In the watch industry, there is no shortage of gimmicks. To grab the attention of existing and potential consumers, watch brands execute stunts to get their products out into the world. “Gimmicks” tend to evoke negative connotations, but I believe there is a wide spectrum of good and bad quality gimmicks in the watch world.
Bad Watch Gimmicks: The Random and Soulless
Let’s started with the bad end of the gimmick spectrum. As a rather extreme example of a bad gimmick, Franck Muller’s semi-recent release of their Encrypto collection, a Bitcoin-themed watch, takes the the cake.
At first, I really couldn’t believe this collection of watches exists. Honestly, there’s a part of me that still believes it isn’t real. And the reason these watches create such a surprised and confused reaction is because it’s completely arbitrary. My proposition is that every bad gimmick is random and therefore, soulless.
The Bitcoin-inspired Encrypto collection is completely random in that there is no concrete link between the Franck Muller brand and Bitcoin. When I think of a revolutionary, decentralized currency, Franck Muller doesn’t come to mind. That’s not particularly a Franck Muller issue though, as no mechanical watch in any way conjures a connection to Bitcoin in my mind. It doesn’t help that the brand does nothing to help consumers connect the dots either. Other than the usual description of materials and watchmaking processes used, there is nothing – not even a sentence – that speaks to the thought process and intention of these timepieces. It is assumed that it just makes sense…
With very little to hold onto, and very little context, Franck Muller’s work is entirely lost, leaving this collection to appear devoid of substance and soul.
Good Watch Gimmicks: Watches with Soul
I’ve heard so many collectors say, “Richard Mille is a marketing firm first and foremost.” In part, this is said as a bit of a slight against a brand wildly priced and hyped. But it’s true, Richard Mille is a marketing firm with a whole box of gimmicks. But I believe, many of them are good gimmicks – gimmicks with soul.
Brand ambassadors are probably the oldest gimmick in the industry. Put your product on a person who is perceived as elegant or cool, and hope to God some of that rubs off on your brand.
Richard Mille’s early partnerships, especially with Rafael Nadal and F1 racers, feel a little more active, or engaged, than the status quo ambassadorships. This is due to the fact that Richard Mille’s partnerships reinforce the product’s proposition and typify the brand’s core value at the intersection of ultra technical and ultra high performance watches.
When Richard Mille approached Rafael Nadal in 2008, tennis players were not wearing watches during matches. Watches were too clunky, heavy, and generally not built to endure professional play. This is why, Richard pitched Rafael Nadal the concept of a watch so light on the wrist, it goes unnoticed, while having high shock resistance to withstand the brutal conditions of competition. This watch, the RM 027, delivered on all the promises Richard Mille himself made to Nadal, and Nadal went on to became the first tennis player to wear a tourbillon sports watch during a Grand Slam final, winning the French Open in 2010.
There’s a fine, fuzzy line between gimmicks and marketing. To some people, they could mean the same thing (both are seeking attention, after all). In fact, I believe that the impulse that drives a company to produce Bitcoin-themed watches, is the same culprit behind bad watch marketing. This impulse to produce random, soulless gimmicks – intentionally or unintentionally – all boils down to this: behind every bad gimmick, there is a desperate brand. Any brand that disregards its own values, stops thinking about the connection between brand and gimmick and embraces complete randomness, is in an existential death spiral.
This is why gimmicky watch releases are interesting. It’s a litmus test to see whether a brand knows what it’s doing, or is crying for help.
Another day with the beast,