Ask some who their favourite actor is and the usual crop of names will come up: Clooney, Cruise, Pitt, Hanks et al. Those who are a little older might even nominate a certain Steve McQueen who, as the epitome of ‘cool’, arguably knocks all of the above into a cocked hat. He delivered his roles in The Magnificent Seven/Great Escape/Towering Inferno/Thomas Crowne Affair/Bullitt with consummate ease and style.
One of his films, Le Mans, doesn’t always spring to mind immediately for many but, ironically, the film is remembered as one of the first examples of a modern marketing phenomenon: product placement. On the wrist of McQueen for this rather turgid documentary-style movie of the 24 hour endurance race was a Tag Heuer Monaco watch. The Monaco was an instant hit and became a style icon itself overnight; more than can be said of the film, sadly.
Tag Heuer have been building luxury Swiss watches and ‘pioneering time’ since Edouard Heuer founded his remarkable company in 1860. All Heuer could do before the advent of smart little marketing ploys like exploiting Mr. McQueen’s global presence was simply to produce the most desirable watches on the planet. Innovation and a steadfast dedication to quality was at the heart of everything the company did: the first wrist worn chronograph; the first patent water-resistant case; accuracy to within 1/100th of a second…it’s what drove them and their brand grew handsome on the back of it.
The importance of being seen in the right place at the right time was something the early company realized would pay significant benefits to its image and sales.
In the first instance, Tag Heuer understood the power of aligning its technology with a global event; they were one of the first official timekeepers of the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928. From that point on, Tag was a player and many wanted a piece of what they had to offer. The roll call of those who chose to sport a Tag Heuer grew thick and fast: from General Eisenhower to Astronaut John Glenn; from Ayrton Senna to members of the British Royal Family…it was becoming a very exclusive club.
Here was the Tag Heuer brand getting to grips with and exploiting the power of association.
In more modern times the Tag Heuer marketing approach has challenged its audience by asking it ‘what are you made of?’ and, in so doing, invited consumers to see if they come up to scratch in Tag Heuer World. ‘What are you made of?’ calls on the brand’s sense of resilience and fearlessness – the values Tag has always looked for in the people it calls on to wear its watches. Heuer’s determination to be associated with the best has continued to underpin their sports [chronology] credentials and the decision to align Formula 1 World Champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button with the brand appears a simple and natural choice. Similarly, Tag’s focus on style and the importance of letting beautiful people wear beautiful watches has brought the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and the newly appointed Cameron Diaz to the stable of iconic brand ambassadors. DiCaprio, it seems, was brought in to replace (of all people) Brad Pitt because of his passion for environmental causes which were felt important by Tag. Nothing to do with the amount of cash Brad wanted then…?
Its products have also evolved and each generation gets to witness the birth of a new classic. Oxymorons aside, there are few who would disagree the Carrera, Aquaracer, Calibre and Pendulum have become instant classics the moment they’ve hit the shelf. Each receives its own ambassador, its own guardian if you will, whose association will put dynamite underneath the sales forecast of each model. It’s hard not to imagine that the Link Lady watch Cameron Diaz pulls on her arm will be riding the top of the women’s watch chart this year!
The real beauty of Tag Heuer’s watches, however, is their accessibility: this is a brand whose marketing success has been built on the right product for a fair price. Much can be debated about what represents good value in a market sector such as luxury watches, but Tag’s breadth of positioning and pricing gives it consumers and fans plenty of viable purchasing options.
In these austere times, the company will tell you that it’s the diversity of their watch collections and the broad pricing structure that has kept them ahead of the game while 25% of the luxury watch market has disappeared during this most recent economic turndown. A Tag Heuer customer might choose to fork out as much as six grand for a top of the range model but, conversely, he could also be part of this watch dynasty for around a tenth of that price. The successful strategy has not been lost on competitor brands which have hemorrhaged market share due their pricing being high, narrow and inflexible.
Celebrity endorsement and product placement are never easy bedfellows with the brands who employ such strategies. In part, it’s because a celebrity association always has the ability to self-implode at any time: it’s not very often you see a marketing director remove his Woods from the golf bag! Also, marketing-savvy consumers understand the high cost of entry of these tactics and, at worst, feel that cost goes straight on to the price tag. And they’d be right.
People who purchase a luxury watch like Tag Heuer, or any top quality branded product, want to buy into the brand values of that company. Those values cannot be conveyed with the watch sat on the wrist of the CEO, Head of Marketing or the Tea Lady…consumers need a figure of aspiration; someone they can believe in. Wear the watch and you become Leo or Cameron or Jenson: it’s all part of the dream that punters will, at the end of the day, happily pay for.
The power of association works and Tag Heuer has delivered exceptional success from it.