The watch is the message — a reflection on modern watch ads

There used to be more of an edge to watch ads – they spoke to popular culture, adventures, and even other brand’s struggles. In tone, they were often playful, reminiscent, or nostalgic for other aesthetic periods. Long gone are most of these advertisements, carrying over only the lowest common denominator to today: the watch. In the modern advertising landscape, the watch is the message.

In part, watch advertisements have changed tone and message because of shifts in general discourse and political correctness. Sexism, elitism, and conspicuous consumption are increasingly less appreciated, and understandably so. Yet, there’s more to the lackadaisical state of watch ads today than just new cultural/social constraints.

In today’s digital world, you can see side-by-side how different brands advertise on Facebook and Instagram through a tool called Ad Library. It’s pretty astounding to see “the watch is the message” play out across all brands, even similar amongst brands thought widely different. From A. Lange & Söhne to Zenith, take a look at ads running on Facebook as of Dec 8, 2019.

In the watch industry, collective amnesia has forgotten that advertising is at its finest when it ties directly into biases, cultural associations, mannerisms, and even competitor hiccups. These advertising opportunities know no limits, and can often span entirely different markets and industries. A recent prime example of this appeared in the US when Aviation Gin struck a chord of advertising genius with its commercial “The Gift that Doesn’t Give Back.” The gin commercial came in response to Peloton’s bizarre, fitness equipment Christmas commercial “The Gift that Gives Back.” It exploded in popularity, because it captured the zeitgeist of that moment.

Every watch brand’s marketing department should be looking at the advertising landscape in the industry and salivating. As everyone does the same “modern” thing, there’s no better time to break the cycle by capturing the zeitgeist of moments now and in the future. The watch needs new life in the modern era, and it won’t come from product close-up ads.

Serve me an ad I remember,

P.S. You can see the digital ads each brand is running here as well: A. Lange & Söhne, Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, Hublot, Tag Heuer, IWC, Breitling, Panerai, Blancpain, Omega, Tudor, Zenith.

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  • One possible reason for this behavior is that digital marketing platforms can provide granular data on individual ads’ effectiveness. If the best engagement/click through rates are achieved with watch hero shots, then that is what advertisers will produce. Until the metrics start to fall, ads will become more and more alike as all industry advertisers want the most effective ad spend.

    • I think you’re right about the overall performance aspect of the digital ads. We might differ here though. I do not think these ads are creating the best engagement/click through rates. Rather, they meet the minimum requirements for performance or industry averages. I do not think this is marketing departments taking big swings. They will be forced to innovate though, as you mention, when the performance of this ad format dips below what’s accepted performance by management.