Anyone who spends even a modicum of time with me will probably come to learn I’m a wristwatch tragic. What else would you expect, combine a love of design and engineering and it’s no wonder I obsess over vintage Omega’s and Cartier’s. As an adman myself, I’ve always considered the classic Rolex ads the pinnacle of timepiece advertising, and who could argue otherwise?
Their famous ‘You’d wear a Rolex’ campaign of the 60’s produced some of the finest print ads in the watch industry, ads that still resonate today to such an extent I’m gazing up at a framed print of the GMT ad above my desk as I write this; they are perfect. Despite that, I’d argue Rolex’s advertising peaked with the masterstroke of this Submariner ad below, whilst it does have a whiff of sexism about it, its self-aware and ultimately rings true, executed perfectly with some of the best written copy I’ve ever read in an ad.
In comparison, today’s Rolex ads are shit. Sorry to be blunt, but there’s no two ways about it. As the ad industry turned away from subtlety and nuance in its print ads, so did Rolex, just look at this recent print for the white-gold GMT. Immediately theres a problem, as whilst this ad does a fine job of displaying the product, it lacks any unique selling proposition. Without a USP, there is no sell, no reason, no conviction from Rolex to persuade you to part with the best part of $30,000; It seems the only convincing one needs to buy a Rolex is the fact its a Rolex.
In conjunction, Rolex also heavily employ celebrities to spruik Rolex’s through brand ambassadors and sponsorship. James Cameron, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Martin Scorsese, Roger Federer, Tim Henman, Rod Laver, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Sir Jackie Steward, Mark Webber, Michael Bublé, Plácido Domingo, the Goodwood Revival, Formula 1, Sydney to Hobart, Australian Open and Masters Tournament are all signed on to spruik Rolex’s good name; gone are the days of actual advertising it seems, now the only persuasion one needs to buy a Rolex is the fact their favourite golfer wears one.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with piggybacking off a bit of celebrity cred, Omega are just as guilty, but Rolex’s strategy of going all in on sponsorship is stale and boring, not to mention potentially dangerous to the brand if one of their names’ reputation goes south. Where’s the passion? Where has the romance of Rolex gone? Their modern obsession with celebrities even led one Los Angeles Rolex authorised dealer to claim Owen Wilson’s mental health to be miraculously improved by a Submariner spending a couple weeks on his wrist.
The real twist of the knife is Rolex’s current marketing plan is working, Rolex sales remain steady in the panicking Swiss Watch market. Despite so, the company’s ad game is showing signs of improving, this TVC celebrating Rolex in cinema is a step in the right direction for their creative advertising.
It’s far from perfect, the watch from Pulp Fiction isn’t even a Rolex (the onscreen prop is a Lancet, though the script makes reference to it being either a Breguet or Cartier), but it’s a step in the right direction.
I do hope Rolex ups its ad game, the brand has such a rich, deep history to draw from so it seems obtuse to ignore it completely. Who knows, maybe fantastic creative advertising is the key to hooking my generation into the world of horology; it’ll likely work better than the name of 80-year-old golfers.