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ASK ARIEL: Do sport sponsorships work for watch brands?

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In this series of guest columns, Ariel Adams, owner and editor-in-chief for aBlogtoWatch, answers questions on behalf of WatchPro readers. Click here to Ask Ariel anything you like!

Ariel replies: My instinct is that, while sports and celebrity sponsorships can be helpful, brands should not participate with them unless they can go “all in,” and if they brand has first successfully implemented other forms of marketing that I feel are a prerequisite for mainstream sports and celebrity marketing to work as well as hoped-for. Let me give you a good example. Rolex with Grand Slam tennis and Omega at the Olympics are very long term plays, perfected over time, that have become increasingly effective. 

Not all sports sponsorship hits the mark, and too much looks like it is driven by personal passion from within the brand’s leadership team.

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Some years ago I was at a famous race track that was sponsored by a famous watch brand (if you know watches that is).

All around the track the name of the brand was printed, tiled, and repeated for all spectators, drivers, and cameras to see. The layout was impressive and no doubt expensive.

So what was wrong with it? The message.

Each of those repeated mentions of the brand only includes the brand’s logo and nothing else. No pictures of watches and not even a statement telling viewers that that name they saw all around them produces luxury watches.

In my opinion that was a very inefficient use of money because the intended brand-building wasn’t going to work very well without telling viewers something about the brand.

What that brand needed to make sure of is that when people saw their brand at least something else came to mind. Consumers don’t just buy brands anymore – they rightly want more.

My advice is that prior to any brand investing seriously in sports and celebrity sponsorships, they thoroughly make sure that any messages they connect with those sponsorships are going to be effective.

This is done by marketing to more niche (as opposed to mainstream) audiences and constantly reevaluating the question “what authentic brand message to we want to send to consumers and what do we want them to do or feel as a result?”

What I see are brands investing heavily into wide message distribution schemes (like sponsoring a sporting event) without first putting in the necessary effort to consider what they want audiences to do with that information.

This might be a good time to remind readers that consumers today do not automatically enter the market with a desire to purchase a luxury watch.

They must first be educated why they might like luxury watches in general, and only from there can they proceed to choose whose brand’s products they wish to support.

At worst, watch brands in (let’s say it) desperate positions for sales and awareness believe that a sports or celebrity endorsement will give them the eyeballs they need to enjoy enhanced popularity (and thus immediate consumers).

This approach is flawed because in general watch buying (like sports team or celebrity appreciation) does not happen immediately but over time like how any relationship develops. Consumers need to spend a lot of time flirting with the idea of becoming a fan before they full invest themselves behind doing so.

Watch brands naively believing that mere exposure (no matter how wide) to consumers will result in sales misunderstand the complex ballet of emotional triggers that must be set off before any consumer makes the decision to spend a lot of money on functional jewelry (i.e. high-end watches).

Well-developed and mature brands typically gain the most from celebrity and sports sponsorships because they benefit from already having consumer awareness and product adoption in the market.

Celebrities and sports personalities in those instances help amplify the popularity of an already organized brand. The same would not be true for a poorly organized brand that simply doesn’t know how to make the best use out of the attention.

I will end with a recommendation for brands that ironically isn’t used very much in the watch industry. Prior to wishing to share a marketing message with a very large audience, it is wise to test that message on a smaller, narrower audience.

The theory being that before you hope for a marketing message to appeal to an audience of 10,000 people, you better make sure you know how an audience of 10 people react to it.

Watch brands confident that consumers will know what to do with their messages are absolutely in the right position to benefit from strategically sound celebrity and sports business relationships.

Those brands interested in pursuing “get rich quick” schemes would probably pull back a bit and spend more time thinking about the messages they want to share before jumping into bed with expensive sponsorship opportunities.

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Ariel Adams

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