Omega, for the ordinary person, could be best summed up as the brand which for the past 23 years has equipped Her Majesty’s most debonair servant in his on-screen, globetrotting adventures, and for the past 86 years has sent scores of equally devoted timekeeping professionals to Olympic Games around the world. Others, beginning with Longines, Heuer and Seiko, have tried to oust the brand from its long-serving position as official timekeeper but failed to convince. But first, some history: by the 1970s, the Games had grown to such proportions that the Swiss brands timing the events were ready to throw in the towel faced with the scale of investment required. Not wanting the Alpine nation to lose this important role, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry stepped in and succeeded in convincing the brands in question, Heuer, Longines and Omega, to take up the mantle together as Swiss Timing. Since 1972, this same consortium, part of Swatch Group, has provided timing systems for sporting events under the colours of one or other of the group’s brands: Omega, for the Olympic Games. In fact the two have become so closely associated that in May last year the watchmaker extended its partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) until 2032 – the centennial year of a role that began in Los Angeles and has largely contributed to the watchmaker’s international renown. In the words of Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann, “the Olympic Games represent an important part of what we are as a brand.”
An audience of billions
In terms of audience, the Olympics are hard to beat. Some 3.5 billion people watched the Rio Summer Olympics on TV. Two years later, the opening ceremony for the Winter Games in Sochi was viewed by an astounding five billion people. It’s an enviable situation for Omega, the only watch brand authorised to appear within the Olympic perimeter, but at what price? In its annual report for 2016 – a tough year for the watch industry as a whole when exports fell by 10% – Swatch Group records a 44.5% drop in its operating result to CHF 805 million. It goes on to note that “marketing investments were held at the same level, also due to the presence of Omega as official timekeeper at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.” What figure can we put on these investments for a brand whose sales were just shy of CHF 2 billion last year, according to estimates by Vontobel Bank. Amid the festivities, there was talk of some CHF 100 million – an unconfirmed amount but perhaps not far off the mark considering this would be 5% of the brand’s 2017 sales.
Few brands would turn their nose up at a crowd this size, despite Raynald Aeschlimann’s insistence that the return on investment is hard to quantify. As with many sporting events today, the Olympic Games are as much about putting on a show as they are about athletic prowess, and in this respect are a fabulous opportunity for Omega to roll out its timekeeping technology (see Omega’s technology on show at PyeongChang). The brand intends to take full advantage of this exclusive partnership in its communications strategy. Speaking to French daily Le Figaro shortly after the Rio Games, Raynald Aeschlimann described its collaboration with the IOC as “healthy” and a source of “satisfaction” for the brand. In the same interview, he noted that in 2016 the brand had increased its investment in the Olympic Games by 20%, proof of the importance of the event, and had invited around a thousand people to its beachfront “home” inside Casa de Cultura. “No event has more media coverage,” Aeschlimann said. “To be the only watch brand inside the stadiums, serving the events and the athletes, is unique.” Needless to say, being able to spotlight its products is the other major criterion for a brand that has set out its own vision of the mechanical watch movement, and PyeongChang will be no exception.