One of the perks of being a freelance copywriter is being able to work with clients from all over the world. And one of the perks of being a luxury brands copywriter is being invited overseas to see the products that you sell first-hand.
In March of this year (yes, it’s taken me 4 months to find the time to write this post), I was invited to Basel, Switzerland for the weekend by one of my long-term Swiss clients to attend the world’s largest watch festival, Baselworld.
The Foyer at Baselworld 2016
With more than 2,100 brands showcasing their products from 45 countries, the event dates back to 1917 and attracts over 94,000 visitors over its 8 days. It’s no surprise that my client is based in Switzerland, given that the country holds a 54% market share of the luxury watch industry in terms of value, despite only owning a 2% share in production.
In spite of the recent economic downturn, the luxury watch industry has continued to grow in Switzerland with exports reaching 21.4 billion in 2012. You only have to attend a Baselworld after-party to see just how much money there is in this no-expenses spared industry.
An after-event party held between the two main halls at Baselworld 2016
From a copywriting perspective, Baselworld really opened my eyes to the trends in watch industry advertising. This post is the culmination of my personal observations and experience of being a copywriter involved in the watch and luxury brands industry.
What sets luxury watch brands apart from their middle-of-the-road competitors (other than six extra zeros) is that their copy tends to avoid over-used watch-related cliches. ‘Time waits for no-one’ etc. might be an acceptable tagline in the Argos catalogue but when you’re selling a watch that costs 48x the average UK salary (the most expensive watch at Baselworld this year was the Rebellion 540 Magnum Tourbillon, which costs $1.8 million), you need to dig a little deeper.
So, if we’re not selling cliches, what are we selling then?
Don’t Sell the Features, Sell the Lifestyle
In any recession, the very first thing consumers stop buying is luxury goods, so how can a brand that sells some of the most impractical (it’s well-documented that a £10 Casio keeps more accurate time than a £1bn Rolex) yet expensive products on the planet ensure that people still buy their ‘stuff’? Well, for a start they know exactly who their target audience is but most importantly, they’re selling an experience, a lifestyle.
The Rolex booth at Baselworld this year
The last thing that someone who buys a Rolex wants to be is a cliché – they want to be a tennis player, a mountaineer, a race car driver…
Tennis player Ivana Ivanovic advertising Rolex
Rolex Daytona print ad
Rolex mountaineering advert
Tell a Story
Some of the most successful watch adverts of the last 50 years have involved storytelling. Luxury watch brands have a tendency to home-in on history and tradition in their advertising, which naturally lends itself to storytelling.
The beauty of storytelling in copywriting is that it makes people think. It engages our curiosity and appeals to our emotions. Consider how these TV ads use storytelling to align their products with our desires:
L’Odyssée de Cartier film
Martin Garrix X TAG Heuer
Even in their website copy, watch brands use storytelling to engage our interest, as we see in these ‘About’ pages:
One of my personal favourite watches – Daniel Wellington About page
Another of my personal favourite watch makers, Rotarty Watches About page
One brand that’s putting a modern twist on the traditional storytelling of yesteryear is technology giant Apple. Following their arrival in the luxury watch market, the Apple Watch campaign cleverly combines powerful visuals with minimalist copywriting to spark our curiosity.
Advert for the new Apple Smart Watch
Interestingly, Sylvie Ritter, Baselworld Managing Director was asked during the opening ceremony about Apple’s arrival in the luxury watch market and its potential to dominate the industry. Her response was: ‘Here we appeal to emotion, there they appeal to marketing. Here we talk of timelessness; there they talk of planned obsolescence.’
And of course when it comes to copywriting for the watch industry, a little humour doesn’t hurt either:
Detroit watchmakers Shinola takes a cheeky swipe at the Apple Watch
Tug at the Heart Strings
A powerful technique in copywriting is to appeal to the audience’s emotions. One thing that watch advertisers refer to again and again in their campaigns is nostalgia and the idea of legacy. To quote everyone’s favourite fictional copywriter Don Draper, nostalgia is ‘delicate but potent.’ Take a look at these Patek Phillipe ads and consider how the copy evokes an emotional response when coupled with some father-son visuals.
From the Leagas Delaney ad agency: ‘You never actually own a Patek Phillipe. You merely look after it for the next generation.’
Similarly, the idea of emotional legacy can be seen in this ad that focuses on a mother-daughter relationship:
‘Something truly precious holds its beauty forever’
The concept of family creates a strong emotional connection and watch advertisers have been using this idea in their ads for decades:
Print ad from 1926: ‘Suppose you received a Longines Watch – the gift of someone dear to you…’
‘It’s time to give a little bit of your time to others’
This was my first time at Baselworld and I didn’t really know what to expect when I arrived. What stood out for me was just how much effort goes in to all the exhibition stands. Coupled with the free champagne, Baselworld is somewhere you can easily spend an entire weekend and always find something new (provided you’re into watches and jewellery).
Basel itself is a beautiful city – spotlessly clean, full of charm and with chocolatiers on every corner. After the event, I had the chance to spend my last day in Basel wandering around the city – here’s what I saw:
The Rhine River separating Rossbasel (south) and Kleinbasel (north)
A ferry cruise boat on the Rhine River
Basel Town Hall