A Brand’s Many Faces
By Cynthia Unninayar
The idea of hiring celebrities and sports figures to promote a company is not new. The watch and jewellery industry has a long history of associating brand names with famous personalities around the world, and using these “brand ambassadors” to embody the corporate image.
The earliest use of a “brand ambassador” in watchmaking occurred in 1927 when Mercedes Gleitze swam the English Channel with a Rolex Oyster around her neck. Oysters also accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary’s expedition when it scaled Mount Everest in 1953. Rolex was again first in 1960, when Jacques Piccard made his famous Mariana Trench dive to 10,916 meters with a Rolex Sea Dweller Deep-Sea Special strapped to the outside of his submarine. The Swiss brand continues to be involved with sports, art, cultural events, and cinema around the world, including several James Bond movies, before Omega stepped in.
In the 1950s and 1960s, at the other end of the scale, one of the most successful uses of a brand ambassador was by Timex. With 50 percent of watch sales in the USA, much of Timex’s success was due to the 20-year association with famous television news anchor, John Cameron Swayze. Featured in Timex commercials showing various “torture tests” the watch endured, Swayze ended the test with, “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” which made Timex a household name.
Today, many “faces” represent watches and jewellery. But are these campaigns effective? “Yes, under certain conditions,” says Michael Pucci, veteran of the luxury industry and CEO of California-based Abbiamo Group. “But to be effective, the brand ambassador concept must be well thought out. It has a better chance of working if the brand is high-end and it engages A-listers in their specific fields, those on the same level as the brand. The relationship must also make sense, such as the Breitling campaign with John Travolta, who himself is a pilot.”
“The Travolta-Breitling relationship also illustrates the importance of choosing ambassadors who are ‘squeaky clean,’” adds Pucci, in reference to Travolta’s recent bad press resulting from sexual harassment allegations. No brand would want this kind of publicity for the face of its product.
Aside from this type of risk, “the ambassador may not live up to expectations or to the brand image,” explains Michael O’Conner, luxury industry veteran, TV fashion commentator, and CEO of New York-based Style and Substance. One example is the relationship between Raymond Weil and Charlize Theron, who was hired to represent the brand and wear its diamond-set watches. In 2007, the Swiss watchmaker sued Theron was for $20 million for breach of contract after she wore a Dior watch in a perfume ad. The judgement against her stated that she was guilty of repeatedly ignoring the terms of her contract, while also revealing that Theron received hundreds of thousands of dollars for wearing various jewellery brands on the Red Carpet plus $3 million for being the face of J’Adore perfume.
“Ambassadors can be expensive,” says O’Conner, citing the example of Anne Hathaway, rumoured to have been paid $750,000 by Tiffany to wear its necklace at the 2011 Oscars. “Today, it is not uncommon for even minor celebrities to demand high fees for wearing a brand at specific functions.” He adds that the public knows this, so it is important for a brand to pick a “face” that aligns with its image.
Among the first jewellers to have picked the right faces is Damiani. “Starting in the 1980s, we have always chosen testimonials very carefully to represent the Damiani world,” explains Paola Burzi, press officer for the Italian brand. Among these Red Carpet celebrities are Isabella Rossellini, Chiara Mastroianni, Brad Pitt, Nastassja Kinski, Milla Jovovich, Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sharon Stone. “They make the brand immediately recognizable, and thanks to their elegance and style, they help grow brand awareness.” One of the most recent faces of Damiani is the famous Chinese actress, Qin Hailu, who attended the Hong Kong Film Festival last April adorned in Damiani. In the case of Sharon Stone, Burzi adds, “she is a family friend and very committed to social issues, which is why Damiani supports one of her charities, the international ‘Clean Water’ project.”
With a different style, but also a celebrity focus, is British designer, Stephen Webster. “Celebrity endorsement has been important for jewellery ever since Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ whilst dripping in Harry Winston diamonds,” says Webster. “Jewellery is about glamour and what could I more glamorous than a Hollywood star and all that it entails?” With a passion for music, Webster chose his friend, Christina Aguilera, as his first brand ambassador. “We have tied in many aspects of the brand with Christina’s activities. Her tour after-parties all over the world often become Stephen Webster events.” Webster cautions, however, “brands must be careful when choosing a celebrity. The person must connect with the right demographic, behave in an acceptable way, and share its values.”
On this note, Tim Sayler, Chief Marketing Officer at Audemars Piguet, says, “All our ambassadors embody the brand’s philosophy: ‘to break the rules, you must first master them.’ Just like the brand, our ambassadors have broken the ‘rules’ in their career. These sportsmen truly capture the imagination of the world—they have broken the norm and pushed their sport into new frontiers.” The Swiss watchmaker has been associated with brand ambassadors since the mid-1980s, when legendary golfer, Nick Faldo, became its first. Among other faces are Michael Schumacher, Rory McIlroy, Lionel Messi, and Novak Djokovic. Recently, LeBron James, named as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player for 2011-2012, joined the ranks of Audemars Piguet’s sports faces.
Sharing a passion for sports is Richard Mille. “I don’t like the term ‘ambassador.’ I prefer to say ‘partner,’” insists Richard Mille, founder and CEO of the Swiss brand. “My partnerships depend on the person and their personality. All are my friends and members of the Richard Mille family.” They include Felipe Massa, Rafael Nadal, Pablo MacDonough, and Bubba Watson. “I like to use real life sports as a testing laboratory for my watches. Putting them on the wrists of these great champions during competitions is the best way to test the resistance, performance, and comfort, since no sportsman would accept to wear a watch if it would hinder his movements.”
Although Mille is focused on car racing and other sports, he adds that “watchmaking must look to art, architecture, and lifestyle, so I also have Michelle Yeoh, Jackie Chan, Baptiste Giabiconi, and just recently Natalie Portman as partners, who collaborate with us on the development of watches. The use of partners also greatly increases our profile to the public in general and also allows us contact with different groups of people.” Are these partnerships costly? “Compared to what we spend on research and development, it is a good investment,” answers Mille, adding that “it is an honour and a great pleasure to collaborate with them.”
Having a brand ambassador is a major part of many brands’ marketing efforts. For those who choose wisely, the results are generally beneficial. Since the purchase of high-end watches and jewellery is an emotional decision, many brands believe this decision is positively influenced by their many celebrity faces.