How on Earth can a brand think that by giving actor Y or actor X a watch for free, that it makes me want to buy one too? You guessed it right, I am not a fan of most watch ambassadors.
When I saw George Clooney and his wife at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it made me think of this topic on watch ambassadors I wrote in 2015, and realized it is still a hot topic that is often discussed among watch enthusiasts. A few moments later, I saw that Prince William was wearing a mid-sized Omega Seamaster. He wears that watch all the time and it is to be believed that he received this watch from his mother, Diana. I would say that this is a watch ambassador, probably totally unaware and unintentional, but to me, those are the best. I also understand brands, like Omega, who can’t use him as an official ambassador. They can’t use images of him or use the fact that Prince William or our own King Willem Alexander, for example, wear one of their watches.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the subject.
If you are a regular reader of Fratello Watches, you probably know that I have a weak spot for Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watches. Actually, it has been one of my favourite watch brands ever since I started to become interested in watches.
This story has been already told here in the past perhaps, but it was in the late 1990s that I started to become really interested in watches. While it was already possible to browse the web in those days, none of the brands seemed really interested and getting your information from brochures was still the way to go. In one of the Audemars Piguet catalogues of that time (when AP did a trilogy of catalogues simply called #1, #2 and #3), there was a testimonial in the first catalogues of a guy who owns a fashion department store in Paris: Bruno Rubinski.
Bruno Rubinski basically gave a testimonial about the Royal Oak ‘Jumbo’ watch that he admired so much and eventually bought. Nothing special so far, except for the fact that this guy was a real customer instead of the ambassadors that work for watch brands today that are being asked to promote a brand and where watches are just being handed out to them. The strong point in this testimonial (printed in their catalogue), is the fact that he bought this watch pre-owned and that it was in very poor condition. He continues his story that he had it rebuilt from scratch and since then proudly wears it again. Basically, there is no ambassador story – perhaps except the Moonwatch – that can beat this type of ‘advertising’ in a brochure.
It was this advertisement, or testimonial, that made me want a Royal Oak badly. I was already in the camp of Royal Oak aficionados, but this kind of daring advertising really made me want one. It must be a very good watch – and watch company – if they advertise with the fact that he bought it pre-owned and had it fully restored and like new again.
Now, I have to say that Audemars Piguet is clearly walking the right path (again) with their new line-up of ambassadors. No Bruno Rubinski kind of types and testimonials – although that worked for me, it might not work for others – but people who actually achieved great things in the field of sports. A lot of golfers are in their line-up of ambassadors (click here for an overview), Michael Schumacher as a racer, Leo Messi as a soccer player and just recently AP added Serena Williams (tennis) to the list. Although I am not familiar with all the golf players (except Nick Faldo, who had his own cool Royal Oak model back in the day), I assume they are all great names in their field(s) of expertise.
I call it the right path, as I felt a bit let down by the fact that one of my favourite watchmakers was bound to fall into the hands of the Kardashians, rappers and other entertainment-related ambassadors (official or not). While one can argue whether a good entertainer is a less valid ambassador than a golf pro or soccer player, you can surely say something about the expiration date of a certain hype or fame. Whatever the reason has been, Audemars Piguet is aiming to be associated with (high profile) sports people.
Not only Audemars Piguet of course, but also Rolex, Omega, Panerai and dozens of other brands want to be linked to sports and their role models. I do understand the sport’s ambassadors, brands want to be identified with a certain type of sport or want to create (brand) awareness among the crowd and fans of those sports. Sounds like a clever plan.
The real value of ambassadors – other than some guys in white NASA suits or real customers like Rubinski – is not always clear to me. I really wonder if anyone is ever going to a TAG Heuer boutique or retailer asking for a Cristiano Ronaldo watch or an Omega boutique to ask about the watch George Clooney was wearing during his wedding ceremony.
For ladies watches this might be different if a lady sees Adriana Lima wearing a nice IWC on her wrist in a Cosmopolitan, Harpers Bazar or whatever magazine, that might trigger them to ask about that particular watch or brand. For men who are into watches, who Google for the watch specifications and reviews and so on, my assumption is that this will be different. Although cult stuff like James Bond (whether it is a current Omega or the Rolex Sub or Seiko he wore in older movies), the space program (Omega, Breitling etc) or Steve McQueen and his Rolex and Heuer watches surely have a big influence on men. But that’s still different from a Refaeli (Hublot), Ronaldo, Lima or whoever.
Now, I’ve been told that some of these types of ambassadorships do pretty well in some parts of the world, but seeing the line-up of famous people (or Friends-of-the-Brand (FotBs)) attending the IWC booth in Geneva during the SIHH exhibition was a bit odd in my opinion. The place was crowded with celebs. Now, IWC plays it smart, as they also make sure they have local FotBs wherever they want probably when I visit their website it takes me to a local Dutch part of the site, showing me that their latest FotB is Dutch actress Anna Drijver. It also tells me about a Father & Son event, but when I actually clicked it – it sounded interesting – the first thing I read is that it was held with another FotB (a Dutch singer and his father) of IWC.
I am not really sure what brands want to achieve exactly other than having their ambassadors walking around (and being seen on red carpets and talk shows) with their watches. Yes, sales, that part I understand but I am pretty sure that people who watch TV get the fact that everything these actors, singers, talk show hosts and other types of ambassadors and FotBs are wearing, eating and drinking has been sponsored by a brand. It is a smart way of product placement, especially when the FotB is a sympathetic guy or girl that speaks to people.
But the main question is, does it really work? Is a FotB or watch ambassador the key (or a key) to sales? Do people sympathize with a brand because Adriana Lima is flown into Geneva for a watch show and wears a nice watch on her wrist? Do I like Omega suddenly better because George Clooney is in an advertisement with a loupe on his forehead? No. Even though Mr Clooney and Ms Lima seem to me as sympathetic people, it doesn’t tell me anything about the brand or the watch I want to have.
Is culture an influence? That might be the case, but then I’d think the ambassadors would only be of use in those countries where the luxury goods market has not been matured yet. In the matured market of watches, where people just want to buy a good watch that they like or collect, people are probably not being influenced by the (supposedly) choice of a singer, actor or other types of FotB. Perhaps it would be of any influence if it really was their choice, but for most of them, it isn’t.
What would influence me? Well, the testimonial of a real consumer did in the case of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The story of the Moonwatch (obviously) did when buying my first Speedmaster back in 1999. Real stories from real people that wear certain watches for a reason.
Although it doesn’t work for me, these brand ambassadors with no real connection with watches, it might do for others. I am curious why though, if anyone can tell me, please do. I want to know whether it really makes sense or that brands could better spend their money on other things, like a well-oiled after sales service.
Please find below the images I took from the Audemars Piguet #1 catalogue with the testimonial I think was a brave thing to print. Click for larger pictures.
*This article appeared for the first time on February 13th, 2015 and has been updated or reworked.
**Header image HONOLULU, HI – JANUARY 12: Wesley Bryan of the United States plays his shot from the fourth tee during round two of the Sony Open In Hawaii at Waialae Country Club on January 12, 2018 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)