For this week’s story, let’s take a break from the watches themselves and instead look at how watches are sold. With the proliferation of media today, most watch brands have a series of advertising campaigns, be it for online readers, YouTube or traditional print. But let’s go back to a simpler time when watch ads were found typically either in magazines or newspapers. A look back at the iconic TAG Heuer advertising campaigns.
Heuer produced a number of clever adverts in the 1960s and 70s, such as the one below announcing the new Chronomatic Carrera, which explains to readers why the Crown was on the left (actually, it was there because it was dictated by the engineers- not to “remind you that this chronograph never needs winding“, but the “Mad Men” version of the tale is more interesting).
Heuer was a pioneer is marketing, being one of the first watch brands to have a branding deal with a Formula 1 team (Ferrari) and the company understood well the value of brand ambassadors, with many Formula drivers of the day wearing Heuer chronographs.
But moving forward to 1985, there was a new challenge: how to position the new TAG-Heuer (as it as initially written) brand? TAG had made a name for itself as the financial backer of the 1.5lt Porsche V6 for the McLaren-TAG team, of which it owned half. But it had no history in watches.
1983: Before TAG
The advert above is from 1983 and shows the range of Heuer Night Divers (later to become the TAG Heuer 1000). The text is highly descriptive with lots of detail of the tangible features and benefits of the watch. All steak and no sizzle as the marketing types might say today.
1985: Transition to TAG Heuer
Part of the challenge of moving to a new brand was that when TAG acquired Heuer it also acquired a significant inventory of branded partsparts. Given how precarious Heuer’s financial position had been , it made no sense to thrown out the “Heuer” branded parts and replace them with correctly labelled “TAG Heuer” replacements, and so for several years TAG Heuer’s watches had some “Heuer” parts and some “TAG Heuer” parts, which must have been confusing for buyers.
You can see in the Heuer 3000 advert above that the message is consistent in both the pre and post TAG versions of the ad, and even with the new TAG Heuer logo added, the watch is still referred to as the “Heuer 3000”.
Even this later advert that shows the TAG Heuer 1000 with the new logo on the dial, the text still refers to the watch being “By Heuer“. As you’ll see, this brand confusion would continue for the first six years of TAG’s ownership.
1986- 1990: The Early Days
This positioning is supported by the first use of brand ambassadors- leading sportsmen, such as Carl Lewis and Ayrton Senna. These ads have a humorous headline (“Our Watches Occasionally Run Fast” and “Champagne- resistant to 200m“) and use the strap line “TAG-Heuer. Professional Sports Watches“).
Still here the watches are called “Heuers”, perhaps understandable for the 2000 shown in the top photo, but odd for the Formula 1, a model that was never sold as a Heuer and was the first new watch launched as a TAG Heuer. The McLaren shown above is the 1988 model, which dates the advert to perhaps 1989. Four years after “Heuer” disappeared, the text still tells us that “With a Heuer, you’ll keep running when other come to a halt“.
Other adverts from the same period focus more on the extreme sports for which they are designed, rather than the features of the watches.
It’s only by the time that we get to 1990 that we finally have a consistent message with TAG Heuer branding:
What’s clear from these early ads is the inconsistency of the message and the confusion of the brand. Is the company TAG Heuer, but the watches Heuer? A new campaign was designed to make a clean break with the past- one that would prove to be one of the most iconic and memorable series of adverts to emerge from the watch world.
1991-1994: Don’t Crack Under Pressure
The tagline “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” featured a range of high-profile sportsmen and women (including Michael Schumacher, who was sponsored by TAG Heuer before he switched to Omega) deep in thought. The emphasis was not on their physical prowess, but their mental strength- a novel twist.
The adverts contain no product information (other than the model name) and don’t use any sports stars or ambassadors to get the message across. The ads are clever and unique and rightly won many industry awards.
1998: Inner Strength
Perhaps surprisingly after the success of the previous campaigns, TAG Heuer opted to change agencies, but it was to be a short-lived partnership, as TAG Heuer returned to French agency TBWA after only two years. Also notice the use of a more three-dimensional version of the TAG Heuer shield.
The strapline is now a mouthful, and would have pleased a committee by allowing everyone to have their say “The Original Sports Watch Since 1860. Swiss Made“. “Guys, we forgot to mention that the watch is Swiss Made”. “That’s OK, just add it to the end….”
2000: Beyond Measure
The “Beyond Measure” series of adverts is for me the least memorable TAG Heuer campaign and was the first produced under LVMH-ownership. It introduced the TAG Heuer logo as we know it today, and reverted back to the strapline “Swiss Made Since 1860“.
2002-2010: What are you made of?
While the strapline initially retained “Swiss Made since 1860“, this was later updated to “Swiss Avant Garde Since 1860“- the same strapline used by TAG Heuer today.
McLaren Formula 1 drivers were again prominent in the adverts, including Kimi Raikkonen, Juan-Pablo Montoya, David Coulthard, Mika Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. And there were also a few adverts with a guy named Tiger…
TAG Heuer has used a variety of advertising over the last couple of years, from the tagline “History Begins Every Morning” for a series of television adverts, to specific adverts for themed years. 2010 was the 150th Anniversary of TAG Heuer, while 2011 was all about “Mastering Speed“.
While there is no longer a universal tagline, some of the more prominent campaigns used the “evolution” imagery, showing how the vintage pieces evolved into today’s models.
Which brings us to 2013 where TAG Heuer is celebrating 50 Years of Carrera. The watch itself is more prominent that in previous ads, and again makes use of prominent celebrities.
TAG Heuer is not alone today in making heavy use of celebrities to endorse the watches, and one can only assume that its done because it works. But in many ways it’s a shame, as while the adverts may be more instantly appealing, I’m not sure that they are as timeless.
Now that TAG Heuer has marked two major milestones (the brand’s 150th anniversary of the 50th anniversary of the Carrera), it will be interesting to see how TAG Heuer reinvents its brand in a more complex advertising world.
1969 Carrera: http://www.chronomaddox.com/
1983 Heuer Divers: http://jamesbondwatchesblog.com/tag/the-living-daylights