At the recent Jaeger-LeCoultre boutique opening in Vancouver, actress Sarah Gadon emerged from a limo looking radiant and glamorous. She smiled for the cameras, posed for selfies with guests and proudly showed off her diamond-set Rendez-Vous timepiece. She had spent the previous day being interviewed by reporters. “When I visited the manufacture, I was fascinated by the enameling process,” Sarah told me. “I watched someone paint the cover of a Neil Young album onto a tiny watch dial. It was crazy. It turns out watch people are just as focused as film people.”
Ambassadors are effective because they humanize the product and infer a status and credibility beyond what a logo or an ad can do.
It’s the kind of answer you hope for in an ambassador. She drew the similarities between the brand and her own art: cinema, in which Jaeger-LeCoultre is deeply involved. She went on to describe the merits of the watch she was wearing and to talk about the origins of her love of both watches and film: “I love how all the Italian film stars would wear their big watches, with murano wool sweaters and pencil skirts … so simple and sexy, but masculine.” Her enthusiasm is a contrast to the response one star reportedly gave when asked at an event about the watch on her wrist placed there by the company for which she had signed on as an ambassador: “I don’t know anything about it; they just told me to wear it.”
“Friends of the brand”
Brand ambassadors have been around since Steve McQueen inadvertently became one when he strapped on a TAG Heuer Monaco for his appearance in the 1971 film Le Mans. Today, endorsements are deemed even more effective because of social media exposure, and celebrities have been signing endorsement contracts that in some cases are rumored to overshadow their career earnings – the actual terms of endorsement contracts are the industry’s most closely guarded secret. Ambassadors are effective because they humanize the product and infer a status and credibility beyond what a logo or an ad can do. The best brands invite the ambassador to the manufacture, thereby providing them with talking points for the press. Also, there are, or should be, rules about wearing the watch during public appearances. A few years ago a famous actor who was an ambassador for one brand wore another brand on the cover of a prominent magazine. Another faux pas to avoid.
“We usually start out by naming someone as ‘friend of the brand’,” says Jaeger-LeCoultre CEO Daniel Riedo, who says the relationship grows organically from there, generally arriving at a relationship that is different with every ambassador. For the Maison, it ranges from Catherine Deneuve, who has been a “friend of the brand” for 30 years, to Chinese actress Zhao Wei, who has 16 million followers on Instagram. The two stars have a different reach and a different type of reach, but are equally valued by the brand in Riedo’s view. As for compensation, Riedo believes it is as cost – effective as traditional advertising. “For sure we compensate them – they are spending time with us and traveling with us – but there is no link between the fact that we pay them and the result or impact in the market.” Ladies’ timepieces now represent 45% of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s production by volume.
A two-way street
Frédérique Constant is partnering with Gwyneth Paltrow, as a “charity ambassador” and donating some of the sales proceeds to charity. An ad campaign featuring the star will support the charity DonorsChoose, in which she will be wearing the new ladies’ watch, Classic Delight. “Having a brand ambassador with similar values as our brand is a real added value,” says CEO Peter Stas. “Gwyneth Paltrow is a genuine classic beauty, which fits very well with our classic brand Frédérique Constant.” The company plans to organize a charity event in the U.S. with Paltrow by the end of the year to raise funds together for supporting DonorsChoose, the foundation we decided to support through our advertising campaign.”
Omega has long worked with ambassadors to fuel sales for its Constellation and other ladies’ lines. Cindy Crawford has been with the brand since 1995, and helped redesign the Constellation collection. During a personal appearance/press conference at the Basel fair in the late ’90s, a reporter asked Crawford how much Nick Hayek Sr. was paying her. Her response: “Not enough.” Hayek: “She is damn right!” Nicole Kidman has been an ambassador since 2005.
“When Omega watches are seen on the wrists of respected public figures, it enriches our message of trust, style and prestige,” says Stephen Urquhart, president of Omega. “These ambassadors are looked up to for their product choices and they garner a lot of media attention.” When asked what are the criteria for selecting an ambassador, he says: “For us, it’s important that potential ambassadors love our watches. Overall, if we are inspired by their work, their style and their attitude. Omega strives to improve and innovate in the watchmaking industry and has often led the way in new designs and technology. Our ambassadors reflect this same spirit and dedication in their work. They are people at the top of their game and who perform beyond expectations, always with their own individual style and class.” Urquhart feels the ambassador partnership is a two-way street. “Omega is considered to be a leading brand in the watch industry, so the ambassadors own style credentials can be raised by wearing the latest products. It also shows that they have an awareness of quality and history.”
Emotion with brands
François Bennahmias, CEO of Audemars Piguet says his brand spokespeople were essentially ambassadors before being formalized as such. “They were already into the brand before they started officially representing us, and the way we work with them is slightly different compared to traditional standards. We don’t have them feature in ads for instance – unless they are specific congratulatory ads made for one of their victories. What we value is their love for the brand and the way they express it. If you take Jay Z for instance, the first time I met him he already had about 14 of our watches, and he really wanted to do something with us and have his own limited edition. Same thing for Michael Schumacher who is the only ambassador for whom we designed a completely new movement when he challenged us with a simple: ‘So you guys are the best at what you do? Well, I want you to make this particular watch with a completely new movement in it!’ And we made it…it took us five years, blood, sweat and tears but we did it! When people like Jay decide to include Audemars Piguet in his songs, or when Michael asks us for a completely new movement it is not to get exposure. It is to express the emotion they get with the brand. We can say the same for Serena Williams, who really doesn’t need to wear AP on the court to get exposure. When she does it, it is simply because she feels like it.”
Like most brands, Audemars invites its ambassadors to the manufacture in Switzerland for a briefing. “They love to discover Le Brassus, which is usually a million miles away from where they live,” says Bennahmias. “They talk to the watchmakers, we make sure they get a try at assembling a movement so that they realize how crazy that job is. This is usually the fun part, as some of them do not have watchmakers hands!”