Celebrity Watch Brand Ambassadors — Are You Being Influenced?
Celebrity watch brand ambassadors are paid cheerleaders. These carefully selected cheerleaders embody a brand or offer a look at what a brand wants to become in the near future. And that’s why you see them shine in lavishly styled advertisements and enticing mini-movies — Ryan Gosling trying to steal a TAG Heuer Carrera from a movie set, for instance. If that isn’t enough, when it’s that time of the year again for the Met Gala in New York, the Oscars in LA, and the Cannes Film Festival, stars “casually” show off timepieces from brands you didn’t even know they’re affiliated with. Do these “Cinderella” moments inspire you, annoy you, or leave you indifferent? And what about the more meaningful, long-lasting relationships between brands and ambassadors? Did George Clooney ever twist your arm to buy an Omega?
Who is the first-ever watch ambassador? Alberto Santos-Dumont? He was more of an influencer. He wore his Cartier watch and was seen on the scene, which led to a small batch of the same watch — the first-ever series-produced wristwatch — that the Brazilian gentleman aviator wore in the skies over Paris in the early 20th century. I don’t believe Louis Cartier ever asked his high-flying friend to take a selfie with the watch. Santos-Dumont, however, had all the characteristics of an influencer and even the perfect brand ambassador. The man who designed as many as 22 flying machines was described as “more than just an aviator. His style, personality, and sense of innovation made him a thoroughly modern man.” Since 1904, lots of things have changed. Let’s have a (very) quick overview.
Celebrity watch brand ambassadors: Water, land, air, and space
There were times when watches came into the limelight because of the unique things their wearers accomplished. After Mercedes Gleitze, a 26-year-old British secretary and long-distance swimmer, swam the English Channel in 1927 with a waterproof Rolex Oyster around her neck, the brand’s founder and director Hans Wilsdorf celebrated the landmark event with a full-page advertisement on the front page of the Daily Mail. Gleitze was the first Rolex Testimonee — that’s what the brand calls its ambassadors — in a long line of world-famous athletes, adventurers, and artists of all sorts. Another extraordinary person who made watches famous was Amelia Earhart, who flew from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1932 equipped with a Longines. Furthermore, the first successful climb of Mount Everest led to the creation of the Explorer. And a string of Moon-landing astronauts turned a chronograph into a Moon watch. The instrumental watch became an accidental star.
Paying for love
When something comes naturally and from the heart, it feels real. Paul Newman wearing a Daytona is perfect in every imaginable way. The story of the actor/race car driver and his watch is not fabricated and therefore undeniable. Having Brad Pitt first wearing TAG Heuer and now Breitling, or Bradley Cooper, who last year changed his IWC for a Louis Vuitton watch, aren’t. The idea of having celebrity brand ambassadors to supercharge sales and help reach new audiences certainly must have a proven effect. Otherwise, why would brands continue to go down this path?
But you also sometimes wonder if some brands use ambassadors just for the sake of it. Or they might even do it because the competition does it. In the race for the “best” ambassador, big bucks come into play. Roger Federer made a big transfer from Maurice Lacroix to Rolex, but it also was a match made in heaven — the two undeniable icons of Switzerland were meant to be together. The partnership between Omega and George Clooney is a long-lasting affair that has become a fact of life; the stylish actor drinks Nespresso and wears an Omega, what else?
A match or a mismatch is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it? What did you think when Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds, the creative brain and personator of the funny yet very violent Deadpool, showed up as the international brand ambassador for Piaget watches? On his Instagram page, the actor showed an image from the campaign and this caption: “Working with @piaget involves a good amount of casual sitting. It’s almost as if someone sent them the “vision board” I created when I was ten.”
The Piaget example looks a lot like copycat behavior. Having a brand ambassador for the sake of having one can lead to situations that feel off or even slightly awkward. Still, as long as the ambassador doesn’t cause its brand reputational damage by falling from grace, a mismatch can be harmless.
X-mas at the Kravitzes’
After Jaeger-LeCoultre announced Lenny Kravitz as a new brand ambassador, my mind went into fantasy mode. In my imagination, I saw the gathered Kravitz family enjoying a nice X-mas dinner. Zoë showed Dad the Omega on her wrist, and that inspired Lenny to tell his manager right away — despite the no-phones policy and because the manager has a 24/7 job — that he was also interested in wearing a watch by becoming a brand ambassador.
“The actor, director, model, and producer has her own youthful, confident style, and Omega is thrilled to welcome her into its world,” the brand said in an official statement about 34-year-old Zoë Kravitz. “I love the adventurous spirit of Omega,” Kravitz said. “That willingness to take risks and try something new, without sacrificing the integrity of the brand. It’s rare, and I’m happy and proud to be part of the family.”
On the website of Jaeger-LeCoultre, I read that “since the very beginning of his career, Lenny Kravitz has been defiantly original, always following his own path, steadfast in his artistic vision. Thanks to a strong parallel between his creative philosophy and that of Jaeger-LeCoultre, his relationship with the Maison has come very naturally.” Your thoughts?
And what did Dad Lenny say?
Lenny Kravitz talked to Vogue about the natural relationship with JLC, and he explained why he’s happy with his watch deal. Quite unexpectedly, the no-phones policy at the Kravitz house could have played a part in the two coming together. ”I want to be dealing with the phone less, so I just have grown accustomed to looking at my wrist now,” Kravitz told Vogue. “I like to put it [the phone] down and not have it tethered to me. I got the watch and can…be on time.”
If you can’t wait to see Lenny Kravitz, who is in the process of recording a new album, and his Reverso live on stage, I have bad news. “As much as I love them, the stage is not the place for them when I am playing music,” he explained to Vogue. “I have no concern of time when I’m doing that, but in life, yes.”
Are they the brand? Will they become the brand? Or will the brand become them?
Having an ambassador wear your watch in an ad and also star in a campaign of a fashion brand isn’t that big of a problem. But it can diminish the impact an ambassador has. To use Zoë Kravitz as an example, the new Omega cover girl previously starred in campaigns for jewelry brand Tiffany & Co., fashion brands Balenciaga, Calvin Klein, and Vera Wang, and also YSL Beauty. And that’s neither a complete list nor an exception. The aforementioned Ryan Gosling also stars in Gucci attire, for example. In moderation, it makes sense. You don’t wear your watch naked, after all. The watch is part of the lifestyle that includes fashion, cosmetics, and fragrances. It’s the switching between competitors by A-list celebrities that sometimes feels awkward — are you reading this, Brad Pitt? A partnership takes time to settle. An ambassador becomes credible when the relationship matures and deepens.
Devaluation and inflation
I haven’t counted the number of official, full-blown brand ambassadors in the luxury realm. Still, I’m guessing it must be a very large number. On top of that, you have the occasional celebrities on the red carpet wearing watches that they’ve never worn before. And then there’s the large pile of social media influencers that promote anything that pays the bill. We’ve come a long way since Alberto Santos-Dumont and Mercedes Gleitze. I strongly believe that over time, the influence of ambassadors has diminished.
The number of stars has grown. Or to put it a bit more crudely, there are too many celebrities. We already had pop and movie stars that shone on the big screen and vinyl. And now we also have reality stars, stars that shine in hyped series on streaming services, and social media stars. These stars shine brightly but also have a relatively short lifespan. You can see those stars in action on, for instance, their Instagram accounts and countless internet talk shows.
The bombardment of stars has led to the devaluation of stardom. With the rise of social media and other types of online communication, it became less difficult than ever to become famous or well-known. And the entertainment industry also continued to expand, creating more platforms and opportunities for people to become famous.
Fleeting fame versus traditional watchmaking
“Easy come, easy go” comes to mind, though. Nothing seems to be more fleeting than fame and celebrity in this day and age. And that’s quite the opposite of the often centuries-old reputation of watch brands. The very conservative world of Haute Horlogerie is built on the opposite of hype. The reputation of the most prestigious watch brands took time to build. The build-up of a brand’s perception resembles that of the growth of a tree. A modern-day star resembles the lighting of a match. Unfortunately, fire burns wood, and what takes many decades to build can suffer destruction in moments.
Who needs ambassadors anyway?
Patek Philippe, the most prestigious watch brand in the world, doesn’t need ambassadors. You won’t find celebrities in the brand’s advertisements. Instead, you’ll find anonymous models who tell you a Patek Philippe is not even for individuals but for generations. When I talked to Dr. Peter Friess, curator of the Patek Philippe Museum, when I was researching the story “Patek Philippe And All That Jazz,” he made the brand’s philosophy clear. “The watches are the real stars, you know?” Dr. Friess said. And the curator also gave another example of how a Patek watch shines brighter than any person could ever do: “We could have bought a watch that was once owned by John Lennon, but we didn’t. If we buy a watch at an auction or from a private person, it always depends on the watch, never on the owner.”
Too old to be influenced?
The influence of brand ambassadors on the buying process is not an exact science. Yes, the effects of an advertising campaign can be measured, but only up to a point. Only in-depth market research can shed light on how brand ambassadors are perceived. Speaking for myself, no celebrity has ever influenced me enough to buy a watch. Maybe I’m just too old to be influenced by people who promote something they’re being paid for generously. Do you feel the same, or did David Beckham bend it just right and make you buy a Black Bay? Do watch brand ambassadors cause aspiration, inspiration, or exasperation? Please let me know in the comments how you perceive famous people sporting watches in magazine advertisements and online campaigns or on billboards, their Instagram, YouTube shows, etc.
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