Scrolling Instagram these days, you’re likely to see ads for luxury products whose swank photography and mildly familiar-ish names often hide the fact that you’ve never actually heard of the advertiser or its products.
Thanks to the explosion of drop shipping—through which digital storefronts are created to resell discount items at higher prices without the seller ever having to touch the inventory—and other tactics that enable startup brands or fly-by-night retailers to pop up as legitimate-looking advertisers, it can be hard to tell the real from the fake. In fact, the definitions of “real” and “fake” are even murky when it comes to such brands.
Take, for example, Mariner Watches. Over the weekend, the company was blasted in social media for its ads that feature sexist imagery with an overtone of violence against women. In one, whiskey is poured into a woman’s throat, while the accompanying social media text said, “Like whiskey and a beautiful woman, timepieces demand appreciation, you gaze first and then indulge!!”
In another, a man’s hand is shown around a woman’s throat, with text saying, “Elegance is good taste plus a dash of daring!”
As you might imagine, such imagery drew strong criticism online:
Since these screenshots were taken by viewers, Mariner Watches’ accounts have been removed on Instagram and Twitter. On Facebook (where the company only appears to have been posting since January 2018), the brand posted a quasi-apology that blamed the posts on “one of our sellers”:
To Our Dear Customers and Followers,
Last week, one of our sellers posted a few pictures on our U.S. page. We recognize that some of our followers found these pictures offensive.
We sincerely apologize for the incident and want to clarify that Mariner Watches did not approve this post. It was immediately removed once we saw the content of it.
Mariner Watches strongly supports gender equality, and condemns all forms of violence.
Mariner Watches is a leader in designer luxury watches, and we are proud of our father-to-son legacy of three generations.
We thank our followers who brought this incident to our attention. Rest assured, we are taking every measure necessary in order to prevent this type of incident from occurring again.
Y.Y Mariner LTD
#MissRepresentation Miss Representation
So just who is this Y.Y Mariner LTD? It’s hard to know for certain, but there’s little evidence to back up its claim of being “a leader in designer luxury watches.”
MarinerWatches.com was “down for maintenance” today. A cached version of the site shows that Mariner Watches lists its only retailers as five Morgan Jewelers locations in Utah, Nevada and Washington. A call to Morgan Jewelers confirmed that the stores do carry some Mariner Watches, but two sales associates contacted by Adweek did not have any other information about the brand.
The story of Mariner Watch Company starts over a century ago, with knowledge of superior craftsmanship passed down from father to son, across three generations. From a small watch repair shop in Poland in the 1920s to Tel Aviv in 1945, the Mariner Watch Co. legacy stands until today.
Nearly five years of research, design, and testing has reinvigorated the Mariner Watch Co. into the modern era. The meticulous balance of accuracy, endurance, and style is what makes us proud of the quality and durability of our products for generations to come.
A search for the “Y.Y Mariner LDT” name signed in the Facebook apology reveals little except for a description as “watch desterbution (sic) from Israel” and a product brochure with this incredible opening line in the Mariner Watches “About Us” section: “Mariner watches are crossing inside strict censorship from the very first designing.”
Here’s the full text of the Mariner Watches brochure “About Us” section:
Katherine Hutt, national spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said the incident is another reminder that consumers should spend time researching brands they see ads for before making a purchase.
“Consumers should always do their homework when they are buying from a company they’ve never used before or a product that is new to them,” Hutt says. “This is especially true when an online ad shows up unsolicited in their social media feed or email inbox, and most especially when a deal seems ‘too good to be true.’ Read online reviews, check BBB.org, see what others’ experiences with the company or product have been. Consumers should also be wary of names that are similar to popular brands and URLs that are close but not an exact match to the brand.”
Adweek reached out to the contact information listed on Mariner Watches’ cached About Us page and will update this article if we hear back. We’ve also reached out to Milan von Brünn, the L.A.-based photographer credited with the ad images, to learn more about the backstory of the ads and his interactions with the company.
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