The online version of Watches and Wonders has now swollen to include 40 watch brands showing their 2021 novelties.
This is unquestionably a success for the organizing committee, particularly as the roster includes three out of Switzerland’s five biggest businesses: Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe, along with TAG Heuer and IWC, which are in the top 10, according to a 2019 ranking by Morgan Stanley.
I am less convinced the web-based Watches and Wonders will be as successful for most of the brands taking part.
Given the speed the pandemic is subsiding as vaccinations are rising, most of them would be better off waiting until later in the year when there are certain to be other events they could attend including Couture, which takes place in Las Vegas alongside JCK at the end of August.
Until then, it would be better for 2021 novelties to be promoted directly to customers, the press and retail partners through individual events for the brands.
My view is based on the way the biggest brands grab a much higher proportion of online attention than the size of their businesses suggests.
You would expect Rolex to get the most attention, since its turnover of around $5 billion is more than double that of Omega and Cartier and seven times larger than the 10th biggest Swiss brand IWC.
But the Internet has a multiplier effect on almost everything: extreme opinions crowd out the moderate and the biggest brands like Amazon crowd out everything smaller.
I can prove this by sharing analytics data from WatchPro.com.
The graph below shows the total number of page views in 2020 from the top ten stories written about the ten biggest watch brands.
Here you see that Rolex’s top ten stories last year attracted eight times more eyeballs than second place Patek Philippe.
By the time you get down to Tissot at number 10, the number of readers its stories attract is lower than Rolex’s by an order of 67 times.
Exhibitors at the digital Watches and Wonders need to ask themselves whether their message could be squeezed out in precisely the same way.
They will, of course, expect that visitors (press, trade and consumers) to the digital exhibition will check out Rolex, Cartier and Patek Philippe first, and they might have a particular interest in a handful of others like TAG Heuer, Tudor and Hublot.
After that, patience for webinars and CEO sales pitches is likely to wain, leaving 80% of the 40 exhibitors at Watches and Wonders wondering what they got out of it.
You can make up your own mind on which of these 40 exhibitors might not get your full attention:
A. Lange & Söhne, Arnold & Son, Baume & Mercier, Bvlgari, Carl F. Bucherer, Cartier, Chanel, Chopard, Chronoswiss, Corum, Ferdinand Berthoud, Greubel Forsey, H. Moser & Cie, Hermès, Hublot, IWC Schaffhausen, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Louis Moinet, Louis Vuitton, Maurice Lacroix, Montblanc, Nomos Glashütte, Oris, Panerai, Patek Philippe, Piaget, Purnell, Rebellion Timepieces, Ressence, Roger Dubuis, Rolex, Speake-Marin, TAG Heuer, Trilobe, Tudor, Ulysse Nardin, Vacheron Constantin, Zenith
There may be intangible benefits to exhibiting at the same digital event as the biggest brands.
For example, it is always nice to be in the same place as Rolex, which is why brands used to pay tens of millions to be in Hall 1 of Baselworld.
I am not convinced you get the same effect at a digital showcase. People are more likely to click from Cartier to the Kardashians than from TAG Heuer to Trilobe.
It would not surprise me if the organizer of Watches and Wonders is dangling the carrot of exhibiting in 2022, when physical events will surely be back, as part of the price for participating this year.
It would be foolish to miss out on the chance of a prime position in Geneva next year if the price is right for the digital event this April.
One final thought is that Watches and Wonders appears to be doing next to nothing to promote itself. I have received roughly two press releases about the change of date and format, but I have seen no advertising and felt absolutely no buzz for a show that is less than three months away.
If smaller brands are to benefit from the scale and heft that the biggest brands bring, it is important that Watches and Wonders helps them.
Right now, the world barely knows the show exists, let alone that there are 39 brands there that are not Rolex.