The real marketing is us, the watch community

I’ve long said that the state of modern marketing and advertising in the watch industry is very poor. There is often no message to marketing and advertising – it’s simply an image of a watch and some kitschy copy about prestige, legacy, or craftsmanship. A single glance at historical watch advertisements leaves so much to be desired…

My perspective on watch marketing and advertising is changing though. Not about the quality of advertisements per se, but where the true marketing and advertising value for watches is in today’s world. It’s not in the ads, that much we know.

In the watch community, we all think of ourselves as impervious to the influences of marketing and advertising. To some extent, this is true – we have a more critically honed eye for timepieces than, say, the “average consumer”. But the greatest irony of our community today, one that very few of us have internalized, is that we are the marketing for brands. With Instagram, the best marketing asset in the history of the industry is free, and it’s us.

“Free social proof at scale? The horology gods have heeded our prayers!”

In marketing and advertising, there is almost nothing more valuable than social proof. The term was popularized by Robert Cialdini’s best selling book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and is used to describe a commonly observed social phenomenon:

“one [of the] means we use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct.”

When we apply this idea to the watch community, it’s no coincidence that brands like Rolex are so dominant. With all the millions and millions of wrist pics, Rolex’s place at the top does more than coincide with its ubiquity on social media. I would contend that the two – the brand’s dominance and the brand’s stardom on social media – affirm one another in a virtuous cycle. It’s tough to imagine one without the other.

And so, the wildest dreams of watch brands have come true. The horology gods have heeded their prayers. What’s better than free, social proof at scale, constantly churned out by tens, if not, 100’s of thousands of people? Nothing. As long as tastes don’t change too quick, or the brand doesn’t drop the ball too aggressively, it’s about as good a situation as any business can be in for its sales. The brands prayed, and got social media and our willingness to “share.”

Our wallets are only a portion of our contribution to watchmaking businesses – that’s what keeps the lights on. But the incessant posting on social media, that’s what drives growth.

Communal power in the social media era

It should not be controversial to acknowledge the role the watch community plays in perpetuating its own grievances. I’ve discussed how we all, to varying degrees, participate in hype cycles on social media and we’ve all played our part in the financialization of watches. For me, I have much more interest in finding ways to counteract these unhealthy forces than I do in simply finger pointing (though, it’s easier and probably more fun to do the latter!). Overall, awareness is the first step in thinking about what strategic actions exist to shape the watch world.

Though the idea that the watch community simply has no power over big billion dollar brands is commonplace in our culture, the math doesn’t add up. If we can accept the hypothesis that average consumers and impassioned collectors are the marketing machine of most major watch brands, then we actually have a lot of sway. We hold more power than we think.

To exert some of that power, to have some influence over our own culture, my recommendation is simple. When a brand transgresses for one reason or the other, boycott posting watch pics of said brand and tell your friends to also consider doing so. That’s it.

Another day with the beast,

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