How the war for Instagram eyeballs changed brands’ approach to new releases How the war for Instagram eyeballs changed brands’ approach to new releases

How the war for Instagram eyeballs changed brands’ approach to new releases

Luke Benedictus

Lion tamer, Professor of Advanced Mathematics, Alaskan crab fisherman… Truth be told there are many jobs that I’d be really, really bad at. But another profession where I’d also fail abysmally would be working as a buyer for a multi-brand watch retailer.

The reason I’m aware of this additional shortcoming is due to my experience as a journalist at watch fairs. Whether it was at Baselworld or Watches & Wonders, during the course of any given day at a fair, I’d go to so many appointments and see so many watches that, after a while, they’d all become a hazy blur. If I was suddenly asked if I’ve seen anything notable that day, the same thing invariably happened. My mind would go completely blank and the only watches I could remember were the really weird ones – crazy colours, oddball designs and other examples of horological madness.

I mention this because the organisers of Watches & Watches have just been understandably crowing about the success of the recent event and more specifically, the fair’s social media reach. Apparently, they claim, 1.8 million posts mentioned #watchesandwonders, resulting in an estimated reach of more than 600 million people.

Oris ProPilot X Kermit © Disney

Now if you happen to be a watch nerd who also takes the odd glance at Instagram, this news won’t have come as a great surprise. During W&W, your Insta feed would have been deluged by an avalanche of watches with more hands and faces than there are in the whole of mainland China. But here’s the thing: I suspect that in the middle of any given day, if you were asked to choose one memorable release, you’d have been just like me at a watch fair. Until you’d sat down and methodically reviewed the options, your mind would start dithering and you’d mutter something about the Oris ProPilot x Kermit Edition or something similarly wacky.

Understandably, brands care about Instagram. It’s the easiest way to reach loads of people for minimal outlay. How then do they cut through the clutter in order to stand out on social media? By releasing a batshit-crazy watch.

Take the Rolex Day-Date 36 that combines a jigsaw of enamel dial colours with mad sapphire indices and a date wheel that ditches the numerals for 31 emojis. Days of the week? Boring! Instead they’re replaced by a bunch of “positive-vibe” words: Love, Peace, Gratitude and Eternity. This is not a watch that really sits with Rolex’s general image is it? The Crown, after all, is renowned for making slow incremental changes to their time-honoured classics in a sober and methodical manner.  Whereas this is like a very confusing acid trip where you can’t remember what’s become of your trousers.

Why did Rolex decide to go louder, bolder and more demented? To win the Instagram eyeballs and dominate the social media conversation.  Because you’re really not going to get that response with another Cellini.

I suspect that the rise and rise of coloured dials is largely driven by social media, too. Back in my days as a magazine editor, when faced with a bunch of watches for a photoshoot, you’d always lean towards the brighter hues to liven up the pages. If you ran six or seven white-dialled dress watches, it would make for a less attention-grabbing spread. Everyone knew that was how things worked, too. “That piece would be great for editorial,” some publicist would say while passing you a watch with a dial so loud that it’d give you tinnitus. But you’d probably stick it in the mag. And the same principle holds doubly true for social media.

I’m not saying any of this is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, it’s probably inspired a welcome burst of refreshingly unhinged creativity. But it’s also worth being aware of these ulterior motives before you make an impulse buy. Don’t forget, there was a good reason why Miss Piggy ultimately gave Kermit the elbow.