While it might seem like the makers and sellers of wristwatches have a comparatively easy time marketing their wares, it’s actually tougher than it looks. The big problem is that watches are, physically, not big. “There aren’t a lot of ways to position the jewelry,” explained Janice Winter, a veteran marketing executive who worked for brands like Judith Ripka and Estée Lauder before founding her own firm, Janice Winter Inc. The creators of luxury watch ads have basically two choices, Winter said. There’s the model shot featuring a gorgeous so-and-so sporting the timepiece on his wrist, and there’s what Winter calls the “product-as-hero shot.” But both have their problems. The former makes it difficult to actually see the watch. And the latter? “It says, ‘OK, here’s the watch’—which doesn’t communicate anything,” Winter said.
What to do? Well, in the case of venerable Swiss watch brand Baume & Mercier, the answer is an amalgam of both approaches—plus a few secret ingredients. Though the two ads shown here are 31 years apart and don’t appear very similar at first blush, both are actually using the same technique. The product-as-hero shot, accentuated by a few subtle setting props that, in Winter’s words, “communicate a casual elegance. My feeling is that they wanted to focus on the watch, but they also wanted some amount of lifestyle conversation component around it.”
Which is sort of a tall order for what’s basically, in both ads, a glorified catalog shot. But considering that the product in question is hardly a Timex (the Clifton 10054 will set you back $2,700), details matter a great deal. So let’s look at them.
The 1982 ad for Baume & Mercier’s Riviera 12-sided watch certainly positions the product as hero, but note the details on the carefully cropped photo at the top. Here’s a man who likes his silk sport jackets and gray flannel slacks. You know he’s got money, but the hand in the pocket sends an unmistakable message of laid-back sophistication. “He’s confident, knows his stuff, knows himself and knows good taste,” Winter said. Arguably, these are more important pieces of marketing information than any talk of 18K gold and quartz movement.
The 2013 ad, while lacking any human, is also a product shot—and also carries the all-important trappings of casual elegance. Obviously, anyone who could afford a home like this (Nantucket? East Hampton? Does it even matter?) appreciates the finer brands in life. But the fact that the watch has been left on the dock (presumably while its owner goes for a swim) suggests a playfulness—and certainly a youthfulness that tempers an otherwise severe sell about a pricey watch with a lulling message of casual self-assurance.
It’s only fair to point out that “casual” is a relative thing. 1982’s laid-back look seems pretty buttoned-up to the millennial eye. But Winter stresses that while casual has doubtlessly grown only more casual, the settings in which these watches appear both trigger an essential thought in the mind of the would-be buyer: “This can be me, too.”