Shared values are the bedrock of the relationship between a brand and its ambassadors, who lend their image and their face to events and promotions. For some, it’s a matter of turning up and doing the job. Others have a deeper commitment and are genuinely invested in the brand. Defining where each ambassador sits on the sincerity spectrum would be a difficult task and, ultimately, of little interest. In a day and age when nothing escapes the attention of social media, what matters is an ambassador’s lifestyle and general behaviour. Increasingly, brands must be vigilant and, whenever necessary, act fast to prevent their image from being tainted by scandal.
Ambassador and product tester
Rolex’s strategy and choices in the matter are exemplary. It introduced the concept of brand ambassador in 1927 when Mercedes Gleitze, a young British woman, undertook to swim the Channel. She was tasked with testing the Oyster’s water-resistance and was first to endorse the quality of Rolex watches. With her was born the concept of Rolex Testimonee – a family that has since grown to include numerous athletes and artists, each hand-picked for their outstanding achievements in their field. Other Testimonees are explorers of the planet’s most hostile regions, from the highest summits to the ocean’s depths. The brand continues to lead the way through its support of environmental conservation initiatives. These include Mission Blue, led by marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a Rolex Testimonee since 1982, which aims to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 (compared with 8% currently).
Among twenty-first century brands, Richard Mille is likely the most demanding of its ambassadors – or partners as the brand calls them, reflecting the degree of involvement. Athletes for the most part, they are tasked with testing the watches in real-life conditions, including the most extreme. Their feedback influences how the products evolve and provide the groundwork for new technical solutions, materials or complications. Richard Mille regularly acknowledges their contribution with watches that bear their name.
Broadening the field
“Go where potential customers can be found” has been the apparently winning strategy from Hublot since its takeover in 2004. A succession of partnerships and ambassador deals have taken the brand into new areas. Hublot was, for example, the first luxury watch brand to invest in football, signing Pelé and Maradona as its first ambassadors representing the beautiful game. More recently, the brand has enlisted three women players: Laure Boulleau from France, Alex Morgan from the United States and Ada Hegerberg from Norway. At the same time, Hublot has diversified its collaborations with contemporary artists – some of whom, such as Maxime Büchi of Sang Bleu fame and sculptor Richard Orlinski, have designed watches for the brand.
Ambassadors come not just individually but in groups, usually a squad of athletes. These can be existing teams or ones put together by a brand to garner maximum visibility in competitions. Breitling took an original approach when it launched the Jet Team, the first professional civilian jet team which has successfully flown the brand’s colours for the past 17 years. Its seven pilots perform aerobatic displays for audiences all over the world. While the adventure may end for Breitling at the end of the year – the brand no longer wishes to be the team’s exclusive sponsor but remains open to a co-sponsorship deal –, it did inspire the squad concept which the brand has been developing since last year.
This original idea puts three individuals from the same field, each at the peak of their profession, into a team where they must work together on endeavours chosen by Breitling and relating to air, land and sea. Following on from the original Cinema Squad (Brad Pitt, Charlize Theron, Adam Driver and Daniel Wu), Breitling has announced an Explorers Squad (Bertrand Piccard, David de Rothschild and Inge Solheim), a Surfers Squad (Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons and Kelly Slater) and a Triathlon Squad (Jan Frodeno, Chris “Macca” McCormack and Daniela Ryf). Expect more from them soon.
Living the dream
Alongside partnerships with celebrities, athletes or artists, brands are exploring new ways to further engage customers. Among these, experiences are fast gaining momentum. Panerai is offering fans of the brand three exhilarating opportunities. The 15 owners of the Submersible Chrono Guillaume Néry Edition can join the French free diver at his home in Moorea and explore the underwater world in his company. For the 19 owners of the Submersible Mike Horn Edition, rendezvous in the Arctic for an expedition led by Horn. As for the 33 owners of the Submersible Marina Militare Carbotech, they can join the Italian Navy’s COMSUBIN diving and commando group on a training session.