
Rolex is especially active in the world of athletics and works with top class partners in tennis, golf, sailing, and motor sports. The most well-known athletes connected with Rolex are probably Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, and Mark Webber. This naturally increases one’s appetite for a Daytona, GMT-Master II, or Day-Date, since which amateur doesn’t want to be like their favorite pro?
In research and science, Rolex distinguishes itself for being particularly eco-friendly. With the slogan “Perpetual Planet” they advocate for preserving the environment using the example of Mount Everest. Rolex has been connected with this mountain since 1953, when a Rolex watch supposedly made it to the summit with Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. That watch later gave rise to the Rolex Explorer, which is now a staple for mountaineers, cave explorers, and office workers alike.
And let’s not forget the cinema! Rolex has had a long list of partners in Hollywood and beyond. The most famous story here features the Sea-Dweller Deepsea, which accompanied director James Cameron in 2012 on his first expedition to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. Marketing doesn’t get much better than that.
The list of Rolex superlatives could go on and on, but would lead us astray. The fact is, the manufacturer’s expensive marketing is almost better than the watches themselves and would easily provide enough material for a book. Their continuing success proves that Rolex is doing something right, and so the marketing machine goes on. As auto pioneer Henry Ford once said, “Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.”
Breitling – An Updated Marketing Concept
Elegance, glamour, vibrancy, and adventure – this is what Breitling evokes in its marketing. If you’ve been watching this brand in recent years, you’ll likely have noticed that they’ve been going through a significant transformation. The reason for this is the new marketing concept introduced by Georges Kern, who took over as Breitling CEO in 2017. Kern, who used to be head of IWC, aims to move Breitling away from its macho image and flashy, oversized watches in favor of an image as a manufacturer of elegant luxury watches with modern retro designs.
When Kern arrived at the helm, the Breitling community was split into two camps. One camp wanted modern, large, loud models, while the other preferred stylish classics from the 1950s and ’60s. Additionally, women didn’t have enough of a place in Breitling’s wider concept. The new CEO took it upon himself to unite the two camps and create new models that brought together the best of both worlds. The result is a diverse array of watches, among which you’ll find an elegant 35-mm women’s watch as well as a 48-mm Avenger. So there’s still plenty of room for macho models!
Breitling’s cooperation with luxury car manufacturer Bentley also came to an end as a part of their new ethos. Aviation, a major focus of the “old” Breitling, also took on a smaller role, leading to the end of the company’s partnership with the Jet Team, the largest civilian aerobatic team in Europe.
Breitling is now focussing on partnerships that reflect the diversity of their collections and the interests of their target group. This includes the British motorcycle manufacturer Triumph, the Six Nations rugby team, the Iron Man triathlon, and the South African organization Qhubeka. The latter organization distributes bicycles in parts of South Africa with limited transportation infrastructure. This kind of partnership showcases Breitling’s dedication to sustainability and social causes, which is always well-received and is an increasingly important part of many companies’ public image.
Another pillar of Breitling’s marketing strategy are the “squads” that they advertise using the hashtag #squadonamission. In the six squads Spotlight, Cinema, Triathlon, Aviation Pioneer, Explorer, and Surfer, the brand works with high-profile international testimonials. For example: Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, former astronaut Scott Kelly, and Bertrand Piccard, the first person to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the world. From glamour to sports to adventure, there’s sure to be something for everyone.
For Georges Kern, it’s important to emphasize that the squads aren’t about individual brand ambassadors, but rather teams that appear together. The concept embodies values like team spirit and camaraderie, values that Breitling also communicates. All in all, with its new brand positioning, Breitling is performing a balancing act between adventure and traditional values.
Perfection, prestige, glamour, tradition, pioneering spirit, vibrancy. In this article, we took a closer look at the brand communication of Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Breitling. These manufacturers of course want to ensure sales, but they also want to control just who they’re selling to. Exclusivity and distinguishing themselves from other brands in the same price segment are of high importance. Focussing on certain values, brand ambassadors, purchase motives, and price points help brands ensure their luxury watches stay in the hands – and on the wrists – of select target groups.