Watch Brands Face Off with Creative Ads

It’s fall – time for watch companies to flex their Christmas season marketing muscles. And the goal is to muscle more consumers into jewelry and other retail stores than ever before.

The heart of the holiday season is still a few weeks off, but the fight for the consumer’s dollar kicked in as early as July. Watch companies have devised new ways to get consumer attention, and subtlety is taking a back seat as they spend more on bolder and better campaigns. This promotional blitz will last until Christmas Eve.

Here is a sampling of watch-marketing efforts rolling out this fall:

Bvlgari is using the boldest promotional vehicle – a Boeing 747 – to promote its cutting-edge Aluminium timepiece, which features an aluminum case and dial and a rubber bracelet and bezel. Bvlgari signed an agreement with Alitalia, Italy’s national airline, for a personalized airplane to fly around the world for a year – with a 3-D image of the Aluminium watch and the phrase “Bvlgari Aluminium flies with Alitalia” painted on the fuselage.

“We deemed it natural, bearing in mind the concept that lies behind Aluminium, to match our latest watch with an airplane, which is a creation of man’s ingenuity and couples highly technological notions with great harmony in design,” says chairman Paolo Bulgari.

This high-altitude experiment might leave you wondering just who is the target audience (besides birds). Regardless, it’s a first for the watch industry. So if you look up in the sky and time seems to fly by, it’s Bvlgari.

Audemars Piguet’s new ad campaign, “Who is Behind an Audemars Piguet Watch?” represents a departure for the conservative luxury watch brand. The ad is intended to make Piguet better known internationally.

“We now have an image campaign,” says Georges-Henri Meylan, worldwide president of Audemars Piguet. “We’ve gotten out of showing a big watch with a headline.”

The ads feature visuals with refined and mysterious men and women showing off their watch faces while their own faces remain obscured. Designed in Paris, this theme is called “chiaroscuro fashion.” These unique images are also featured in window displays and showcases.

Citizen, the official timer of the U.S. Open tennis championships, recently spread its message with courtside and stadium signage reaching millions of potential consumers worldwide. The brand is boosting that exposure with its “How the World Tells Time” television and print ads, which will run for six months.

Citizen’s ad campaign has been a catalyst for the brand’s rise in recent years. Citizen, the leading advertiser in the mid-priced category for the last six years, will highlight its Signature, Promaster, and Eco-Drive collections in those ads.

Tag Heuer takes a more disruptive approach. Its new “Inner Strength” campaign reinforces the brand’s award-winning theme, sports as a metaphor for life.

With in-your-face images, the ads feature testimonials from intensely competitive athletes – like basketball’s Grant Hill, tennis’s Boris Becker, and track and field’s Marion Jones – who discuss what it takes to be the best. Example: “The difference between the good and great is want. You’ve got to want it. Some people just don’t want it bad enough,” says Hill in one ad. The athletes in these ads stare down consumers as if they were the competition.

Tag Heuer ignited this year’s promotional watch blitz on the wrists of actors Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, and Billy Bob Thornton in the summer action film Armageddon. Appropriately enough, Willis wears a chronograph from the brand’s 2000 series, while the other actors sport the 6000 series and the Kirium watch – all Tag Heuer best sellers. The company also custom-built the computerized mission control countdown clock in the film.

Hamilton, which gained exposure in the 1997 film Men in Black, fires a sequel at consumers with its appearance in Lethal Weapon 4, starring Mel Gibson. The movie is a launching pad for Hamilton’s new and revamped collection of American classic timepieces.

“We’re looking to get more exposure in movies,” says Linda Passaro, Hamilton’s president. “But we want to key into the right movies to target the right consumer for Hamilton.” In other words, action-packed films with cool characters who prompt chic, young consumers to buy these affordable watches.

Hamilton maximized its connection to the film with ads in Première and Maxim magazines to target that younger consumer. The Première ad featured a Hamilton/Lethal Weapon 4 contest in which winners received Hamilton’s Ardmore and Viewmatic watches, worn in the film by Danny Glover and Chris Rock, respectively. Maxim also ran a contest.

Seiko supercharged its fall advertising campaign with a 60% increase in media spending. Its build-up for the holiday season began in July and will run through December. Seiko’s “Electricity” television spot, a concept that made its debut last fall, will run more than 500 times on top-rated network and cable programs in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Seiko’s black-and-white print ads will feature 70 inserts in various consumer magazines. The brand will also advertise on high-traffic Web sites, which will be linked to its own Web site – driving consumers into retail shops via its store locator.

Delance, the first watch brand designed and produced by women, launched its first national ad campaign – a bold and provocative one. The sensual, black-and-white ads feature three nude female figures with a colorful overlay of a feminine Delance watch. The company says the watch and ads are aesthetic and spiritual symbols of women themselves. Kaiser Time is spending 30% of the first year’s sales volume on marketing, which includes the ad campaign, co-op advertising, and public relations.

Swiss Army Brands’ rugged lifestyle ads showcase different story lines that reinforce the brand’s tradition of equipping people for life’s adventures. One ad says: “The luminous hands and hour markers are ideal for timing midnight maneuvers during a blizzard in perilous terrain. Handy at the movies too.” The tongue-and-cheek ads are complemented by a consumer watch brochure, called a field guide, that highlights the watch collection and the lifestyles for which the products are suited.

Cross Timepieces uses ironic humor laced with sardonic headlines in its new $2 million campaign, which breaks through magazine ad clutter with stick figures touting the brand’s Sonoma watches. One ad says, “It won’t land you tons of dates. It’s a shame, too, because you’d have been on time.”

“Watch industry advertising is drowning in a sea of sameness,” says Woody Kay, president of Pagano Schenck & Kay Advertising, which created the ad for Cross Timepieces.

Pulsar is revving up its advertising this fall by 68% over 1997, including 39 full-page inserts focusing on its ladies’ jewelry and Pulsar Solar styles. This international campaign emphasizes the “star” identity of the brand, a concept from which the company takes its name. Two Pulsar Solar television spots will run more than 500 times for five weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas on cable networks such as TNT, TBS, USA, and Lifetime.

Immersion watches are seen on the wrists of the “Baywatch” cast. Immersion, which targets the younger, hip generation, can also be spotted on MTV veejays. Michel Jordi is promoting its image via freestanding watch boutiques that present the brands’ entire collection, much like Cartier and Philippe Charriol.

These days, watch companies are ditching conservative ads in favor of humorous, eye-popping, or thought-provoking messages that elicit an emotional reaction. Emotion equals sales, especially during the holidays, the most sentimental time of the year.

For the latest in creative watch advertising, check out the fashion, lifestyle, and sports magazines, as well as Web sites, kiosks, billboards – and even airplanes. In watch advertising, the sky is now the limit.